Yeah, go look at I Cor. 12:31 in context. Then come back and read this post.
“Have you been desiring the gift of prophecy?”
We were sitting in a lecture listening to a great man from among our ranks talking about prophecy in the church, and my Dad leans over and asks me this question as the speaker lingers on that passage. And um… it started to hit me like umm a umm… a two ton heavy thing. I had never really thought about it. In fact my heritage, the “ranks” I mentioned above, always treated prophecy as a spiritual phenomenon from ages past which has long since ceased. The very idea only got honorable mention among our kind and quietly held in contempt when it seemed to be expressed among our Pentecostal neighbors.
And that is the other thing. This lecture we were attending, was held about 13 years ago at a time when I was a part of a very ecumenical group where a lady fancied herself a prophetess in service to Jesus. She was a very outspoken Pentecostal member of our little group. She seemed to be rather influential too. But I had to admit, she did not really have my respect as a prophet. In fact I wasn’t wired for it. Never mind that my notion of prophecy was very anemic over all; she seemed rather fruity to me and not too terribly deep. In fact, even now, I would say that was about her speed. But the more I consider prophecy, the more I think God was using her as a prophet anyway. (I have come a long way since that two ton heavy thing!)
Back to my Dad whispering to me amid the lecture: He said, “It looks like Paul is telling us we should desire it.” And starting at just that moment, and continuing on to this one, I turned to face the thing I held in such deep contempt that I did not even bother to consider it before. I had ever so subtly looked down my nose at people who esteemed or claimed to be prophets. They all seemed like kooks to me. Never mind that I had taken a college course on the Eighth Century prophets, where, among other things, we considered how kooky they probably were, and what contempt Israel seemed to hold them in during their lifetimes (Luke 11:47; Acts 7:52). I have been cutting through the contempt ever since that day and that lecture.
And contempt is a feature of The Fat Beggars School of Prophets (just ask the leadership down at the premier homeless ministry who kicked me out) and this blog that several of my recent posts have been teasing out (perhaps without spelling it out). I wrote a small book called Proph-O-Drama (don’t look for it; it’s not published) in which I detail the matter of contempt in more depth. It is the thing, I think, that makes this kind of messenger from God unique. Prophets bear contempt almost universally.
There are a lot of other kinds of messengers of God: Angels, Apostles, priests, teachers, etc. And almost without exception, those messengers command someone’s respect. Prophets, though, are the one kind of messenger that almost everyone disrespects (until after they are gone). The assignments God gives them seem to horrify, mortify, and invite scorn as often as they mystify and edify. Thus God sends them with a message people don’t want to hear and makes the forehead hard as flint (see Ezekiel). Hosea marries a whore and actually goes to the sex-slave auction to purchase back his wife at bottom dollar. And Isaiah says, These people will hear and not understand; they will see and not perceive. Yeah… the prophet’s message is designed to bang up against the contempt of those the prophet is sent to, and so I kind of sense that the Pentecostal lady probably was God’s messenger to me.
I do not think I can exhaust all the features of prophecy and prophetic life in a blog post. Besides, for almost every rule, there is an exception (like studying English). I certainly can say that prophecy is not the same thing as foretelling the future – though that might be involved and failure to foretell it correctly is a sign of false prophecy. And I must acknowledge that you should be wary of false prophets. But if you find a messenger of God pointing to God with a loving and humble heart and willing to endure the contempt of you and others, then you better consider very carefully the message that person bears so that hopefully your ears can hear and your eyes can see.
For those of you who hold this ministry in contempt, consider yourselves warned (Ezek. 3:16-21).