Some people make me uncomfortable. They say hard things. Offensive things. Their very presence makes me bristle. Raises my blood pressure. Makes me flat out angry.
And it’s good.
They’re called prophets. A term we don’t hear thrown around much in pop culture today (unless they’re referencing some crazy in a sheltered compound with a chalice of red kool-aid and 300 blank-eyed followers). But I believe the prophetic gift is still alive (Ephesians 4:11), and at times the brokenness and deception in our lives will be violently accosted by very difficult truth. Painful truth. Prophetic truth.
The Old Testament prophets were nut jobs. Often outcasts. Recluses. They’d marry prostitutes or walk around naked to visually illustrate the sins of God’s people. Their call was to repent. They weren’t easy to ignore, but they were pretty easy to marginalize.
I undoubtedly face the same impulse when encountering a prophetic voice today. They like to point at things in me that I don’t want you to see. That I really don’t even want to see myself. I prefer to move them to the crazy line and get on with my life.
But there’s another kind of voice that can sound strikingly similar. That also leaves you bristling, irritated, and maybe even a little PO’d (for a whole other reason).
Haters. Full of self-righteous condescension, a sharp tongue, caustic wit, and an uncanny ability to make you feel like a pile of dog crap. And here’s the difficult thing about The Prophet and The Cynic…
…sometimes it’s really hard to tell the difference between the two.
I’m a pastor, so I live and breathe in “church world.” Admittedly, this can become it’s own subculture of competing philosophies and debate. The tension between prophet and cynic is one I wrestle with every day (at times even in my own soul).
The Western Church could use a good kick in the pants. A cold bucket of wake-up reality check. We’ve bought into some idolatrous (and perhaps even dangerous) lies. At times, we’ve even misrepresented the Gospel. We need the prophetic voices to radically and urgently point us back towards the truth.
But some of you so-called prophets need a gut-check of your own. You’re not oracles, you’re just haters – finding visceral satisfaction in expressing your animosity towards things that may have hurt you, that make you envious, or that simply don’t line up with your own personal preferences.
You’re just negative people. Nothing’s good enough for you – ever right or worthy of celebrating. When you’re not bashing mega-churches, worship styles, church structures, or the latest comment made by some well-known spiritual leader, you’re angst turns towards the idiot repairman, the forgetful waitress, your overbearing boss, or the ridiculous common area mowing schedule of your neighborhood association.
You’re not a prophet, you’re just a whiner with verbal acumen. Having a condescending opinion might make you a great ESPN analyst, but it doesn’t qualify you as the voice of God.
How do we know the difference? I fear mistaking prophetic words for the ramblings of a cynic. But I also fear gravitating towards the emotional woo of a hater assuming I’m hearing from God. So here’s a simple thought:
The prophet is motivated by redemption.
The cynic just wants to feel right.
What do you think? How do we discern between the two?