the weblog of Alan Knox

My Word of Prophecy: Stop Listening to Prophetic Voices

Posted by on Nov 2, 2011 in discipleship, synchroblog | 19 comments

My Word of Prophecy: Stop Listening to Prophetic Voices

Okay, obviously, the title of this post is a little tongue-in-cheek. Hopefully, it will make more sense as you read further.

This post is part of the November synchroblog on the topic “Calling Us Out of Our Numbness.” As with most of the synchroblog topics, I was intrigued by this one. However, I had almost decided not to participate. Why? Because I had already written about “spiritual numbness” and how the church often “helps” the situation. (See my post “Numbing our souls with church activities.”)

But, just before I pulled the plug on this month’s synchroblog, I read through the description again:

Richard Rohr says, “The role of the prophets is to call us out of numbness.” Since the beginning of time, prophetic voices both in and outside of scripture have been calling us to consider change of some sort. Sometimes it is spiritual change, other times it may be economic, political, or systemic change. Regardless of the emphasis, prophets challenge us to consider a better future. Right now there’s a strong sense of change brewing in the church, the world; people are rising up and calling individuals, communities, nations, and everything in between out of numbness and toward justice, mercy, equality, and love.

This month’s Synchroblog is centered on where are you being challenged by some kind of prophetic voice.

What is it stirring up in you?

What is God challenging you to consider?

How does it intersect with your faith & practical experience?

Of course, there is definitely something that I have been challenged by recently, and it fits in nicely with this synchroblog topic. In fact, I have been challenged and challenged and continually challenged with this same observation over the last few years, and it continues to rear its head.

What is the challenge? I’ve noticed the tendency in my life to listen to those who I do not know. I listen to their voices from books, articles, blog posts, lecture halls, and even pulpits. They tell me what to think, what to believe, and how to live. In many cases (perhaps even most cases), they are correct in what they tell me.

So, if these voices are correct, then what’s the problem? Well, there’s certainly nothing wrong with words of prophecy, encouragement, instruction, or even admonishment. However, the problem arises in the fact that I am listening to people that I do not KNOW.

I do not know how they live. I do not know how they treat their spouses or children. I do not know how or if they love their neighbor. I do not know when or where or if they server other people. I do not know anything about them except what they write or say. In other words, I’m listening to the voices of strangers.

Yes, for the most part, even those people who spoke to me from pulpits in church buildings or from podiums in school classrooms (even seminary classrooms) were strangers to me. I may have spoken to them a time or two outside of the lecture setting – I may have even shook their hand or hugged them – but I knew almost nothing about their lives other than what they told me.

This is not the way that prophecy, or teaching, or exhortation, or admonishment, or any other type of speaking is designed to work (or described in Scripture), especially when it comes to discipling and helping one another grow in maturity in Christ. These forms of communication do not point to strange words from strange people. Instead, they point to words from a friend – from those who have shared or are sharing their lives with us.

Paul reminds Timothy about this kind of relational speaking when he wrote him a letter:

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings… (2 Timothy 3:10-11 ESV)

This isn’t the only passage that places speaking within the context of sharing life together. See also Philippians 4:9, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7, and Titus 2:1-15, among others. Even when Paul sent a letter to people he had never met (Colossians), he sent it via someone who planned to stay and live among the people as a living example to go along with Paul’s words. (Colossians 4:7-8)

So, what is God stirring up in me? What is he challenging me to consider? God continues to challenge me concerning the voices that I’m listening to. Do I know them? Do I know their example? Do I know how they live? Do I know how they love God? Do I know how they love others? Do I know if they are truly servants? What do I know about them?

Obviously, it’s not wrong to listen to those you do not know. But, who are my primary sources of encouragement, teaching, prophecy, etc.? If those primary sources are strangers to me – if I do not know how they are living – then, I think, there is a problem.

(Yes, I realize that my blog and this blog post can be one of those strange “voices.” If these posts provide a source of discussion among people you share your life with, then great. If, instead, my writings – and other writings – or sermons or books or whatever are your source of teaching, encouragement, prophecy, etc., then I would recommend spending less time with strangers – i.e., me – and spend more time with those who God has brought into your life.)

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Here is a list of other bloggers who are taking part in November’s synchroblog on the topic “Calling Us Out of Our Numbness”:


19 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 11-2-2011

    Alan, I take your point about being cautious about receiving prophecies from strangers. Discernment is certainly needed, especially if one has not personally verified their good Christian character.

    But I also think it is important to be open to receive prophetic words from people one doesn’t know personally, as long as their character has been well attested by people that one does know or by trustworthy national and international figures. The reason is that the people I do know also know me well. So it is too easy for them to mix in with their prophecies their own knowledge of my situation and their hopes for my life. If they say something that seems directly relevant to me, that may be coming from their own knowledge. But if someone who doesn’t know me says something directly relevant, then it is likely to be wisdom for me from God.

  2. 11-2-2011

    In the so worth repeating category, you said, “This is not the way that prophecy, or teaching, or exhortation, or admonishment, or any other type of speaking is designed to work (or described in Scripture), especially when it comes to discipling and helping one another grow in maturity in Christ. These forms of communication do not point to strange words from strange people. Instead, they point to words from a friend – from those who have shared or are sharing their lives with us.”

    Wow. Amen!

    One of the projects I’ve been considering is a website (2tim310.net, The Second Timothy 3:10 network) fostering exactly this–lives more fully intersecting as we follow Christ and labor together–as the primary means of building one another up. As you well point out, this is frequently lacking and not generally understood in Christian circles.

    The downside, of course, is that this means we can only well teach what we well practice. Likewise, we can best learn from being with others a lot, who live out Christianity in the small minutes of everyday life and circumstance. Just acknowledging this and being willing to open up the heretofore hidden spaces of our lives to one another, I think is a starting point for any of us. We are all inadequate, but Christ is sufficient. We will undoubtedly be humbled in the process.

    It wasn’t just the things Paul said, nor will it be for any of us, even for those eloquent preachers on TV and in writings from long ago–both of which can make me cry, but not change me. It wasn’t even Paul’s incredible general example we can discover in Acts and the epistles. The effectiveness in transforming lives comes from seeing others live in what we consider the incidentals of every day. And, like the myth that you can schedule “quality time” with your child, the truth is you need lots and lots of time together to experience those teachable moments where we really shape our children.

    The same is true in building one another up. For Timothy and those among whom Paul labored, they spent long hours together observing Paul in the specifics of how he awoke, how he ate, how he reacted when he was belittled and slighted, how his understanding of life and death and God and man worked itself out in the myriad details and circumstances of the ordinary everyday. These actions/reactions underscored/reinforced the message and teaching so that Timothy “fully knew” his teaching, and others had his example to follow–they knew the way it was lived out hour by hour, week after week, when things went well and when things went badly.

    I think this is why God is so bent on transforming us rather than on merely informing us. The old sayings, “God sent His Son, not a brochure” and “Christianity is more caught than taught,” are true.

  3. 11-2-2011

    The above posts from Art and Peter…well, said. And enjoyed the article. We test all spirits and trust some. Also, the word of the Lord does come through imperfect vessels. Although, giftings are expressed all the more pure and untainted through a mature vessel. For me one thing I hesitate with are those guys with their prophetic jumpsuits and then there is always the guilt induced message about giving your money…at the tail end of their message. I’ve seen alot of mixture. But we can’t be in constant suspense but maybe a little more understanding of this gift/function?

  4. 11-2-2011

    Unfortunately authenticity is not the quality associated with many who claim to be prophets. I believe the prophet is forged in suffering and adversity and as such does rarely fit into the religious status quo.

    Many prophets are expelled from religious groups for dysfunctional behavior, others because they hear from God just a little too clearly for the leaders’ liking.

    As John Wimber once said ‘ don’t follow a leader without a limp’ … goes for prophets too although dear John probably didn’t follow his own advice on that one.

  5. 11-2-2011

    Wow. Great point. Lots of people want to tell others what to do, but either they don’t do it themselves, or (as you point out) they have glaring moral deficiencies in other areas of their lives which makes their instructions suspect.

    Of course, nobody is perfect, and I think that God can even speak to me through a Muslim or an Atheist if He so chooses, and so great discernment is needed.

  6. 11-2-2011

    Alan,

    Your last paragraph says a lot about yourself. I’m glad you included it!

    Dylan’s comment,”Unfortunately authenticity is not the quality associated with many who claim to be prophets”, would reflect my own experience with people claiming to give/make prophecies, which proved to be preposterous machinations of a fallible human mind.

    Far too many covet the recognition, and authority, which comes from “speaking into peoples lives” as prophet.

    During the last thirty years or so, and having had to pick up the pieces from lives damaged by “prophecies” I am very wary of such.

    My advice to all believers, including those who claim to prophecy, has consistently been, “Be SEEN TO BE what you SAY you are!”

    Many of the “prophets” I have known and observed, have lived inconsistently with their profession of being a Christian, both morally and ethically, most having, eventually, turned their back on the faith they once professed.

    Ultimately, the Scriptures are the only safe place from which to receive God’s instruction.

  7. 11-2-2011

    I trust you more (except for my wife) than the people that have been brought into my life.

    :)

    I don’t consider you a strange voice.

    I only recognize and listen to my Shepherds voice, all others I flee from, and I hear My Shepherd speak through you.

  8. 11-2-2011

    Peter,

    My concern about myself – and I think it’s common among many Christians today – is that the normal method of receiving teaching, encouragement, prophecy, whatever is to receive it from strangers. Can this happen? Of course. But I don’t think we should be seeking the advice and wisdom of strangers more than from those who we know.

    Art,

    Yes, exactly. I love 2 Timothy 3:10ff for that very reason.

    Bill,

    The point of the post is not prophecy or accepting prophets. The point is that we (or at least I) tend to seek and accept words from strangers more than from those who we know.

    Dylan,

    I’d rather hear from and learn from someone who a know who has a limp and a past than from someone who is a stranger.

    Jeremy,

    I don’t mind moral deficiencies. We all have them. Unfortunately, when we listen to strangers, we don’t even know what their deficiencies are.

    Aussie John,

    As long as we continue listening to strangers, we’ll never know about those inconsistencies. But, when we listen to those who share their lives with us…

    Hutch,

    Of course, you only know me from online correspondence. It could all be a sham, just like “letters of introduction” could be a sham. Jesus can and does speak to us through strangers. But, when Jesus speaks through others, I think he speaks clearest and loudest through those who actually share their lives with us.

    -Alan

  9. 11-2-2011

    Certainly I agree with the sentiment: “I think he speaks clearest and loudest through those who actually share their lives with us,” it just has not been my experience thus far.

    Yes, you could be a sham, if so you have got a number of people who have known you, and lived life with you who are all in on the sham as they testify that like your owns words record, that you do not require or expect pay to minsiter your giftedness, that you teach and practice in accord with the Masters teaching that real practical service and love for and towards others are the distingusihing characteristics of maturity.

    Plus I test your words against those of the Master. I don’t agree with 100% of what you teach but agree with probably most of it, I have learned that 100% agreement cannot be the basis for fellowship, relationship or giving consideration to what one says.

    Love your humility brother.

  10. 11-2-2011

    Yup, gotcha.

  11. 11-2-2011

    Almost said I was about to unsubscribe from your feeds after reading this post. :) Then I read Hutch’s well said comment’s. So I’ll keep letting you influence my sponge brain.

    Seriously though this post is timely for our generation.

  12. 11-2-2011

    Good point… though it does raise the question of the point of a synchroblog!

    But at least a synchroblog is interactive — I can comment on your post and you can comment on mine. As time goes by, we can get to know each other a little more, even at a distance.

    But there is also another side to the picture. St Paul’s letters were mostly written to churches that he knew, but they were also read to people who may have joined after his most recent visit, and have now been published and republished so that there are countless readers. So book knowledge is not bad, but it has its limitations.

    That’s why I get suspicious of people who claim to read the Bible only, but never go to church, and say that what they tell you is “pure scripture”, unsullied by “man-made dogmas”.

    I’d be more inclined to listen to the words of people I don’t know if I know that they are embedded in a local Christian community somewhere, and are not just talking, but also listening to people they know, and who know them.

  13. 11-3-2011

    You all make some very good points. Obviously, as we see in Scripture, there are times when God speaks to us through strangers. However, the overall picture that we see in Scripture is that God tends to speak to us through those we know and serve with. I’m only asking people to consider listening to those around them… assuming, of course, that people are actually sharing their lives with others.

    -Alan

  14. 11-3-2011

    Steve

    Was wondering…

    You mention you’re – “…suspicious of people who claim to read the Bible only,
    but never go to church and say that what they tell you is “pure scripture”,
    unsullied by “man-made dogmas”.

    “Go to church.” Is it possible – that’s a “man-made dogma?”

    Did anyone – In the Bible – “go to church?”

    After I left “the Abusive Religious System,” that told me, over and over again,
    that I should “go to church,” join a church, give money to a church, etc.

    I had no place else to go – but – to go to Jesus, to go to His Word. :-)
    Jesus is the best teacher. Yes?

    Don’t know if you ever checked or not but…
    In the Bible, when I checked for other – “man-made dogmas”
    I found…

    NO one ever *Led* “A Church.”
    NO one ever *joined* “A Church.”
    NO one ever *went to* “A Church.”
    NO one ever *Tithed* to “A Church.”
    NO one ever brought their friends to “A Church.”
    NO one ever applied for membership in “A Church.”
    NO one ever gave silver, gold, or money, to “A Church.”
    NO buildings with steeples and crosses called “A Church.”
    NO – Pastors – in Pulpits – Preaching – to People – in Pews. ;-)

    Now I’m suspicious of people who tell me, and others, to “go to church.”

    Seems they are opperating on, and trusting a lot in, “man-made dogmas”
    and NOT trusting what God has given us in the Bible. ;-)

    NOT trusting in what Jesus taught “His Disciples.”

    And they shall be ALL taught of God.
    John 6:45

  15. 11-3-2011

    Well said! The ‘knowledge’ we receive is only beneficial to us or impactful I guess I should say — IF we can implement it in our lives/hearts…. and that only takes place in our daily life… with those God puts around us.

    The internet has really given us unique situations never available before – where we can get a lot of encouragement from people we never even do daily normal life with or plan to…. but God can (and IS in my life!) able to use anything (the written Word of the BIble, sisters & brothers written words, phone calls from long distance sisters & brothers included)… to encourage, challenge, teach & love on us in different seasons….

    I think all that is fine as long as we keep everything in perspective. HE should be the primary source of encouragement & comfort. Then those He has in our daily lives right around us, then others long distance or not. God – family – extended family.

    At the same time… I very much realize that I should take what I can get – as small and un-ideal as it is sometimes! AND all the while keeping my eyes open to who He has in my “REAL” life that are seeking relationship just like I am.

    Thanks alan! :) great reminders.

  16. 11-3-2011

    and i love this what Art said:

    “they knew the way it was lived out hour by hour, week after week, when things went well and when things went badly……..I think this is why God is so bent on transforming us rather than on merely informing us. The old sayings, “God sent His Son, not a brochure” and “Christianity is more caught than taught,” are true.”

    That truly is what is missing — leaders of the Church truly opening their lives so full on open that others can see the gospel lived out hour by hour – week after week – when things are great and when the trials come!!

  17. 11-4-2011

    Sometimes you can’t trust the people you know, or maybe you don’t know enough people. Sometimes it is very difficult to get to know people, or people you do know don’t have anything to say to you. Sometimes the things said by people you do know are the problem. Just sayin’.

  18. 11-4-2011

    Thanks again for continuing this discussion. Like I said in the post and in the comments, we should be willing to listen to people who we do not know personally and intimately. However, I still think we need to make sure that we are listening to people who we actually know as well – and listening to them even more than we listen to strangers.

    -Alan

  19. 11-4-2011

    “like” —- since we don’t have a like button on comments on blogs.