This week I have had the privilege of posting on one of my favorite blogs: “Release the APE”. I’ve re-posted the piece here, but I encourage you to head over to their website and check it out for yourself.
Since becoming a Christian I’ve heard lots of people talk about having a “life verse”. Usually it is a passage of Scripture that they feel embodies their own journey with God. It could be something that they received at their baptism or during confirmation, but whenever they discovered it has (hopefully) become a motto for how they live as a follower of Jesus.
For a while I was unsure whether I had a life verse or not. There are tons of passages in the Bible that I love, but a “life verse”? I wasn’t too sure about that. And then I attended a staff training event with InterVarsity. During one of our sessions together we were encouraged to pray for each other. Eventually it was my turn to be prayed for by my team, so I sat in the middle of the group as the others gathered around and began to pray.
Suddenly, one of them said, “I’m getting the sense that I should pray a verse over you.” And this is what she read:
The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” “Alas, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD. Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and plant.”
I wish I could say that it was a lighting-bolt moment, a moment when the heavens opened and I heard the voice of God. But honestly, I walked away thinking, “Wow that was cool,” and pretty much forgot about it after that.
That is until I began to transition off of IV staff and into pastoral ministry. I was taking a look back over my 6 years with InterVarsity and saw a theme: everywhere I went I was uprooting and tearing down, building and planting. With each ministry assignment I was questioning old ways of doing things, offering up new and different paradigms, and calling out systems and structures that hindered our witness and were stalling people in their walks with God. Without realizing it, this verse had become my life verse.
For those who have the prophetic edge to their ministries, I believe that this verse contains within it some important lessons. But the one that I want to really hone in on is verse 10: “I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” Often, the prophetic calling is described in light of the first portion of this verse: uprooting and tearing down. Prophets are talked about as those people who stir things up, get things moving, and critique established structures and paradigms.
As such, being a “prophet” has become pretty sexy in our postmodern, post-churched society. Nowadays anyone who has an opinion or a bone to pick is a prophet. In fact, I think being prophetic has started to become a code word for simply being a jerk. The truth is, just because we have a critique does not mean we are serving in a prophetic way. Too often would-be prophets have simply absorbed our surrounding culture’s disdain for the church and cynicism toward any kind of structure. Such an attitude is not redemptive and ultimately does more harm than good. I say this as someone who has fallen into this trap so many times that I’m a bit embarrassed. My first two years with InterVarsity I was, for lack of a better word, a jerk. There was no humility in my work. I was constantly cutting down what others had to offer. I was being an idiot.
The truth is, the prophetic calling does involve stirring things up, getting things moving, and critiquing established structures and paradigms. But it involves something else too: building and planting. Prophets are not people who are obsessed with attacking the status quo. Prophets are people who are captivated by a greater vision of what could be. This is where their desire for movement and change comes from. It is a putting off of the old ways of the world in the pursuit of the new ways of the Kingdom of God.
The image of building and planting is a powerful one. Like trees planted near sidewalks, prophets break up the concrete as new roots take hold and the tree expands. Prophets cultivate the growing of the kingdom of God and, as such, will critique and question things that would seek to hinder that growth, whether within or outside of the church. But such critique is not malicious or self-serving: it is always in service to the greater glory of God.
The reality is that being a prophet is hard work. You can’t just come into a church or organization, spout off your angry platitudes, and run. You have to commit to the long haul. Uprooting and planting takes time, patience, gentleness, wisdom, and insight. It takes submitting ourselves to the timing of the God who calls us. And it often means that we need to know when to speak and when to listen. We do all this so that the church might grow, not so that it will be torn down.
This is a calling that will take a life-time to learn. It will be filled with disappointments and frustrations, difficulties and challenges, hurt, anger, pain, rejection and so forth. We will make mistakes. We will hurt others. We will fall on our faces more times than we can count. But it is also a calling filled with joy, excitement, and new life as we participate in the work God is doing in making all things new. That is the life of a prophet and it is a life worth pursuing.