Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Prophet's Tongue

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Luke 4:21-30

“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-2

“Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.” Ephesians 4:14-15

Prophecy is probably one of the most misunderstood of divine gifts. Early in my ministry when I declared my intentions to seek ordination, I had to take a gifts assessment test to determine my strengths and my weaknesses. For the most part I was comfortable with the assessment results, but the one portion in which I scored highly was in my gift of prophecy; this I was not at all comfortable with because of my limited knowledge at the time of what such a gift entails. Even today I remain skeptical.

When we think of biblical prophets, we see persons who seem to have a direct link to the Divine through which the future is foretold: “prophecies”. We in the Christian faith speak often of the OT “prophesies” of the coming Messiah whose life and ministry had been “foretold”. Those who spoke and wrote of such prophecies were certainly preachers of their time, but this image of “rubbing a crystal ball” is somewhat other-worldly. It is a realm far removed from our own. In our contemporary time, any who make such claims as being a prophet is met with disbelief and even ridicule. In fact, I am one who is extremely cynical toward those who claim to possess prophetic authority.

John Calvin had his own idea of how prophecy is defined and how best this divine gift can benefit the church: “By the term prophesying I do not mean the gift of foretelling the future, but as in 1 Corinthians 14:3 the science of the interpretation of Scripture, so that a prophet is the interpreter of the divine will... Let us understand prophesying to mean the interpretation of Scripture applied to the present need.”

“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement, and comfort. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the Church.”
1 Corinthians 14:1-4

For the Lord’s purposes and for the sake of the Church, then, it seems make more sense that prophecy is best utilized for the moment and is not necessarily restricted only to teachers and preachers and is certainly not for “forecasting” purposes. I would surmise that this is a gift, as Paul says, that we should all desire regardless of where life finds us. Even if we possessed such a gift as being able to foretell the future, we would then stand to be in direct conflict with the Lord God Himself because Jesus reminded His disciples that the Day of the Lord, that Day of Judgment, is for NO ONE to know. Jesus Himself reminded the disciples that even HE didn’t know when that day would come. So how would such a gift serve any useful purpose for the contemporary Church? Even the prophecies which seem to have foretold of the coming Messiah never seemed to pinpoint a specific date or time, only that it was to be and that it would be a glad day for the faithful.

None of this is to say that all preachers are prophets or that all prophets must be preachers. One writer, Cecil Robeck, defines New Testament prophecy as “a spontaneous manifestation of God’s grace, received by REVELATION (sometimes as a vision, sometimes as impressions or thoughts) and spoken by the Spirit through a Christian who has been given the gift of prophecy, in the language of those who hear the prophetic word spoken.”

But even if the gift is “spontaneous” and given only by the grace of the Lord as a manifestation of that which can only come from him, can this mean that suddenly a non-believer can be transformed and convicted at once? Yes, I think so. Just as surely as one who wears the mask of piety and can be suddenly convicted of his pretense and deceit, surely one who has no basis of knowledge in the Lord can be fully and firmly convicted of His presence, in fact, His existence. That is, if we truly believe that “with God, nothing is impossible.”

Appreciating the gift of prophecy for the purpose it seems fit to serve may mean that everything must be in the context of how the Church as a whole will benefit from such a gift. It is not that one who has been granted such a gift is especially favored of the Lord because, as it is written, the Lord does not show partiality. It is a gift, however, that is granted not when the individual is ready to use it but, rather, how desperately the Church needs it. It would seem, then, that when the gift of prophecy is timed well and we are intently focused on the will not of ourselves but of our Holy Father and the written Word, the Church will be functioning as it was intended to.

The commission that Jeremiah receives is met with his futile resistance to the Lord that he is “only a boy”, his objection perhaps a reflection of his perceived lack of credibility with the people because of his relative youth and inexperience. Jesus is obviously unafraid to say what needs to be said, but His own lack of credibility with the people seems directly related to the fact that He grew up among these people and that they actually KNOW Him! They’ve known Him all along and it is perhaps for this very reason that they are angry at His words. Perhaps in their minds, Jesus should be more tuned in to what would please them rather than what might upset them.

We should know that deliberately seeking to upset and alienate people will do little to establish any sense of credibility with the people we seek to serve, but at the same time there is a certain truth which we must strive for and seek to serve while understanding that there will always be those who will not be receptive to what we should be offering.

Speaking the “truth in love” will no doubt be the prophet’s greatest challenge. We certainly have to have a love of and for the Lord God that we are willing to alienate ourselves from family and friends for the sake of the Truth, but we must also have enough love for humanity that we possess a genuine concern for the state of their souls, a genuine concern for their eternal well-being. Absent this, it might be best for all concerned if we would just maintain our silence lest we do more harm than good.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Foul Mood

There was a time when I thought of depression as just having a bad day. These bad days can be brought on by all sorts of maladies including a bad day at the office, getting feelings hurt in school, wishing for more than we have a right to expect. The list is endless. There is no end to the kinds of things which can confront us on a daily basis to make us wish for even the unthinkable.

I took an online quiz not long ago because I have been at a point of uselessness and listlessness that I cannot seem to shake and I began to wonder if somehow while I wasn’t looking, depression had set in (is this even possible?). I cannot recall the last time I had anything resembling a “good day” though there have surely been one or two here or there. The quiz asked some questions that threw me a little because I had somehow had a preconceived notion of what depression-related questions should look like. How this quiz evaluated my level of depression is still beyond me, but it suggested that if I have ever in the slightest way considered ending my life then I needed to consult a mental health professional “immediately”.

I cannot recall ever having suicidal thoughts, so I know I’m not there. The worst part of this whole ordeal is that I have absolutely nothing to feel sorry for myself about. There are a couple of elements in my life that I’ve allowed to slide out of control that have definitely affected my emotions and sense of guilt (feeling sorry for myself being one of them), but beyond that I have nothing that gives me the right to mope. Still I do, and I don’t know why.

My job leaves me with a severe sense of uselessness, but I am still employed and able to pay my bills. I have three healthy children who have never caused me any real grief though if I said that I never worry about them I would be lying. And today I discovered that one of my children committed a profound act of charity that, though I could easily see it coming from her, left me breathless. Though I would give her mother far more credit, I can still see that I must have done something right as her father.

I don’t take care of myself physically (and it surely shows!), but I have no major health issues. We have plenty to eat (again, consider the physical evidence!) and a solid roof over our heads. All things considered, I am blessed beyond measure and I know that the sins of my past do not allow me the right to be depressed because everything in my life is without question far more than I deserve. I sometimes think that my life is as good as it is because the Lord is looking out for my family, and I’m getting the residual effects from it.

“There but for the grace of God go I.” One would have to be completely blind to not be able (or willing) to look at the news, read a newspaper, or just take a walk downtown to see that there is misery everywhere. Somewhere someone is in extreme physical, emotional, or mental pain; these are the ones who have every right to feel bad, to feel somehow cheated, to feel as though life has dealt them a bad hand. I, on the other hand, can see all the goodness that is in my life, and I cannot seem to find a grateful thread in my hard heart. Why is it so difficult to see how blessed I truly am? Or be able to appreciate it?

I have never been much on prayer though I have no problem believing that prayer is effective. Yet there is something that keeps me from approaching the Most High because my faith tells me that He can easily see the dark spots of my soul. If this is the benevolent, wise, omnipresent, and omnipotent God who blesses anyone who would ask, why am I so afraid to approach Him?

As depression goes, I’ve always written it off because in my case there is nothing for me to feel sorry about. And because I’ve never really suffered in any real manifest way, it is virtually impossible for me to be able to appreciate what it must be like to suffer so. The few things in my life that are not quite the way I would like for them to be are just not enough to justify my lowly state, and yet I still cannot shake free from it.

My faith prevents me from seeking any kind of medical attention before I’ve even tried to pray, but one friend who is trying to help suggested that my prayer may be answered by medication. Still, a certain stigma prevents me from going in that direction. Though I have no real moral qualms about those who take medication for such (who am I to judge??), I cannot bring myself to consider it.

Hopeless? Hardly. As long as the sun keeps rising in the morning, there is always hope. As long as there is a God in heaven, there is always hope. As long as one has patient family and friends, there is always hope. I see all this and appreciate all this, and yet it is not enough.

I know that I am taking an extreme risk by posting for all to see, but in doing so I hope that maybe some kind soul will offer a perspective that might help me to see a way out of this pit I’ve managed to dig for myself. I say again: I AM NOT SUICIDAL; not even close, but I’ve been carrying this foul mood around for far too long. Why is there so much good that I can very clearly see but somehow refuse to embrace?