In a day of seemingly rampant fake news, amateur prophets are at large in the Church – and actually, it is brilliant news! One of the most encouraging gifts given to the Church by God is authentic, scripture-honouring, Christ-exalting prophetic ministry, and what a gift it is!
There is a wide difference between the gift of prophecy and the office of a prophet which we look at elsewhere on this site, essentially the core element remains the same in both; encourage, edify and build the local church. Prophets do much more than that, bringing encouragement, direction and a fresh sense of God’s Word to the wider Church and its leadership.
Why are amateur prophets so valuable to us at this time? To begin to understand that we need to define what is meant by the word “amateur”. Generally, in society, the word has slipped from its original meaning to also carry a derogatory application. A footballer may be good, but not up to the standard of a professional, he’s an amateur. A billboard poster may contain all the relevant information to market an event or a meeting, but we recognise from the design and the inconsistent fonts and clashing colours that it was somebody’s best attempt, but nevertheless amateur. The dictionary comes to our aid and correctly defines for us the word ‘amateur’ as;
“a person attached to a particular pursuit, study, or science in a non-professional or unpaid manner, someone engaging or engaged in without payment; non-professional.”
It is worthwhile to consider that definition and then to ask questions. The role of the prophet was never to be a professional one. One of the greatest prophets, Samuel was also employed as a judge over Israel. Amos was a farm hand, Daniel was a civil servant, Jonah was. well, different. There is simply no room for a professional prophet in the first or second half of the Bible.
John Piper’s excellent book, “Brothers, we are not professionals” is at pains to emphasise this. Our duty is to attend to the Lord, be led by the Spirit and grow both in our knowledge and devotion to the Lord, and also our enjoyment of Him; including all that He does both for and in us. Prophets are amateurs, attracted to a particular pursuit of righteousness and the profound desire to see the Lord honoured and glorified in the Church, and in the nations.
My friend, Paul Cain would never consider himself a professional prophet. He doesn’t like the term and refers to himself as an evangelist. In all the years I have known him he has never referred to himself as a prophet. The church calls him that, but he doesn’t. John Paul Jackson told me that people often want to give themselves mistakenly, the title of being a prophet, but are frustrated when people don’t recognise them as such. On the other hand, when someone comes into church wearing army battle fatigues, dressed as a soldier, no matter how much they deny it, everyone points at them and says, “there’s a soldier” If you really are a prophet, people will know, you don’t have to tell them!
The nearest perhaps we get to a professional prophet is Balaam. To be fair, he is a prophet, but not God’s! Balaam was a mercenary prophet of the worst kind. He was famous, self-willed, double-minded, eloquent, presumptuous, and an evil counsellor. Some people look on the account of Balaam and say that he had a genuine prophetic gift, but wasn’t walking with God. We need to be clear, the prophetic ministry is a distinct call from God. It is relational, and God reveals both Himself and His purposes. There is calling and commissioning involved. God wasn’t toying with Balaam. God spoke to him a few times, but that does not make him a prophet of God. He may have been prophetic, had revelation and insights, but they were not inspired by God, but for the most part by familiar evil spirits and when He did see the real thing, he realised and recognised it, and to some degree, it troubled him. It doesn’t go well for Balaam.
We want to encourage amateur prophets in the Church because we don’t want anyone prophesying, who is paid to do so. The apostle Paul was adamant that anyone can prophesy, (1 Cor 14:1, 1 Cor 14:39) you just need to eagerly desire the gift, and there is no limit to the numbers who can be involved, Moses wished that all of God’s people were prophets, and Joel said that God was coming to one and all in the Kingdom; young and old, male or female, without class-distinctions and regardless of gender, all would have the capacity for dreams, visions and revelation.
We are a Joel 2 people. No professional prophets, but amateur ones. Growing, learning and discipling ourselves and others in the uncertain art of knowing, hearing and discerning God whilst walking in faith and obedience to what He is saying, doing or inspiring through the precious Holy Spirit.
We don’t want professional prophets. Professional means someone is paying the bills and has a say in what their money is being spent on. It opens up uncomfortable situations and is susceptible to control or manipulation. A radical alternative is where churches recognise the prophetic ministry lies on certain people in their midst, and are prepared to include them as salaried members of the Church so that they can be free to seek God, free of concern about financial income.
Amateur also speaks of, “a pursuit”. It is far different from a professional framework that has people who have developed, honed or acquired a certain level of skill. Amateur prophets are seeking God. They observe, consider, evaluate, muse, think, study and grow in their gifting. They are consciously incompetent, realising where their strengths are, what their weaknesses are and are focused on learning from their lifetime experiences, pains and concerns. They are always learning and discovering the vast riches that are to be found in the providence and sovereignty of God and give themselves to a ministry that is borne out of conviction and compassion.
To close, you don’t choose to be a prophet, but you can choose to prophesy. Eagerly desire the gifts, especially that you may prophesy! iSo, welcome your authentic role of being amateur in these things and ask, seek and knock as you come to pray, and may God reveal Himself, His purposes and Will in the most wonderful way to you – the Lord is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him!
- It’s important we remember that this is an exhortation, an imperative, a command, and not merely a statement of fact. In 1 Corinthians 12:31 Paul says, “earnestly desire the greater gifts.” The verb translated “earnestly [or eagerly] desire” (zeloute) is grammatically ambiguous (it can be either indicative or imperative). A few insist it is merely a statement characterizing the behavior of the Corinthians, hence “you are eager for the greater gifts.” In other words, they take it to be a statement of fact concerning a state of affairs, not an exhortation to future action. (back)