I don’t know about you, but I haven’t spent a lot of my life studying the prophets of the Old Testament. I love God’s word and I spend a lot of time reading my Bible, but the prophets always felt kind of…depressing. Sure, there are a lot of good nuggets in there that look great on a coffee mug or wall art deco, but most of what you read is a lot of doom and gloom—or at least it feels that way. So I always kind of just glossed over them in my reading. Hello, Malachi, how are you? A cursory ‘fine’ in response was all I was looking for before I skipped on to Ruth or Esther, or James.
So when I ran across a study on minor prophets, I kind of dragged my feet on starting it, but it just kept haunting me (thanks Holy Spirit) and I gave in. Eventually.
I don’t regret it.
Over the past few months I have come to appreciate all that I’ve uncovered in these hard to pronounce, but kind of amazing little books. The history alone is mindboggling, but when you really dig in, these books really speak to my current struggles, and, I’d hazard to guess, yours too.
So in this new series I’m starting (finally; I know it’s been like a year since I’ve posted anything. Life. You dig?), I’m going to dig into some of the prophets and promises of God, what I’m learning, and how it might teach you a little something too.
Investing in Prophets
This word can be a bit scary. Prophets. It feels kind of funny on the tongue, foreign and funky. Most people hear it and think it’s synonymous with ‘fortune teller’ or ‘psychic’. Prophets do sometimes talk about the future. I won’t deny that, but they do so in a much different way than what mainstream media tells us. They don’t gaze into crystal balls or look to anything human or mystical. No, a prophet is inspired by one thing and one thing alone: God. Whether it’s through His word or through constant meditation and prayer, prophets speak revelations. The sovereign will of God, which (as it happens) can apply to the future, but interestingly just as often focuses on the present and past. They rely on spiritual discipline, not on whims of unknown spirits.
I’ve been learning a lot about that concept of discipline lately, too. I used to think I was pretty good on that front, that I had a lot of discipline. And in some ways that is correct, but in other ways I have a long way to go and a whole lot to learn. Building spiritual discipline is arduous and often heartbreaking, but in a way that allows the Lord to move in and redesign your motivation and focus.
And sometimes it hurts.
The OT prophets would be the first to tell you that discipline is hard and painful, yet they’d also be the first (most of them) to tell you that it is 100% worth it to walk that closely with the Lord and to rely on His word and will for your every move.
Spiritual Discipline for the 21st Century
If we are honest with ourselves, we’d admit that our society lacks any kind of discipline, spiritual or otherwise. We rely on instant gratification to fulfill our needs and get angry and impatient when we have to wait in line or our computer runs slower than we’d like. So how do we build spiritual discipline in a world that thrives on a me-first mentality? Believe it or not, we build these disciplines in the same manner as the prophets. Sure, it looks a little different for us (we’re unlikely to clothe ourselves in sackcloth when we are grieving over our troubles), but the problems and trials we face have no different roots than what we see in the Bible and so the examples and words of wisdom and warning still apply to us today. Humans are humans, sinful and ugly in all their me-first glory.
Elisabeth Elliot wrote a fantastic book on this very subject called Discipline: the Glad Surrender. The book gets to the heart of spiritual discipline in the 21st century starting with the title itself: glad surrender. We don’t like to surrender and we certainly aren’t happy about it by nature. Especially in the US. It connotes weakness and humility that our society puffed up on pride and self-sufficiency can hardly stomach let alone pursue. But we’d be wise to at least try, especially if we are wanting community with God, which inevitably will lead to amazing growth opportunities we would never find otherwise.
So what are these disciplines we are to surrender to? This is not an all inclusive list by any means, but in this series these are the ones I’ll comment on most frequently:
- Solitude & Silence
- Sabbath & Rest
- Reading the Word
- Prayer & Vision
- Community: Family, Friends, & Neighbors
- Reflection & Discernment
Promises of God
The whole point of becoming more disciplined really comes down to the promises of God. When we start living by the promises of God rather than explanations (or lack thereof), we see true transformation in our minds, hearts and souls, but we can’t live by His promises if we don’t even know what His promises are. And that begins by spending time with Him in his Word, in solitude and community, to build and strengthen our spiritual muscles that focuses on something far greater than ourselves.
The prophets managed to do this without indoor plumbing, sliced bread, or penicillin, so I figure we can too if we are willing to surrender a bit of ourselves for a lot more of Jesus.