Prophecy is surely beneficial in confirming God’s overarching design. Yet could we be so focused on prophecy that we lose sight of that which stands directly before and within us? Is it possible to proclaim the mark of the beast more than the mark of the best? Should the 2,300-day prophecy supplant in urgency and importance the days and nights of struggle for people now?

To find answers to those questions, we must first name the practical difference between prophecy and prophetic voice.

Prophecy is settled dates on a calendar. Prophetic voice is our must-do list for this marvelous today.

Prophecy is declaration. Prophetic voice is application.

Prophecy is a record of vital signs following a physical exam. Prophetic voice is our lungs filling and emptying, heart squeezing and releasing, brain synapses firing and calming.

Prophecy is imminent, focusing on when. Prophetic voice is immanent, concentrating on why and how.

Prophecy is Daniel and Revelation. Prophetic voice is God’s indwelling Spirit.

Prophecy provides assurance that God has been present throughout earth’s chaotic history, and will, in the end, win. Prophetic voice supplies vivid hues, prompts, and purpose for living out our personal histories that will, in the end, resolve in the liberating love of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus embraced both prophetic voice and prophecy. Quoting the prophet Isaiah, Jesus started His public ministry by announcing, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18, 19).

And He went beyond. At the conclusion of His earthly life, in the actual Lord’s prayer of John 17, Jesus said to the Father, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent [My followers] into the world” (John 17:18).

Response Ability

The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and Micah spoke up for justice, peacemaking, and liberation. In every generation prophetic voices challenge power, wealth, and comfort, offering a microphone to the voiceless. At times this means speaking truth to power and pointing out systemic evils.

Conveying a prophetic voice, Ellen White wrote, “Ye will not give your voice or influence to any policy to enrich a few, to bring oppression and suffering to the poorer class of humanity.”1 Hélder Càmara famously remarked, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. But when I ask why the poor have no food, they say I am a Communist.”

Whoa, whoa! Aren’t you simply parroting the media’s fixation on the latest headlined cause?

Well, actually, no. We’re following biblical precedent and directives from the Redeemer. Imagine telling Jesus, “I don’t want to be involved in helping those people, because it’s a political thing.”

Look into His sad eyes as He whispers, “Really? That’s your reason? You must not have heard about My followers in the Netherlands who disobeyed laws and hid persecuted Jews. Or My followers in the United States who fought in nonviolent ways for civil rights. Or My followers in Poland who gathered to act out their prophetic voices and tore down an Iron Curtain. Today, across the planet, even at deep personal cost, My followers use their privileges to protect and sustain the vulnerable.”

“My followers use their privileges to protect and sustain the vulnerable.”

What’s your response?

Jesus also observed, “The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light” (Luke 16:8, KJV). And: “You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?” (Luke 12:56).

After the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, Peter related a promise from God: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy” (Acts 2:17). Notice the promise says all people. This prophesying involves prophetic delivery that moves beyond foretelling to forthtelling—communicating with clarity and boldness why and how to love God and God’s creation, including our families, colleagues, oceans, forests, and bees.

Shane Claiborne comments, “New prophets are rising up who try to change the future, not just predict it.”2 Following Peter’s words places us in our present time directly on the path of God’s activity.

Naturally, even beyond telling is living out with integrity. Specifically, we’re living out Jesus’ example. Our Master continually disturbed the comfortable and comforted the disturbed. So do we.

Seven Woes, Eight Blessings

Using His prophetic voice, Jesus pronounced woes and blessings for His time. Here are some for our contemporary landscape, invoking beyond our when prophetic voices, to our how and why.

Woe to you when the enticements of materialism wrap like dripping seaweed around your soul.

Woe to you when fear reigns in your hearts through local and cable news reports and quiet desperation.

Woe to you when you concentrate on “Jesus is coming soon!” and miss “Jesus is here now.”

Woe to you when you focus more on what we avoid than on what we do and are.

Woe to you when you make a habit of witnessing human suffering created by injustice but do not speak out in love against it (see Eph. 4:15), when you default your godly power to discern and act.

Woe to you when your messages and sanctuaries are not filled with joy, for in God’s presence “is fulness of joy” (Ps. 16:11, KJV).

Woe to you when you take your eyes off Jesus and lose hope.

Blessed are you when you live out your marvelous todays with defiant optimism, uninfected by the epidemic depression and envy germinated in social media’s glow.

Blessed are you when you get angry and do not sin (see Eph. 4:26). May you never lose your anger against injustice, and may you ever do your balanced best to see beyond labels and to work toward lasting solutions.

Blessed are you when you focus on listening, realizing that all truth is God’s truth, wherever and in whomever it is found.

Blessed are you when people get infuriated with you for your inclusivity and impugn your motives and imply that you are a radical as they remain smug in distraction and resolute in bias, for so they did to the prophets and to Jesus and His disciples (see Matt. 5:11).

Blessed are you when you are a living, thinking, laughing sanctuary—a safe place for God and for God’s creation.

Blessed are you when the Holy Scriptures grip and goad you to live more fully, courageously, and purely. In doing so, you will share the gospel of salvation and will act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God (see Micah 6:8).

Blessed are you when you discover the supremacy of righteousness by love (see Matt. 22:36-40; John 13:34, 35; 1 Cor. 13; 2 Peter 1:5-7; 1 John 4:7-21).

Blessed are you when you listen to God’s voice to find your own.

  1. Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1923), p. 333.
  2. Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006),p. 24.

Chris Blake is lead pastor for the San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay Seventh-day Adventist churches in California. A former editor of Insight magazine and professor emeritus of Union College, he has written many books and hundreds of published articles.

In 1905 an amateur physicist in Bern, Switzerland, wrote four papers that stunned the world and changed how we view the universe.

The patent office clerk with basset-hound eyes and unruly hair explained how molecules move and why light appears as a wave of energy or a beam of tiny particles. His paper on the theory of special relativity outlined a world in motion, positing that when we approach the speed of light, time slows and aging stops. Later he theorized that gravity is a curving of space, like a bowling ball on a soft mattress, that affects nearby objects.

Albert Einstein was describing universal truths. So it is with us. As Seventh-day Adventist Christians, our high calling is to describe universal realities that exist beyond what anybody believes.

We describe these realities best with our lives. How we choose salad dressings and soul mates, our responses toward people who are disagreeable, whether we float on the surface of confirmation bias or swim against the current, our decisions and actions matter. Yet it seems our world is changing so fast that we can’t keep up.

How can Adventists move into the future with a credible influence in today’s society? Here are three paths.

Focus on Others’ Positives

Today’s atmosphere in Adventism is too frequently one of unveiled distrust. We hear sinister motives projected onto presidents and pastors, elders, and earliteens. They have agendas; we have standards. Guardians and seekers both fervently warn about the mounting influence of “those others.”

In reality, the world divides us much as Jesus’ garments were at the cross. What plays best on CNN/FOX/MSNBC is conflict. Black versus White. Rich versus poor. Jews versus Muslims. Conservatives versus liberals. U.S. versus the world. We are being played.

Unless we battle against it, conflict language forms a corrosive worldview. For example, our lesbian and gay friends are not “problems” or “issues”—they are family, children of God with faces and names. People who believe differently about women’s ordination are actually not the spawn of Satan; they are friends with varying viewpoints.

Whenever we condemn others, we step onto the dark accuser’s turf. With that step our joy drains and our witness to the world evaporates, for no witness is attractive without joy. We support the accuser by demonizing and complaining. Whenever we defend others, we steer to the side of the Great Defender.

My friend Becky, age 32, raised her eyebrows. “I can count on one hand the people in my class who are devoted to the church,” she said. “It’s the spirit of criticism that drives the others away. They love God; they are spiritual; they do agree with Adventist values, just not with the politics and criticism they find in the church.”

Sadly, the scarred walls of memory imprison many of Becky’s peers. To experience freedom and hope, they turn to virtual communities in coffee shops and on glowing screens far from the madding congregation.

“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” the apostle Paul points out, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). Our enemies are not Iranians or Russians or Muslims. We wrestle not against the mythical theys of “conservatives” or “liberals.” Our enemies are the principalities of darkness. Period.

The rotten fruit of evil’s seed are fear, pride, and a critical spirit. Tendrils spread through churches in lurid animosities and petty tyrants. Universal truths twist from “God is a sovereign of infinite, infinitesimal order” to “God frowns when you wear faded blue jeans to church.” We lose track of priorities. One gorilla is deeply mourned while thousands of desperate refugees are abandoned.

The angels weep.

But the best way to eliminate a bad habit is to develop good ones. To eradicate weeds, grow a robust lawn. To keep children out of trouble, engage them happily in healthful activities. To minimize destructive behaviors in a church, involve all members in risky, joyful, productive ministries. Evil is best squeezed out, not tweezed out.

Philippians 4:8 expresses this proactive approach: Whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, praiseworthy, think about these things. Amidst a broken and toxic world, focus on the positives. Wherever we are, whomever we’re with—think about these things. That’s what Jesus did and does continually. His isn’t a sanitary attitude of avoidance; it’s a liberating emphasis on preemptive healing.

This outlook is as sweet as a crisp watermelon heart. Some time ago, I saw a statement in a Hallmark store: “Home is where we laugh the most and are loved the best.” Can we say that truly about our home church? The mass of churches lead lives of quiet desperation.

What matters in the end, and in the beginning, is love. Love is the only legacy that lasts. The world’s greatest lover proclaims, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

Embody Honesty and Resiliency

Christianity is more experiential than propositional. Though we hold universal realities to be self-evident, they evidently need to be written out.1

But God is infinitely more than 28 beliefs, as Jupiter is more than the written formulas that enabled the probe Juno to reach it. God and the world are more interested in our honesty than in our immaculate perceptions. In a land drowning in lies, the ninth commandment is equally important today as the fourth.

When I hear claims that some have attained character perfection, I consider how we drive. Have you ever halted even one inch over a crosswalk? turned into the far lane? accelerated one click above the speed limit? arrived at a stop sign without making a complete stop? Honestly? Some drivers have yet to be introduced to their own turn signal.

Our son Geoffrey failed his first driving test. He told me he flunked the test five seconds after starting the car.

Humans tend to be as inconsistent as a string trimmer: To stay productive we have to be bumped. 

“Wow. How did you manage that?” I asked.

He said, “I pulled through an empty parking space in front of me.”

Ah, no, I recalled with shame. I know where he saw that maneuver modeled.

So, flawless perfection? I am chief of imperfect sinners, and that’s just driving a car. Don’t get me started on the big four temptations of sloth, lust, egoism, and deception that leer at us in the mirror. I fight the good fight of faith, I trust my Savior to save me from my sins, and I also confess my infinite need of His grace.

Frankly, we need articles and books and blogs by Adventists about our messes. The Bible is full of human frailties, bravely transparent, on display through history, epistles, and poetry. God and the world know we make mistakes—and also willful, destructive sins—you and I. When I hear people sunnily observe, “I wouldn’t change a thing about my life,” I think, I’d change 10,000 things I’ve done and haven’t done.2

Humans tend to be as inconsistent as a string trimmer: To stay productive we have to be bumped. The most profound lessons are learned after we have messed up and resolve, Never again. World-weary watchers hunger for honest, raw, resilient stories of hope.

When, not if, the world’s currency collapses (see Rev. 18), God’s realities will remain. Our resilience will also be tested, especially at the end of time: “Because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of most will grow
cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matt. 24:12, 13).

After last summer’s tragic headlines of “lawlessness,” we witnessed love calcify and die in streets, posted comments, and convention halls. When Jesus says “stand firm to the end” His meaning is clear: Do not let your love grow cold. Fight against diminishing others. In the face of wickedness, keep your resilient love warm and nourishing, for you will need it forever and now.

Live With Humble Assurance

Ellen White observed, “When we seek to gain heaven on the merits of Christ, the soul makes progress.”3 We do not fear the future or worry about our salvation; we embrace the Lifegiver.

Jesus maintained, “Let your light so shine before people that they will see your good works and give glory to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.”4

Well, no. He didn’t say that, because it’s not about us. Church is not God, never was and never will be. The Advent movement of the 1830s and ‘40s began with a misunderstanding—a mistake of biblical interpretation, which the Spirit graciously later corrected. That bit of history ought to make us especially humble.

Humility does not sacrifice principles; it does change its mind if evidence warrants. The answers we were comfortable with 10 or 20 years ago may no longer be satisfactory. We carry many names for this process. Education. Present truth. Adaptability. Wisdom. Staying credible in a changing world requires all of these.

Jesus describes the reality of His self-forgetful lovers. “When did we see You in need and we helped You?” they exclaim. “When did we see You excluded on the margins and we gladly welcomed You? We were merely living our lives by doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly” (see Matt. 25:34-40; Micah 6:8).

Jesus smiles. “I know,” He says. “That’s what I loved.”

For the Master it was always about us. For us it is always about the Master. Focusing on the positives, we stay honest and resilient, all the time pointing to our Savior.

Humble assurance enables us to be both teachable and tough. Jesus poured Himself into our world, and we drink the Living Water with deep gulps. We realize that freedom is found only in following Him closely. We risk our comfort to stand up for those on the margins, the ones Jesus stood up for and stood up for until He stood up on the cross. We know grace—forgiving, accepting, and sharing—is as much a universal law as is gravity.

With full-throated lives we discover the God who invented strawberries, sex, thunderclouds, joeys in pouches, music, and pelicans gliding along curling waves.

Is that a reality worth experiencing? Will it play in the future?

We don’t have to be an Einstein to know the answer.

  1. We call these written universal truths commandments—and there are far more than 10. For examples, Jesus commanded us, “Do not fear,” “Love your enemies,” and “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ ”
  2. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “The cruelest lies are often told in silence.”
  3. Ellen G. White, Selected Messages (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958, 1980), book 1, p. 364.
  4. Paraphrased from Matthew 5:16.

Chris Blake is associate professor of English and communication at Union College. He has won numerous national awards for writing and editing, and is the author of many books.