We need all kinds of people to speak into our lives in different ways and with different voices, but we often need to hear the "prophetic voice" more than others. I especially need it. We need the prophetic voice because we all continue in sin. We need the prophetic voice because we are always engaged in a war against the unrighteousness in our hearts and lives, and while Jesus has secured our victory over sin we often lose battles. As I read Scripture and reflect on my own life I can see how God uses the prophetic voice to call his people (and even me) back to himself and his ways. Unfortunately, I often see preachers and teachers attempt to speak in this way without the care needed. The result is, in my estimation, potentially deadly. Here are a few thoughts.
The prophetic voice is the confrontational call to faith and repentance, in a particular area of life, that comes with the authority of "thus says the Lord."
Let me break this down into 4 parts.
1. Confrontational. The prophetic voice is always confrontational. It isn't a softly spoken word, nor the calming words of a counselor. Those are good and necessary, but the prophetic voice boldly confronts us in our willful weakness and challenges us to look to God and the gospel. It is a hard word.
2. A call to faith and repentance. The prophetic voice is always a call to repent of sin and believe in the gospel. When God's prophets spoke into the lives of his people, they issued a call for faith and repentance. There are sins to leave behind, and there is grace to be found in God who forgives. Faith and repentance is our daily work, and the constant requirement of a life lived for the glory and enjoyment of God.
3. In a particular area of life. The prophetic voice always speaks with great specificity. When the Old Testament prophets spoke, they spoke directly into the life of Israel. Men were confronted concerning the ungodly way they treated their wives, their lack of generosity, and other named sins. Spiritual leaders were confronted on their lack of care in teaching, their absence of integrity, and their lack of love for God's people. The prophetic voice addresses us with precision so we know what we need to do; so we can clearly see what our idols really are and burn them down.
4. Comes with the authority of "Thus says the Lord." So far pastors and teachers tend to be more effective at the first three parts of the prophetic voice. We see the need for change, want God's people to end their complacency, cast off apathy and walk humbly with God! But all too often I see preachers and teachers blow it all by missing this last component. The prophetic voice must come with the authority of "thus says the Lord," and this has nothing to do with tone, conviction, or earnestness. It comes from a radical reliance on, and the clear reflection of, Scripture. Or to say it differently, the prophetic voice speaks God's words and ways and not man's.
The moment we call people to live and act in a way that God's word does not require the prophetic voice is silenced and in its place rises the voice of the pharisee. Well meaning preachers who call for radical obedience to laws not established by God will at best be ignored, or worse - followed! When the latter happens people are drifting from a reliance on Scripture and godly discipline and moving toward a religious life that lacks both the blessing and power of God.
"You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you." Deut. 4:2
So let's be careful. Especially us preachers. The church and the world need to hear a prophetic voice, but it must confront, call for faith and repentance, be specific concerning sin and idolatry, and must always and only call us to follow the way of God (sola scriptura) while finding hope in the gospel of God.