I’ve wrestled with this for most of my life.
I was fourteen years old when I felt God implant something in my soul, and it has been there ever since. Most of the time I tried to shout it down by pursuing something else. I never fell into open rebellion. I never told God “No” to His face.
More often, what I did, was to deny it. To see myself, and my faults, and my weaknesses, and my hurts, and my shortcomings, and my sin, and I denied that this thing could live in a heart like mine.
I carried a burden most fourteen year old young men did not. I prayed for people I’d never met. I felt the pain that sin was causing in the lives of sinners I didn’t even know. I felt a white-hot anger at the preaching of heresy, fallacy, and –especially- with spiritual manipulation.
I prayed prayers that men three times my age never prayed. I didn’t try to do this, the words just flowed out of me. So did the tears. I wept a lot. I wept for the lost. I wept for the Church. I remember buying Leonard Ravenhill’s “Why Revival Tarries” and weeping my way through it, mostly on my knees beside my bed, as a junior in High School. A junior. I was sixteen years old when I read that book. I read Joseph Parker’s little quote at the beginning of one of the chapters and it changed my life.
“The man whose little sermon is ‘repent’ sets himself against his age, and will for the time being be battered mercilessly by the age whose moral tone he challenges. There is but one end for such a man -- ‘off with his head!’ You had better not try to preach repentance until you have pledged your head to heaven.”
I knelt again by my bed, and pledged my head to heaven. I asked God to make His calling certain in my heart, because I dreaded...I dreaded getting it wrong. I’d seen too many preachers whom God Himself had never called. I saw how they proof-texted and verse-searched. How they railed on things that had nothing to do with Christianity and drove wedges of division between the members of the churches in which they preached, then moved on to their next “revival service.”
This burden grew in my heart all through high school. I devoured books that men twice my age had never read. More Ravenhill. A.W. Tozer. Nee. At fourteen I took my paper-route money and bought my first Bible Commentary and a home bible study course. The course was for adults. It was ridiculously easy to me and I wanted more. I listened for hours to the great Keith Green and wept still more tears at the condition of this world and of the Church.
At times I got caught up in the hyper-fundamentalism that ruled the day. I was taught to be harsh on Southern Baptists, and that Catholics were Mary-worshipping heathens, led by the Antichrist. I didn’t know any better, so I believed it.
I graduated high school at the top of my class in my Christian school. I had plans to go to Liberty Baptist College, what is now Liberty University. I would train, I would work, I would one day preach these sermons that woke me up at 3AM. I would one day express the passion and burden that rendered me sleepless more often than I should have been as a teenager.
But this didn’t happen as planned. Not right away. I didn’t get to Liberty until 1984. I didn’t graduate until 2012. 28 years of walking, stumbling, falling, failing, quitting, starting again, struggling, wrestling, being refined, and being reshaped, and being remade.
I had lessons to learn yet. I understood holiness just fine. I had practically memorized Tozers “The Knowledge of the Holy” and re-read “Why Revival Tarries” so many times that the book was falling apart in my hands. But I needed to learn the other side of this calling. The broken heart over sin and evil and over the misappropriation of the pulpit was easy for me. What I didn’t know about was the compassion that this calling required. I needed to know why Samuel rent his clothes. Why Elijah was exhausted. Why Jeremiah –and Jesus- wept.
I needed to understand the other side of grace and the human side of Jesus.
So in 1993, after falling away from the system I had grown up in...but not from my Faith...I found Brennan Manning. I learned of loving grace. I learned what it was in my heart that made me weep after the anger subsided. I discovered why sin made me furious but sinners made me sad. And in so doing, I was beginning to learn who I really was.
In the years since, I have tried my hand at a number of things. Never in any of my vocational efforts was I trying to tell God “No thanks.” It’s simply that I thought he was done with me. I’d fallen, many times. I’d failed. I’d embarrassed myself. I’d come limping home with dirty clothes, wreaking of the pig pen and wondering if I still had a Father.
I was being prepared even then, but I didn’t know it.
I endured a heartbreaking divorce. The loss of my precious fatherhood, reduced to a few days each month. I also endured the incessant longing for my earthly father, and tasted only his rejection time and again. I built a life in an industry that held no real charm or passion for me, but in which I managed to thrive anyway. I bought a house, and planted a garden. And in every quiet moment, I heard God calling to me. He called to me in my restlessness. He called to me in my frustration. He called to me in my loneliness.
Under all the noise of life itself was the steady whisper of God. “I am not done with you. In fact...I haven’t even started using you yet.”
I tried ignoring it. I tried using success to ward it off. But it never worked. in the internal misery that consumed me almost daily, there was that still, small voice saying “There is more. There is something, mysteriously, wondrously more.” I said “Yes” to the as-yet unknown on October 17, 2005.
In my teen years, I wept over Ezekiel 22:30 when I saw gaps in the walls of the Church and our nation and no one filling them. I wept the words of Isaiah chapter 6... “Here I am...send me!” That October night, at age 42, I wept again. I wept for years lost, (or so I thought) and over a longing in my soul that I was finally ready to admit to. I wept. Like Jeremiah.
Three years from that night, I would be sleeping in my car, hidden behind a church in Nashville. Everything I had or was, had been taken from me by an economic downturn and the continuing crush of the threshing wheel. God was hammering the metal into something He’d always wanted.
I hate that term. I don’t hate the biblical definition of it, I hate the way it’s been hijacked and bastardized by the discernment-theology crowd. They don’t know what it means or what it entails. They claim it for themselves, when it can’t be claimed. In fact, nobody in their right mind would claim this thing. I never did. It’s bestowed. I would dare say that if it’s sought after, the seeker is a fraud. Here’s a little of what it involves (taken from a few websites):
A prophet’s and relationships are restored. Prophets might be considered the “trumpets” of the Body of Christ who sound the alarm in the face of sin and compromise.
· A prophet .
· The prophet is passionate about exposing sin, but not primarily so that sinners can be punished. Rather, he is passionate about exposing sin .
· A prophet has , and his nature demands that action be taken—something must be done. This action may take the form of an overt protest or confrontation, or it may take the form of a conversation or correspondence.
· For a prophet, any solution that involves compromise is unacceptable.
· For the prophet, . Naturally, knowing that a prophet has this perspective tends to make some of us feel intimidated or uncomfortable around them—even when we are guiltless! The prophet’s abhorrence of sin can easily be viewed as a judgmental spirit, and no one wants to be the object of that judgment.
· The prophet often displays the spiritual gift of ; he is able to discern true motives as the Holy Spirit gives him divine insights. As a general rule, the prophet is more interested in whether or not the heart is pure than whether or not the activity in question is acceptable.
· Prophets are usually ; they tell it like it is.
· They tend to see issues as “black or white,” not “gray.”
A Prophet’s Strengths
· A prophet is , because he regards Scripture as the only source of truth.
· A mature prophet easily discerns hypocrisy, because God has gifted him to discern Truth.
· He is , especially when discipline or correction is required. When a wise prophet is confronted with his sin, he sees it as God sees it and consequently is crushed (if he is walking in the Spirit and not in the flesh).
· The prophet accepts absolutes easily. The rest of us try to explain them away; prophets simply take God at His Word.
· He is .
· A prophet has a , based on what God has promised. This is the prophet’s attitude: “If it’s right, do it. Trust God for the outcome—it’s His responsibility.”
A Prophet’s Weaknesses
· A prophet’s need to be “painfully truthful” may result in .
· Prophets often have who do not respond objectively.
· A prophet’s sense of conviction may tempt him or her to become .
· Because of the prophet’s deep consciousness of sin, he sometimes seems to have a .
Sound like fun? Not to me it doesn’t. But those who know me...it sounds like me.
Exactly like me.
Prophets are different.
Prophets don't fit in easily like other people. They often seem to be off on a tangent, worrying about something that most people don't care about. The prophet is often out of step with the mood of the times. They often seem to be misfits.
The Christian prophets' power is to humble the mighty and to raise the destitute. When others are laughing, he weeps in his spirit, and when they weep, his spirit rejoices. For he is one step ahead in vision, and in the burden on his spirit. The Lord is the forerunner, but he is most often that forerunner through his prophets. They go before him to prepare his way in the body. When the church is rejoicing and celebrating the victory of the Lord, the prophet is already called to the next battle, the next pit of sorrow. The next work of the Lord is upon him. When the body of Christ is groveling in pain and repentance, the prophet is rejoicing both that the body is repenting and that the reward of the Lord's mercy is coming.
To a person endowed with prophetic insight, everyone else appears blind; to a person whose ear perceives God's voice, everyone else appears deaf. No one is just; no knowing is strong enough, no trust complete enough. The prophet hates the approximate, he shuns the middle of the road. Man must live on the summit to avoid the abyss. There is nothing to hold to except God. Carried away by the challenge, the demand to straighten out man's ways, the prophet is strange, one-sided, an unbearable extremist. The prophet disdains those for who God's presence is comfort and security; to him it is a challenge, an incessant demand. God is compassion, not compromise; justice, though not inclemency. The prophet's predictions can always be proved wrong by a change in man's conduct, but never the certainty that God is full of compassion. The prophet's word is a scream in the night. While the world is at ease and asleep, the prophet feels the blast from heaven (Abraham Heschell - The Prophets).
A prophet always stands in danger of being thought insane. He does not see what other men see. He has the strangest kind of intuitive grasp of things. It seems as if fresh from heaven he is astounded by the carnality of men. He gasps and cannot stand, wondering that no one cries out (Art Katz - The Heart of a Prophet).
Ezekiel was not what we consider a normal person, but his abnormality is a key to his greatness, as has been the case with many of histories notable personality. Ezekiel's seems to have been a harsh ministry, but zeal to vindicate God and to preserve a remnant for mission proves him to have guided by profound insight. Among the truly great men of God stands this strange contradictory figure whose creative spirit, energized by God helped to return the mainstream of religion to its proper channel of mission. Ezekiel was a man of his times, and the time in which he lived was a time of great social, political and spiritual flux, that could have become either the basis for new creative understanding of the place of God in the life of man, or the dying of and inadequate faith. It was largely due to Ezekiel that out of the ashes of destruction came the resurrection of new faith and hope (Anonymous).
This high standard of character does not come easily. God will spend many years preparing a prophet, generally by putting them "through the mill".
No beginner can be that pure. Therefore the budding prophet will be thrashed, beaten, scorned, humiliated, laughed at and rejected will fall into error and rise again; until God rules in every part of him God teaches in the rude world of trial and error (Sanfords).
When God call Isaiah to the prophetic office, He first purged his mouth with a burning coal from the golden altar of incense of heaven. God's prophets still need their mouths purged before speaking in the name of God (Iverna - Tompkins - Advancing in the Prophetic, p.37).
The prophet more than all others, save the apostles must die to self, daily. His word must not be his own. There are dire warnings upon the prophet who speaks not out of God's Spirit but from the contrary winds of his own soul (Jer 23, Ez 13).
What discipline, training and chastisement is required! The prophet, more than all others, save the apostle, must die to self, daily. His word must not be his own. What dire warnings Jeremiah 23 and Ezekiel 13 heap upon the soulish prophet who speaks not out of God's Spirit but from the contrary winds of his own soul. No beginner can be that pure. God teaches in the rude world of trial and error. Therefore the budding prophet will be thrashed, beaten, humiliated, scorned, laughed at, and rejected, will fall into error and arise- only to fall again, until, in every part of him, like Nebuchadnezzar, he knows -with grass in his mouth that the "Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will" (Dan 4:32) (John and Paula Sanford - The Elijah Task).
Whoever would stand in the spirit and power of Elijah must be willing to wear the inner camel's bristle. He may never take it off. For the spirit of Elijah is the spirit of repentance. Repentance is not sadness. Repentance is change. Change is joy. The prophet's nature must never become fixed, stationary, and unbending (John and Paula Sanford - The Elijah Task p.10).
The ministry, the office of a prophet takes learning, it takes the toil of gathering experience, but it does not necessarily require the gift of prophecy. The seer is marked by intellectual capacity and maturity. Spiritual gifting neither guarantees truth nor constitutes maturity (Lars Widerberg - The Seer).
Most prophetic people get in touch with their giftings long before they cultivate the corresponding wisdom, humility and character that is necessary to succeed in prophetic ministry. In the beginning, they may appear arrogant or pushy because of their zeal. As years go by, their pushiness usually comes from fear, hurt and rejection (Mike Bickle - Growing in the Prophetic p.142).
If God is able to find the right vessel the Word will come forth in abundance. Therefore, he takes much time to mould, fashion, train, refine, purge, break down, build up, discipline and create His prophets. Yield to that process. It cannot be rushed, but it may certainly be hindered. We cannot force the Spirit, but we may certainly quench Him (Chip Brogden - Letter to a Reluctant Prophet).Sometimes the preparation of the prophet may include a time in the isolation of the wilderness.
My second point is that the Wilderness is a valid place to be for people who are being broken, trained and molded by God. Many of God's heroes, big and small, down the ages, have been personally dealt-with by God in the Wilderness. And I believe that many of those whom God has been preparing to have a part in His new move have been taken through the Wilderness by God in our day. The Wilderness is not the answer in itself. It is a waypoint. If you get stuck in the Wilderness, like the children of Israel did, you are in trouble. If you like the look of the Wilderness more than the Promised Land, you are in big trouble. The Wilderness swallowed most of the children of Israel whole. They did not use it as preparation, like they were supposed to. They went to the place of testing and failed the test. But historically, the Wilderness has been a very important place of brokenness and training, where God has prepared men and women before using them in some way (Andrew Strom).
We will not turn aside to see the 'burning bush' of God in which the Lord Himself is in the midst, in the revelation of Himself that waits on that moment of a particular kind, if we have not already 'turned aside to see' the 'burning bushes' of the issues of our own life. Most of us look away and our past is the wreckage of failed marriages, failed relationships, failed church situations, where we go on to something else and sweep the past under the proverbial rug and have not turned aside to see. It is painful and that is why people do not turn aside, and we look to the next situation to remove the memory of the past. That is the human propensity and it is a propensity that the prophet cannot indulge. He has got to have the guts to face up to his own past and his own failures. In fact, those failures have very likely been given him by God to fit him that he might not miss the 'burning bush' when it comes in the moment of his final calling (T. Austin-Sparks - What is Prophetic Ultimacy?).
There is more in these articles but I don’t want to make this a book. It’s a huge burden that I never asked for. Years ago, when I was about 20 years old, someone came to me and said “You are called as a prophet.” I thought they were nuts. I didn’t understand what a real prophet was and is. I thought it was merely a guy who saw the future. It actually has little to do with that.
I understand now, at age 50. It’s lonely. It’s isolating. It’s maddening. It’s painful. It’s often dark. It’s brooding. It’s sad. It builds compassion in your heart then drains it like a whirlpool. It makes you furiously angry with people that almost everyone else loves and adores. It draws you to people that others reject and ridicule. It means you’ll never be cool, never be popular, hardly ever be welcome, and frequently be reviled, even dreaded.
It ends friendships, church memberships, and neighborly relationships. It breaks the heart of every person upon whom it rests.
If it finds you and you don’t act on it and in it, not much in your life or your world will go well. Elijah would have made a terrible businessman or farmer. When Jesus began his tenure, he had to quit the carpenter’s shop. The two could not coexist. Peter returned to his nets only in a time of failure.
It means you stand against the age you live in. Against the political winds and the religious powers. Things break your heart that others barely notice. I’m fighting back tears as I write this. I don’t want this. Not entirely. I just want to be a dad and have a home.
But I have no choice in the matter.
I awaken all too frequently, in the middle of the night, preaching sermons in my head that wake me from my sleep. I feel –in the midst of the painful desolation that my life has become these last 6 years- the hand of God. A prophet can’t be well-dressed or popular. He has to be perpetually broken. I hate that too. Not because I hate brokenness, but I have a daughter. I’m a dad. My brokenness effects my daughter. And my friends.
But in these last few weeks, even as the few positive steps I was taking were (again) dashed on the rocks, (My new –to me- work truck was totaled a week after I got it. I was turned down for a mortgage position after TEN weeks in the process, etc.) I heard God whispering to me. Reminding me that he had called me those years ago. And that the years I thought were wasted, were actually years spent being shaped, broken, reshaped, molded, hammered, smoothed, broken again and instructed. I learned compassion. I learned grace. My fire and fury at sin is overruled only by my passionate love for the lost, and desire to see them not be lost anymore.
I walk a tightrope. I never asked for this. But I am here...balancing precariously.
This is who I am. Brethren...pray for me.