“So what does it mean to be a ‘prophetic people’?” There was both eagerness and frustration in the questioner’s voice. The answer given has lived with me ever since. “A prophetic people are shaped by God’s future, not moulded by their past.”
The same idea is hidden in a simple and even more intriguing question posed to the young Jeremiah: What do you see? Jeremiah 1: 12
It’s a searching question. How far ahead am I looking? What, when I do, am I seeing? How does our view of the future impact our daily life?
Words for the Week
Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’;
for to all to whom I send you, you shall go,
and whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
declares the Lord.”
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me,
“Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to break down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”
And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almond branch.” Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.”
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power towards us who believe, according to the working of his great might …
In my early 20’s, someone spoke to me in a way that I now realise was prophetic. In a few simple words, he communicated to me the wisdom of God. It’s hard to describe, but his words seemed to suddenly make sense of my situation. They carried authority and clarity, and yet were ordinary, unspectacular and simple.
I’ve heard it said that prophecy is not about being clever, mysterious or weird; it’s stating the obvious, but with anointing. Whether familiar fact or completely new perspective, God’s wisdom resonates in a way that suddenly makes sense – it’s a revelation. Maybe it was obvious; I just didn’t see it.
What he actually said was this: “If you can’t find what you’re looking for where you are, you need to move, and go where you can find it.” Those words led me to change my job, move city, and eventually to join a new expression of church. To put it another way, a vision of God’s future (for church and me as a part of it) reshaped my life.
No doubt some other future vision would have had a similarly revolutionary impact – on career, income, relationships, etc. – but with drastically different outcomes. What future, and whose vision, will shape our life, personally and collectively in the coming year (s)?
Back then, I’d been inspired to imagine a church that was unlike anything I’d ever experienced up to that time in my life: church as a community of friends; a naturally spiritual life that was spiritually natural too, every day of the week. An experience of God that was free of religiosity, that was neither judgemental nor tradition-bound.
The gospels described Jesus as the most uninhibited, freest person that had ever walked on the planet. How come, I asked myself, wasn’t I more like that? And what about his joy.. it seemed infectious, attractive, at times outrageous, evidenced by the company he kept and the meals he shared. Utterly integral with his irrepressible celebration of life, was Jesus unwavering time and compassion for those suffering injustice, pain and oppression. How, I wondered, could I more authentically follow that example and so engage with the richness and pain of his vision for a world that he loved?
It’s quite a leap from these personal reflections to the call of an Old Testament prophet in Jeremiah. But whether ancient or modern, culturally primitive or digitally sophisticated, God’s wisdom cuts through. Jeremiah (just as we are) was invited to look again at the world around him. In doing so, his understanding and interpretation of the politics, practice and culture was recast. His words and his life became a sign post to a different future that could change present experience and priorities, according to the response of his listeners. At times, he saw far into the distance, a new age and a new world:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah … I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbour and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord.”
So, how today do I (and we) respond to Jesus’ prophetic call? The challenge hasn’t changed. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light ”…
Own it personally
The prophetic call is to a way of life, not a way with words.
As I get older, so I find the prescription for my glasses has to be changed. Invariably, I need stronger lenses. Think about focus, and vision.
“The prophet does not ask if the vision can be implemented, for questions of implementation are of no consequence until the vision can be imagined. The imagination must come before the implementation. Our culture is competent to implement almost anything and to imagine almost nothing.”
The Prophetic Imagination. W Brueggemann
Consider those who are most important in your life. If God’s ways are fulfilled in their life over the next year, what would you imagine will change? What do you see?
Family, Friends, Church
Jesus said that his words were “spirit and life”. John 6:63 What words spring to mind when you consider the future of the church community, the friends who are closest to you, the ones you love? Who are you most concerned about?
Jesus clearly links our level of anxiety to the source of our security and happiness. What does my lifestyle say about my future expectation? Let’s take stock. Identify the voices and the views that are shaping your view of the world.
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
One way to deepen the reservoir of hope in our hearts is to read Tom Wright: Surprised by Hope.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
Romans 8: 18-19
Speak it Out – Pray and Prophesy
Write a letter to yourself beginning with the sentence: This year, I’d really like to see changes in the following key areas of my life… then identify priorities or issues that are significant dreams, concerns, hopes… Give the letter, stamped and addressed to a reliable friend, with instructions to post it to you in about 12 months time. Food for thought, celebration and prayer in 12 months.
This is a bit of fun. If you’ve not seen or done this yet, don’t read the explanation until you’ve tried the awareness test.
A saint is one who exaggerates what the world neglects.
G K Chesterton