A Prophet Is…


In my graduate studies on the prophetic, I have found some very interesting reflections from a Catholic monk well known for his prophetic giftings. Ephrem Arcement (2015) in his essays on the work of Thomas Merton (the Catholic monk) has drawn some very thought-provoking conclusions concerning the role and character of the prophet and the nature of prophecy. Some thoughts from Merton follow.

A prophet is first and foremost a living “witness of Christ” who reconciles the world to God by proclaiming truth and our future eschatological hope. Ultimately, prophets walk in the “now and not yet” of the kingdom of God proclaiming the hope that is to come in the chaos and darkness of the present. In this manner, prophets are a “sign of the kingdom of God” to this present darkness. They are able to birth “new” realities and call forth the will of God. They are less ‘foretellers’ and more ‘forth tellers’ of the promises of God.

Prophets have the unique ability to “see beyond” present realities and “model God’s covenantal love and justice here and now.” Clear communication is the hallmark of a mature prophet. They use language that is “understandable and uncompromising” simultaneously. A prophet can cut through lies (especially those of the enemy) and liberate individuals. In this manner, the prophet’s word’s transform others. They are burden bearers of “the divine mercy” who stand “in the presence of God and” listen “to his Word.”

Prophets often feel great perplexity of soul as they navigate feeling the “contradictions” in both the world, and more specifically, the church. They seek to bring divine alignment and clarity from a place of humility and honesty. The “dehumanizing” effects of social and ecclesial structures are addressed, not out of “an emotional reaction or rebellion due to pent-up frustration over an unfulfilled ideological agenda” but a sincere hope to see heaven and earth be made one with the purposes and plans of God. Prophets don’t necessarily criticize but counter “misunderstanding and abuse of the Word of God.” For the prophet, “the prophetic task is not to tell slaves to be free but to tell people who think they are free that they are slaves.” Prophets are ultimately freedom fighters!

Prophets are committed to reformation of society in general and the church in particular. They display a great faithfulness to the Word of God. Prophetic ministry is vital to the “church’s growth and development” because it provides “unequivocal yet charitable critique and persuasive dialogue.”

In the words of Pope Francis: “a prophet is someone who listens to the words of God, who reads the spirit of the times, and who knows how to move forward towards the future. True prophets hold within themselves three different moments: past, present, and future. They keep the promise of God alive, they see the suffering of their people, and they bring us the strength to look ahead. God looks after his people by giving them prophets in the hardest times, in the midst of their worst suffering.”

Prophets by nature endure “ridicule and misunderstanding.” It comes with the territory. The character of the prophet is undergoing constant refining and purification as prophecy “must stem from a pure heart.” This purging is necessary in order for them to become divine instruments. You will often find prophets are committed to contemplative living and the revelation of God. Prophets seek his face. They walk in step with the Holy Spirit. Prophets are “so one with the Holy Spirit that” they “are already going in the direction the Spirit is going.” This unification with the Spirit of God allows the prophet to lead others “in the way of the Spirit.”

A prophet must shun false humility and have the courage to follow their convictions. They are by nature authentic and transparent people. There is no pretense. A prophet recognizes their power is in weakness and true humility. They display “total trust in and dependence on God for provision and sustenance.”

Prophets are obedient to the Holy Spirit and display total fidelity to God. Prophets must learn to fear God alone and not man. They are “moved with passion and compassion.” The prophet’s heart burns.

The prophet is a non-conformist but not rebellious. They do not push their own “ideological agenda” or start a revolution. Prophets are not prone to whims of “frenzy” or “ecstasy”. “And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Cor 14:32). Ultimately, the prophet reflects the glory of God.
To confront the evils and woes of their day, the prophet must embrace “history without evading it.” In this, they reveal the will of God without tearing down or destroying. A prophet appreciates that the purpose of prophecy is to build and plant along with rooting out and pulling down. “See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant” (Jer 1:10).
Prophecy works hand-in-hand with wisdom. It is not a technique to be learnt but a yielding to the leading of the Spirit. Prophecy is not an activity but a ‘fruit’ of the Spirit working in our lives. It is often “aimed directly against the compromising effects of institutional dependence.” Prophecy calls the hearer to anchor their dependence and trust in God alone. Prophets long to restore the people of God to “covenant faithfulness” without removing their hope for future fulfillment of covenant promises. And therein lies the rub. Prophets are in the business of restoration and hope with faithfulness and fidelity to the Word of God. May we continue to have grace for the prophets in our lives and churches and for their ministry. They are vital.

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