A couple weeks back, Brandon and I started talking about the Gifts of the Holy Spirit on the podcast, and Brandon put in a request that my next blog entry be a deeper dive on what it means to be a prophet. I have a hard time turning down requests, so here we go!
If you’ve read many of my blog posts in the past, you’re probably pretty used to my approach. I like to start by laying out what a thing isn’t before talking about what it is. One of the common modern misunderstandings about a prophet is treating them like a fortune teller. A prophet is not, primarily, interested in predicting the future. Yes, the prophet of the Old Testament would often tell the people about what was coming, and their prediction often came true. So, why waste my time trying to make the distinction if they both ultimately do the same thing? Well, because, the intention matters. A fortune teller predicts the future for coin. The fortune teller and those who go to them see the future as a determined thing, and knowing what it is allows us to act to maximize the benefit or minimize the damage of it, but not ultimately to change it. The whole of the value of fortune teller is in the accuracy of their predictions.
The prophet is completely different, though. The prophet, in the Old Testament, told the people what would happen, but it was always a conditional thing. The bad would happen, but only if they didn’t turn back to the Lord. The good would happen so long as they stayed close to the Lord. In other words, the future was a consequence of whether the message itself would be received. The future was never the message. In the New Testament, we see Paul making the same point about the role of the prophet in 1Corinthians 14. This is immediately after his famous description of love and is now in the midst of comparing prophecy to speaking in tongues. That comparison deserves a closer look, probably in a coming blog, but for now, I’m more interested in what he says prophecy is for. Prophecy is for building up the Church, especially by bringing encouragement and solace.
The prophet speaks the word of God to the people. When we speak of the gift of prophecy today, that is what we mean. The word of God, spoken through us. When we are given the ability to speak that Truth into the lives of the people around us, that is the gift of prophecy. While I would never claim to be able to say with 100% certainty when God is speaking through us, a general pattern that we see in the Biblical prophets that serves as a good signpost is this: Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. When His people are in the midst of struggle, God sends His encouragement so that we don’t despair. When His people become too comfortable in the pleasures of this world, such that we are tempted to stop seeking after Him, He sends word of challenge to call us ever higher and nearer to Him.