The basic definition of a prophet from a biblical perspective is someone who is a mouthpiece for God. She or he relays some sort of message to other people. In the bible, prophets often offered social critiques, divine messages, moral reminders, and descriptions of what is happening in the “cosmic realm.” The prophet communicates something from God.
Easy enough, right?
Well, as always, we humans tend to make things more complicated than they ought to be!
Who is doing the talking? Is the self-proclaimed prophet communicating on behalf of God? Or are they conveying something else?
To illustrate this problem, I recall hearing an example from the early 1900s in the Houston area from a young, bold Methodist preacher. One year he went to his District Superintendent, claiming that God himself told the young man he ought to serve St. John’s Methodist Church in Houston. St. John’s was one of the biggest and wealthiest congregations of the conference. The appointment came with a substantial pay raise. St. John’s was also so well off that they even gave their minister a car allowance! The DS was shocked at this young preacher’s audacity to demand such a thing, but he held his tongue and simply responded with, “Well, let’s pray about it and we’ll see where God is leading you.” A couple of months later the young pastor got a letter that he would indeed be serving St. John’s church… but the St. John’s he would be appointed to was a couple hundred miles away from the big city in the middle of nowhere!
Not every feeling or thought we have is from the Lord. It can be quite complicated and unclear.
Here is a simple, threefold set of “test questions” to help you examine whether it is God speaking, versus some other desire. I would encourage you to wrestle with this as you communicate with God and discern what to do. Ask yourself the following…
1. “Is it God speaking? Or me?”
Too many times we rush to follow our emotions and thoughts without examining them in the first place. When someone insults us, we insult them back. When someone is negative, we pick up that tone and also see the world through a pessimistic lens. And when deciding what to do, we tend to follow our gut without question. We do the speaking most of the time.
So ask yourself whether God is leading you in the first place. Chances are, if you begin with this simple question–is it God speaking or me?–then that will set you up to follow God’s will in your life. You’ll become more aware of what God might sound like, instead of going with whatever pops into your mind.
2. “Does this line up with Christianity?”
Does your supposed nudging from God line up with the bible? Or is it contradictory? If you claim God is doing something opposite of the core tenets of our faith, that is clearly not God talking. While this might sound obvious, it is worth reiterating. God clearly wants us to follow him and be like Jesus. If you feel the desire or urge to act otherwise, be sure and know that whatever you feel is not from God.
God does not want you to kill or harm other people. God does not want you to sin. God does not want you to worship money. God does not want you to spend all your savings on lottery tickets. God does not want you to behave like a non-Christian. To claim otherwise in any of these instances really goes against the broad Christian tradition. When God speaks to you, I would argue that it ought to be consistent with the message of Christianity.
3. “Who is benefitting from this?”
Ask yourself about the benefits of a proposed course of action. If you are getting all the fame, honor, and glory, then I would challenge you to really think about if it is truly God speaking. I would venture to say it might be our own selfish desire if that is the case!
When God leads us to do something, it often is uncomfortable, difficult, or otherwise challenging. “Godly” success does not look like “worldly” success. But with God’s help, we can accept God’s calling and eagerly respond to serve the kingdom.