The prophet is the product of no school. The gift is conferred by no presbytery, and no synod of church dignitaries can unfrock him. His credentials come from a higher court and bear no stamp or seal of mortal man. To God he stands or falls. If he disobeys orders, as one of his kind did long ago to eat bread with a lying prophet after declining the invitation of a king, there awaits him a lion in the way of the sad epitaph, “Alas, my brother!” He must beware of the peril of weariness; three prophets of Scripture were at their worst resting in the shade after a tiresome ordeal. Elijah, that unnamed prophet of Jeroboam’s day, and poor Jonah have set us a sad example. One under a juniper, another under an oak, and the third under a gourd vine warn us that Shady Rest is a bad place for exhausted prophets. Nathanael fared better under his fig tree and Zaccheus up a sycamore!
There has never been a dearth of candidates for lush pastorates and “strategic” spots in the Establishment; but there as never been a rush to wear the prophet’s mantle. The inducements are few, the hours are long, and the fringe benefits are not in line with the modern scale in the professions. But the eyes of the Lord still run to and fro throughout the whole earth looking for some Isaiah who has seen God in His holiness, himself in his uncleanness, and the land in its wickedness, and who with lips touched by a live coal from the altar is read to say, “Here am I; send me.”
There are several ways of silencing prophets. Some are stilled by persecution. John the Baptist’s head is not brought in on a platter these days, but the same result is achieved with more finesse. Promotion will also put a quietus on modern Elijahs. Some have been exalted to high seats in the synagogue and have never been heard from since. Some say they have changed their convictions because the “climate” has changed. Certainly the intellectual, moral, and theological climates have changed, but convictions should not be governed by climate but by conscience enlightened by Scripture and the Holy Spirit.
A. C. Dixon was a great preacher who pastured Moody Church and Spurgeon’s Tabernacle. He said:
Every preacher is, or ought to be, a prophet of God who preaches as God bids him without regard to results. When he becomes conscious of the fact that he is a leader in his church or denomination, he has reached a crisis in his ministry. Shall he be a prophet of God or a leader of men? If he decides only to be a prophet insofar as he can without losing his leadership, he becomes a diplomat and ceases to be a prophet at all. If he decides to maintain his leadership at all costs he may easily fall to the level of a politician who pulls the wires to gain or hold a position. He who would prophesy or speak forth the message of God is careful of none of these things but only that he shall speak the message that God gives him, even though he be in a lonesome minority.
Diplomats and politicians abound in the world of religion. America needs a prophet today.
The prophet Ezekiel took a stand in his day against prophets, priests, princes, and people (22:23-31). The prophets had become profiteers. The priests had secularized their holy calling and made no distinction between right and wrong. The princes, the rulers, sought only personal gain. The corruption had sunk down among the people. God sought for a man to stand in the gap, but there was none. All of these conditions exist today. False prophets bid Ahab go up to Ramoth-gilead. The priests, the religious establishment, put no difference between the holy and the profane. The princes do not lead the people under the guidance of God. Government is ordained of God and its officials are His ministers, but today they savor more of politics than piety. The people are corrupt and their voice is not the voice of God. In a day of moral decadence through all strata of our society, God looks for a prophet to stand in the gap. Naturally, he will not be popular with any of these groups. It was so with our Lord. the religious system of His day was His worst enemy. He called Herod a fox. The people heard Him gladly at first but finally stood to cry “Crucify Him!” If He Who is Prophet, Priest, and Prince fared no better than that, what can we expect?
Evidently the prophet, the true prophet, is a “fifth wheel” in addition to the four wheels of the modern machine. He certainly is not a priest nor one of the regular clergy. He is not a politician and fills no office. Nor is he one of the common run of humanity. He is an Elijah lined up with neither priests nor prophets, with neither Ahab nor the multitude.
I do not anticipate a landslide of volunteers for the prophetic ministry. On occasion a pastor, teacher, or evangelist may give a prophetic message but a full-time prophet is another matter. He might start as a pastor, but what congregation would listen to a prophet Sunday by Sunday today? He might begin as a seminary professor, but he would soon be pressured out by a board that found him too angular to fit into the smooth design. He cannot call himself a prophet; that conjures up mental pictures of a long-haired ascetic with robe and sandals and staff. He may have to take his Bible to a cabin in the woods and venture forth to preach as God opens doors, and he may have to open the door and preach outdoors! He may have none of the “musts” required for pulpit success today, striking personality, formal education, and wide travel, but he will have what too few preachers do have today, hours upon hours in prayer and solitude with his Bible and a fresh word from God. He will be a voice in the wilderness. We have the wilderness; God give us a Voice!
(In Times Like These, Vance Havner, © 1969.)