The Redeemed Critic: A For-Prophet Oddessy
Did your scores range from mediocre to miserable on multiple choice tests?
Did you take your Critical Thinking class to a whole ’nother level?
Do you genuinely think you’re doing someone a favor by pointing out their mistakes?
You have a foundation well-suited for a special gift.
Do you unnerve your spouse incessantly by constantly playing Devil’s Advocate?
Were you captivated by the book of Proverbs, and Solomon and all of his wisdom that he got just by asking for it?
When you hear something (i.e. from the media, or campaigns, or an advertisement), are you more aware of what you’re not hearing?
You have been templated with a specific role in mind.
Do you have a hard time with grace—as in, accepting it for your own self?
Do you have a baseless but above-average grasp of the human psyche?
My dear friend, I have something for you to consider:
You are a critic.
The redeemed critic…
might be a prophet.
You who incessantly wrestle with things like progress versus perfection; and you who find yourself to be the counterbalance to the popular vote: these manifests are stemming from a fertile potential.
You whose enemy is not Goliath, but a brick wall; and you who sees and hears and longs to be heard in kind: God sees the perfect place for you!
It seems too easy that all critics would be prophets, so it’s probably not true; but often, there seems to be a connection. Are you a prophet? It’s hard to say. Are you a critic? Read on.
More than likely, there are unsuspecting people out there equipped as a prophet, and they just haven’t been called it, yet. In many instances, we don’t recognize our own spiritual giftings—just as no one sees their own nose, plain on their face—but others do; a very smart facet of God’s design, furthering that we should need others to help us know who we are. And it’s just as well, no prophet I know wants to be introduced as a self-professed one.
Or perhaps the prophetic connection is not drawn for a lack of knowing what a prophet is. The popular perception of what a prophet looks like is: 1) A thousands-year-old guy to whom God delivered messages by way of burning bushes and the like, or 2) A modern-day cult leader, possibly incarcerated (the false variety), or 3) A psychic. All is to say, it’s an assignment that might be relegated to antiquity in some minds; or to an exposé on reality TV, or to certain charismatic denominations.
For however mystical and elevated the title “prophet” might sound, its root purpose is truth-telling, or truth-magnifying. Sure, it can imply paranormal clairvoyance (and God could impart that to a person); but ordinary discernment is not to be discounted. And supernatural-seeming or not, the capacity to “see the writing on the wall” is not so implausible for the perceptive observer who is keenly attuned to the nature of being human.
Amidst the more wizardly displays of prophecy, the “Very Ordinary Truth-Teller” has a place on the map and God calls it good.
Prophecy is a gift that, Paul would say, is “one to be desired”. That said, there is little comfort in the fact that a decent percentage of the prophets in the Bible were stoned and/or killed; and many prophets were called to a life of humiliation, certain misery, and being hated. Incidentally, if you or your plans have ever been prophesied against, you’ll understand the inclination of the ancient kings, current leaders, and trending church bodies to banish prophets. (Dream killers! Naysayers! Evil spirit of dissent—be gone!).
But what could be more valuable to the Truth than someone else who can speak to what it IS and what it IS NOT?
The Quantum Mode
“Why do you show me iniquity and cause me to see trouble?”
“Why am I disposed to see wrongness?” wonders the tormented prophet who is otherwise a generally a good-natured being, and really not a caustic, unhappy-with-happy, miserable person perpetuating the comfort zone they appear to thrive within.
If you were to slice and dice a prophet down to his or her smallest measurable part, you might find something like… polarity. You might find an inherent momentum propelling a magnetic distance; enabling, for one thing, a different perspective. Polarity—not to ultimately realize division or cancellation; but rather, to achieve balance. Polarity—to support the reality of entanglement, connectivity, consequence—a paradox intending to embellish, edify, fulfill, enlighten, harmonize with, and sharpen the whole of reality, and to be sharpened by its counterpart, thereby proving life as an infinitely complex and synergistic symposium.
Do you see incongruencies? Did you grow up in the square of religion and now, thanks to something, you stand in the margins of it? Does the wilderness beckon? Are you pro-underdog? Do you see the “alternative dimension”? Do you sometimes completely miss the obvious?
Of course, none of these symptoms mean you have “contracted prophecy”. But for those who “have it”, seeing that these misfit-morés—these off-kilter quirks—actually fit quite sensibly into a grand and steadfast purpose is quite a relief for the potentially isolated or insecure mind of a prophet.
A Common Label
Have you ever been labeled a dissenter?
To dissent means “To express opinion(s) against a commonly held or majority view”. Unfortunately, dissension is perceived as the catalyst to blasphemy and divisiveness, and therefore, a thing to cast out. To this point, tragically, church history is wrought with unproven or misaligned dissenters wreaking calamitous splinter-groups. So, dissension earned that reputation fair and square. (Somehow, the wild generosity of God includes letting people have tools without yet knowing how to use them for good. He apparently has full confidence in His ability to right all wrongs).
But for anyone to conclude that all dissension and dissenters are evil is to completely dismiss the history of prophets.
The prophet’s job is not necessarily to divide people from people; but to help divide people from sin and destructive ways. So there is some dividing occurring. To the recipient’s ego, it feels like “the prophet is against the body”; but it is really “the prophet is against the destructive sin within the body” that we might not suffer unnecessarily, for one thing. However, until the message is finally accepted, the recipient usually puts the prophet into some kind of detainment—over “there”—where the prophet’s message can have little to no effect.
The prophet is more loyal to the truth than to any agenda (how aloof!). Sometimes that doesn’t bode well for the group. Perhaps consequently, there is a maddening lack of apparent total buy-in from the prophet on just about everything. Perhaps it is due to personality, perhaps there are some phobias to work out, but nothing shrivels the prophetic soul like being regulated/mandated/legislated, over-handled, or the fear of being over-assigned. Whatever the reason for remaining just outside, it’s usually easier to delineate diverging social constructs from afar.
For the prophet, to love is to critique. If it didn’t matter, the prophet would walk away. It’s their offering, their form of investment. And by the way, the word critique means “to study or analyze”, not “to hate”.
This proneness to detach and examine percolates naturally—and everywhere—and can create tensions in office politics, families, and church/leadership.
The fact of the tensions within that last arena (prophet + church/leadership) can be very troubling for the well-intended prophet. But the strife between prophet and priest or church is a sort of time-honored tradition—not that unrest is the goal, but it isn’t the thing that dissuades.
Here’s Richard Rohr’s pithy sound bite on the dichotomy of the two: “Typically it is the prophets who deconstruct the ego and the group, while priests and pastors are supposed to reconstruct them into divine union.”
You can imagine the opportunities for angst within such a structure. There is much to say here, but I only briefly want to mention this: the intended design for these two is that they complement one another more like bread and wine, and less like a matchstick and dynamite.
Possible Traits and Pitfalls
A prophet is simply a messenger. Messages flow through prophets—maybe once or twice, maybe regularly. Lest anyone get puffed up over who gets to prophecy and why, it should be known that God has enabled all sorts of mouths to prophecy—the unlikely saint, the pagan, the woman (gasp!), the uneducated, probably even non-critical people… Somewhere it was threatened that even rocks could be given a voice if necessary. In the book of Numbers there was literally an ass whose tongue was loosened to convey a message.
Anyone (and anything) at any age can be employed to speak the word of God. And yet, there seems to be a certain profile that incubates prophecy more commonly—a certain psyche that facilitates the gift more often than others.
For example, most prophets (and critics) by nature are not a lukewarm gang. Injustice physically agitates. And wrongness burrows under the saddle like the points of a Ninja Star.
They are prone to knee-jerk reactions and strong opinion.
Stuff matters to a prophet. Sights/smells/sounds/motions affect them. They intensely love beauty, and wellness, and right thinking, completeness, and good function. And trouble comes for the prophet when these things are enthroned above the goal of Christ alone.
Likely, the prophet has found some form of creative outlet. Prophets have pent-up expressions to manifest, and the human medium can be exacerbating and uncooperative. Fighting to be heard gets old very quickly, but prophets express-or-die. So likely they have an outlet where they can “speak” in methods and avenues posing fewer impediments.
They (have learned to) love being with people, provided the equal (or more) and opposite opportunity for solitude.
Lessons from the Mature Prophet
I don’t know the percentage of distribution for each spiritual gift, but Lord have mercy on a population with a prophet cluster. A room full of prophets would be about as palatable as a cake made entirely of salt.
Consider this rather unappetizing scope as highlighted by Richard Rohr: “(For those in the Body of Christ), prophets help them see that they are using religion to worship themselves and not Yahweh. Prophetic criticism is never good news for pretenders and opportunists–which is just about all of us until we learn the compassion, mercy, and forgiveness that (an upside-down Kingdom) teaches us.”
Yes, prophets are hard to love; but, may I make a request? Please try.
I’ll venture to say that on the whole, the mature prophet does not enjoy inflicting pain; he or she knows the flaws of the people she is speaking to because it is her very own; and he is painfully, heavily, deeply aware of the accountability he must answer to.
Have you ever met a mature prophet? They have a wonderfully gracious resignation about the flaws in their makeup. They have faced their weakness, and have acknowledged their burden; and instead of denying the weight of this cross, they have learned to move forward with it because they have accepted the necessary help in carrying it. This experiential knowing of the Help they receive is hugely beneficial when speaking of the “who” that the Help is.
The mature prophet can list more flaws about themselves than anyone else could say of them; yet they have allowed God to see those faults (or vice versa). With the throw of their hands, they might say with a wince or a twinkle, “What it is, man”. And they can now address those around them with the same tenderness they were shown when they finally allowed themselves to be loved by God—flaws and all.
Their sharpness has been softened by empathy. Their rash, reactionary nature has been dissolved into the practiced virtue of patience. They walk with a limp and lean on mercy. Their cynicism has been weathered into hope and aged into faith. Their darkness is now the butt of their own joke.
This humility makes them profoundly more useful as they are more encouraging co-grievers with their fellow human, than they are a distant finger-wagger (which is how many view God).
Are you a prophet? Here is some hard-learned, constructive counsel that a mature prophet might offer you if you asked (and maybe even if you didn’t):
- Prophets are nothing but a noisy gong if they do not have love. It is one thing to speak the words of God. It is more to speak in the Spirit of God.
- In the event that a prophet should address church leadership, remember who that leadership is: very loved, very precious, very created-for-a-purpose “do-ers”—the hands and feet of God. Many in the prophet’s voice range are people who sacrifice greatly (yes, for right and wrong reasons), but it serves the prophet well to remember that doers operate in messy, everyday reality—not in the unicorn-land of theory.
- The mature prophet strives to remember that Christ came to us—not just when we were flawed and needy, but when we were completely indifferent, defiant and even proud of those flaws. Furthermore, Christ didn’t speak to every wrong there ever was. Instead, He embraced us, and remains steadfast while we slowly learn to accept this embrace. Since prophets are often the most hard on themselves, they will need to practice this kind of compassion especially as they regard their own reflection.
- Watch that you know the difference between saying, “I am the truth”, versus saying, “See? There is the truth”. And be very careful when you start a sentence with “The Lord told me…”
- Not every thought in a prophet’s head is intended as Town Crier speak. Sometimes thoughts are derived from the Spirit of God. Other times they are a manifestation of the quad-shot, chocolate fudge, sweetened-condensed milk concoction you mistakenly consumed. And sometimes (!), God is speaking just to you.
- If you have been “successful” in transmitting a message to another party—so successful that the other party has embedded that thought into their own being and thinks it was their idea in the first place and the prophet gets no acknowledgement whatsoever—rejoice! Firstly, this happens to God all the time. Secondly, humility is necessary for the soul. Thirdly, for however often truth is spoken, it is far less often heard. So it must be said in a chorus of people/events. The prophet is just a voice, but the prophet is a purposed voice. Get over the first, and rejoice in the second. If you decide to make your hope “that others would hear the truth”, you will have a more satisfying reward than if your goal is “to get personal acknowledgement for speaking the truth”. A mature prophet will recall, with fits and starts, their young ego’s hope of fanfare.
- Only do what the Father is doing—to learn this is the goal. Remember how many people Jesus did not address in the crowds. You don’t get to (have to) be involved in everything. Better to lock yourself in a closet than to take on whatever your mind conjures up. Luke 10: 41-42, …“you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one”… His yoke is lighter—let go of yours as quickly as possible.
- If a prophet is first pro-Truth, then he/she is not just a critic, but also a cheerleader. Dissension is not always helpful or right. Furthermore, if one’s disposition is always opposition, one should be mindful of their response when God asks them to do something. The prophet who practices seeing the negative and the positive space is less prone to misery. If you become a curmudgeon fuddy-duddy due to sitting in your own toxic stew for too long, pray for rescue, and look for it in the form of something that will likely require your acquiescence. You were meant for a much more beautiful life that curmudgeondom. Consider this: if you’re going to be employed eternally with your gifts—and hopefully in eternity, there is less or zero things to be critical of—then the prophet will be used to uplift, point out, and do flip flops around whatever is good. So practice that now, too.
- Be glad when the painful, revelatory light that you shine, shines on you. It means God is working. Again: the humility thing. Is there any industry with the goal of restoration that excludes diligent examination? Be very open to constructive feedback on your own actions, and be very willing to take advice, even from someone who is young and/or un-credentialed—advice like this: Don’t judge your own success by the results as you understand them to be.
- Join a development class for prophets. (Ha! That was a trick-directive. There are none. None that I know of, anyway.) Go sit and listen to someone older and wiser than you. Read something from someone with a solid foundation and who can also see from an out-of -body vantage point (i.e., someone who is wise, loves the word of God, and is healthfully, lovingly self-critical). And pray! Prayer is often about letting your feet be washed before you can be given the right shoes for the job. Sit in silent prayer and humbly accept whatever you receive in that time—what you think you need to get out of prayer is not always what you really need. What it is, man. We will all be better for your investment made.
Final Encouragements for the Prophet
Don’t be ashamed of being a thinker in a knowledge-obsessed world. Knowledge is a blessed and beautiful gift. But knowledge without truth and discernment is as beneficial for the body as it was for Eve and Adam to choose to be nourished by knowledge alone.
You will not always be right. You will not always know if you’re right before or even after you act. Consider that seeking a perfect track-record might be a self-centered goal. Everyone’s redemption plan includes failure. Failure makes us dependent on God’s grace, not our perfection. To paraphrase and slightly tweak the Philippians verse, “Jesus… did not consider (a perfect track record) THE thing to be grasped—or to focus on. Rather, he emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant…”
Somehow, the process of the body of Christ becoming one includes a process of being set apart; it includes being called out, that we may be called upon; and we are gifted differently, that we may stand together perfectly. What gift have you been given so that we might benefit and “…be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13)? Strive to know your gift—that you may serve in the grander scheme; even more, strive toward maturity so that you may serve honorably. Despite what it sounds like on paper, using your gift offers that elusive, “doing what I was born to do” satisfaction.
Have you been given the gift of prophecy? Good news: God is responsible for everything. God is the heart-changer, the miracle-worker, the door-opener. Yours is the privilege of participation in His Kingdom, and he longs for all to choose participation. There will be days when you’d rather jump into a whale; but, as the story goes, there is no fulfillment in running (or swimming) away from your purpose. Might as well run toward it.
Now, for you who wield a sword of Truth in the name peace: proceed with boldness and humility; with great care and great confidence. Yes, it’s an oxymoron, but you’re probably used to it.
I’ll leave you with this—a quote from a mature prophet (though he would say that the better word might be “maturing”):
“…I prayed a lot for wisdom all through my college years. Then I went into my disillusionment with the Bible-expert types, finally emerging through that with this damn prophetic thing. I wish I’d prayed for love. The prophet’s vision must be tempered by love (as mine often is not) or he/she becomes cranky, critical, cynical. Not a good attitude toward God’s people.”
What—were you expecting something more polished? Pomp and formal speak is not always the preferred tongue. Anyway, don’t you love a sincere and earnest person? Go find someone like this to help nurture you toward fullness in Christ, and get ready to be transformed.