(If ever a chapter written by Vance Havner was needed, it’s this one. Unfortunately, almost all of Havner’s books are currently out of print. The 20 th century prophet’s voice has been silenced by the profit margin. His is not a popular message, but it is a much-needed messages. I would encourage every pastor and minister to speak with a prophetic voice. We need a word from the Lord. We need to hear from God. This is no time to stutter or stumble. Christ is the great divider. The world sees gray, God sees black and white. – Michael Catt)
America needs a prophet today. Pastors, teachers, and evangelists abound, but prophets have always been rare and are now almost extinct.
The prophet does not fit into any of the neat little categories of the clergy. He defies regimentation and cannot be catalogued. Barclay says: “The settled ministry began to resent the intrusion of these wandering prophets who often disturbed their congregations.” They still do. The prophet is anathema to the Establishment in any day or generation. An Elijah on Carmel, an Amos in Bethel, a Savonarola in Florence upsets the status quo. He is not welcome to the councils of the powers-that-be in state or church. He is not a guest in Herod’s palace but a prisoner in Herod’s jail. He is not photographed with dignitaries nor invited to address the Sons and Daughters of I Will Arise. He is smilingly dismissed as “controversial” by the smooth diplomats of the ecclesiastical machine who rest at ease in Zion.
The prophet is usually a gaunt specimen, a man of the wilderness, given to solitude rather than to sociability. He is not a back-slapping politician, regaling the brethren with jokes late at night in a restaurant after church. He is too grieved for the affliction of Joseph to hobnob with the false prophets of Amaziah’s school of Bethel. He is not at home in this world; he is completely out of step with progress and somewhat angry at the age in which he lives. He is called a calamity howler because he discerns the designs of the devil going about as a mock angel and is not ignorant of the subtle trickery of the advance agents of Antichrist. He distinguishes the Rider of the White horse in Revelation 6 from the Rider of the White Horse in Revelation 19. He is the biter foe of all who are trying to legislate a counterfeit millennium under religious auspices by making political projects look like moral issues.
The prophet is a lonely character in this world, sponsored by no foundation, paid from the coffers of no main office. He reports to no headquarters but heaven, has no retirement benefits. “Priests retire but prophets never.” He appears on no boards or committees, and if he shows up on a “program” he is usually shunted very cleverly into a minor spot, perhaps a “devotional,” where he has little chance of creating much disturbance. He is usually smart enough, however, to decline such invitations because he abhors being a puppet on anybody’s string. He has no ax to grind and craves no man’s bishopric. He has long since laid reputation and future on the altar of dedication to a prophetic ministry and is immune to both praise or blame. He knows that no prophet can ever be popular in his own day, and that he will be without honor in his own country and in his own house. The next generation may build a monument to him, and all medals will be awarded posthumously.
He will be on better terms with heaven than with earth, like Elijah who stood first before God and therefore needed not to bow and scrape before Ahab. The prophet pays a price, but it is worth it to walk into any pulpit beholden to no man. He owes no political debts to anyone for pulling wires to get him to a top seat in the synagogue. While other speakers worry about making good and putting it over, the prophet is concerned only with delivering God’s message regardless of consequences.
Of course the prophet has his temptations and perils. He may glory in his uniqueness and take pride in his peculiarities. His bold manner may be a defense mechanism to hide real cowardice within, and his austerity may be rationalized into a virtue when under the juniper with Elijah and fancy himself to be the Surviving Saint when seven thousand others have not bowed to Baal. The devil may use these possibilities to keep a conscientious, true prophet silent for fear he will succumb to these evils, thus committing the greater sin of quenching the Spirit within him.
The prophet must needs have the heart of a child and the hid of a rhinoceros. His problem is how to toughen his hide without hardening his heart. That combination can be achieved only by the grace of God. He is beset by loneliness and threatened by self-pity, that distemper that struck even the rugged Elijah. He is hated by all descendants of Herod, Jezebel, and the Pharisees. The place that should appreciate him most often criticizes him “for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem” (Luke 13:33).
There are those who think that there is no place for a prophet in this dispensation. The wish may be father to the thought. Naturally Ahab wants no Elijah troubling . Of course Amaziah in his posh chaplaincy at the royal court does not relish an uncouth Amos in town. Who would expect Herods living in adultery to appreciate a John the Baptist? What Queen Mary wouldn’t fear the prayers of a John Knox? The prophet is essentially a soloist, not an accompanist, and in this day of the Organization Man an individual is resented if he is unwilling to get lost in the mob. It is quite natural, therefore, that those who today are trying to level all the mountains into one plain and reduce humanity into one faceless mass in preparation for Antichrist, should hate prophets who refuse to lie down before the steam roller. Nothing is so irritating to the prevailing order as an odd number who cannot be bribed or bullied into conformity.
(In Times Like These, Vance Havner, © 1969.)