No More ‘Going Through the Motions”

Amos, the prophet of God, had and still has a great deal to say about the life, attitude, and actions of God’s people. This included God’s thoughts about their worship. Amos speaks specifically and mostly to the Northern Kingdom of his day. However, he did have a few words for Israel as recorded in Amos 9:11-15. And His Words still speak to hearts today. So let’s have a look at the big picture and apply it to our current situation. 

The central theme of Amos’s prophecy is justice — social justice in the northern kingdom and ultimate justice for Israel, Judah, and their neighbour-nations.

In one of the harshest sections of Amos’s prophecy, God denounces the phoney religion of the northern kingdom.

Amos 5:21-23 NET “I absolutely despise your festivals!

I get no pleasure from your religious assemblies!

Even if you offer me burnt and grain offerings, I will not be satisfied;

I will not look with favour on your peace offerings of fattened calves.

Take away from me your noisy songs;

I donʼt want to hear the music of your stringed instruments.

Both the priests and the socialite women presented their offerings in hopes of gaining favour with God, but His response was plain: ”I will not accept them.” Nor did He want to hear “the noise of [the priests’] songs” or “the melody of [their] harps.” Why? Because of their hypocrisy and oppression of the poor. God had disciplined Israel in the past (Amos 4:6-11), but the people had persisted in their idolatry. Therefore the Lord had one message for this wealthy and idolatrous generation: “Prepare to meet your God…” (Amos 4:12)

God cares nothing for the exercise of empty religious rituals. He hates it. What’s more, God denounces moral and ethical practices that violate His standards and invalidate worship. God knows the secrets of every heart. He knows how we treat our neighbours and coworkers. He knows instantly when we are genuinely seeking Him and when we are just going through the motions — observing a tradition, trying to look pious to others, or checking off another box on our spiritual to-do list. 

The fact is, He does not desire our traditions, our giving, even our prayer and Bible reading — unless these things come from an obedient, truly loving heart. If our external actions toward God do not flow from an authentic desire to love others and please Him, we are only putting on a religious show, and He wants none of it.  

So, as we were worshipping last weekend at the church that I attend and teach at I was thinking about all of this from the book of Amos. I was watching as a few people stood and worshipped. Most sat. And, few of those who sat were engaged in the worship. They were talking, eating, looking at their phones, and dare I mention, napping. Yet, the worship was amazing and, even if I do say so, anointed. 

The teaching was on “Less Religion — More Relationship” (available under Ralph Howe Ministries on Podbean) and people listened politely. Four of those present took notes in their personal journals. Others did not. Bathroom breaks, fresh coffee, a candy and donut as the worship and teaching proceeded. It was a good, biblically based, foundational teaching. A comment or two were made afterwards. No questions were asked. It was, it seems, just “another teaching” in a long line of weekly sermons. 

Makes me wonder what God thinks when He sees all of this. Maybe something along the line of His comments to the northern kingdom through the prophet Amos. You see, worship reveals the heart of people – even the heart of those who don’t bother or worship for the wrong reason. I’m just making a personal, gentle observations. I’m not judging. God does that, not me. 

But, I for one, wonder how long God is going to put up with a people – His people – who are self-centered and so me-focused that they simply can’t be bothered to worship or get excited and engage with the teaching of His Word.

Just wondering — out loud.

The Role of the Prophets

I have recently read the book of Amos (Old Testament), named after a prophet of the Living God. And it got me to thinking about the role of the prophets both in Scripture and in society today.

Amos 3:7 is one of my favourite verses in the whole Bible. As I am reading the Bible through in a version that is new to me (New English Translation) it once again grabbed my attention.

“Certainly the sovereign LORD does nothing without first revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.”

It caught my attention because it really does not do justice to the verse in the original Hebrew. Let me quote it in the version I have been reading for years (English Standard Version).

“For the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.”

The Hebrew word for “secret” speaks of the intimate counsel of God. God is known for taking the upright “in His confidence” and giving warning or instruction to His people.

Job 29:4 NET “…just as I was in my most productive time, when Godʼs intimate friendship was experienced in my tent…”

Proverbs 3:32 NET “or one who goes astray is an abomination to the LORD,

but he reveals his intimate counsel to the upright.”

In biblical times, God particularly chose to speak through handpicked, distinct leaders who would deliver His message to the people. These prophets were responsible to stand in His council and receive His Word, and then to declare that Word to the people with absolute fidelity.

Jeremiah 23:18, 22 NET “Yet which of them has ever stood in the LORDʼs inner circle

so they could see and hear what he has to say? Which of them have ever paid attention or listened to what he has said? … But if they had stood in my inner circle, they would have proclaimed my message to my people. They would have caused my people to turn from their wicked ways and stop doing the evil things they are doing.”

The prophets could take no credit for what they said. Their duty was to say what God said. Nothing more, nothing less. The apostle Peter captured the prophet’s role in speaking and writing for God. “Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophetʼs own imagination, for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

It was a fearsome responsibility that required deep humility. Amos begins his prophecy by reminding his readers that he is only a shepherd from the small village of Tekoa (Amos 1:1). At Jeremiah’s prophetic commissioning, he pleads that his youth is a hindrance (Jeremiah 1:6). When God calls Moses to stand before Pharaoh — the most powerful ruler on earth — and tell him to let God’s people go free, Moses fears that his poor speech will prevent him from being effective. So God gave Moses a spokesperson: his own brother, Aaron. Moses would be the leader and tell Aaron what to say, and Aaron would say it (Exodus 4:15).

Moses’ relationship to Aaron prefigured the relationship God would eventually have with His own spokespeople, the prophets of Israel: “He will speak for you to the people, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were his God” (Exodus 4:16 NET). God would supply the prophets with what needed to be said, but they would be the ones to say it.

The prophets’ role was not to be creative but to be faithful. They were brought into the intimate confines of God’s counsel, receiving things that the people ultimately needed to hear. In fact, ““For the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). It was never God’s intention to catch His people unaware. Rather, He used prophets like Amos to give Israel fair warning that if they did not change their sinful ways, they could expect God to act.

Prophets did not speak only to warn, chastised, or announce judgment. They also spoke God’s Word “…for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16 NET). In other words, their purpose was also to teach so that God’s people would know how to live in times of crisis and times of calm.

In the New Testament era, the other side of the prophetic calling – forthtelling the Words of God instead of foretelling the actions of God — gets more attention. There were certain prophets active in the church who foretold the future:

Acts 21:8-11 NET “On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. (He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.) While we remained there for a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. He came to us, took Paulʼs belt, tied his own hands and feet with it, and said, “The Holy Spirit says this: ʻThis is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will tie up the man whose belt this is, and will hand him over to the Gentiles.ʼ”

But in writing about the role of church prophets and prophecy, Paul said, “But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14:3 NET). In the New Testament, the emphasis was on building up the Body of Christ through exhortation and encouragement in the face of persecution.

1 Corinthians 14:4-5 NET “The one who speaks in a tongue builds himself up, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. I wish you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets so that the church may be strengthened.”

Whether the counsel of God in Scripture warns His people, speaks of future events, reveals gifts and callings, or instructs them in how to live in difficult times, the purpose of the prophets was the same: fidelity and faithfulness to the direction of the Holy Spirit. That same Spirit of God warns and directs Christians today. And like the prophets of old, the responsibility of the prophets (and those who prophesy) is to faithfully do as He directs. 

Many Prophecies and Yet a Famine in the Land.

The prophet Amos – a simple man who was a farmer-shepherd from an insignificant village and an insignificant family. He speaks for God and reveals the very heart of God during a time when many were following their own ways. And, when others were following what they considered to be ‘prophetic voices’ but who were not speaking for the Almighty God, our heavenly Father. 

Gee, sounds like today in my nation.

God had been leading them for decades, even centuries through the voice of the prophets. And the prophet Amos was declaring a true Word of the Lord. It was a warning of coming disaster and punishment for the sins of the people. The words were very specific and near the end of the short book named after the prophet there was some good news prophesied as well. 

Amos 3:7 NET states: “Certainly the sovereign LORD does nothing without first revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.”

Very true then as it still is now. 

And yet, later the prophet states:

Amos 8:11-12 NET states: “‘Be certain of this, the time is coming,”’ says the sovereign LORD,

‘when I will send a famine through the land – not a shortage of food or water but an end to divine revelation! People will stagger from sea to sea, and from the north around to the east.

They will wander about looking for a revelation from the LORD, but they will not find any.’”

In other words, even if there was someone in the office of the prophet there would be no revelation through the prophet of what God was currently doing. No matter how hard one might look the Lord would simply not be revealing His plan and purpose for that time. It does not mean that the Lord is not active and involved. He has simply chosen not to inform His people what He is about to do and why.

With that as background let me comment on the current situation both in my nation and elsewhere in this amazing world in which we live. 

1> There are times when the Lord does not speak. It is not because He is mad although we often assume He is when He is quiet. Maybe we don’t need another prophetic direction or correction at the present time. Maybe we are still working through – or should be working through – the last Word we received. Maybe we should simply live by His written Word and watch as our lives are transformed through the written Word.

2> The void – the quietness of God – leads some to feel insecure and so they either go looking for a prophetic word from some source, any source. They are not hard to find as the internet is full of what many call prophetic insights. However, the words are not tested and often are not even biblical. However, many are not familiar enough with the Scriptures to correct judge right from wrong, true from false. There is no discernment and so many are deceived. 

Jesus did warn us that false prophets and apostles will rise and deceive even the very elect (Matthew 24:24).

3> We have many who have the gift of prophecy who are not called into the role of the prophet. And yet they are prophesying over the nation or nations. This is outside of the authority of anyone functioning within the gift of prophecy. Thus “prophetic words” are being spoken and published which are simply utter nonsense no matter how well-meaning someone may be. Words over the nations much come from tried, tested, and recognized men and women who are functioning in the role of apostle or prophet and recognized as such.

4> There are many self-proclaimed prophets and apostles who are issuing “prophetic words” when, in reality, they are not called to those offices and have not been recognized as true apostles and prophets. They are not in healthy relationships with others with the same calling they are functioning in (accountability). They have not been approved by the leadership of the Body of Christ and not recognized by (and often not a part of) a local assembly or church. Their words should not be received or acted upon.

5> Many people state “prophetic words” that line up and approve of their current lifestyle, behaviour, or what they are thinking and believing. So experience is then backed up with “prophetic words” to justify what is being accomplished or spoken in the Name of the Lord. This means experience and the “prophetic” is leading and Scripture is being used to justify behaviour and beliefs. We are proof-texting how we are living and what we are believing. This is backwards. Scripture is always the standard by which a word spoken as prophetic and any chosen lifestyle is judged as accurate or inaccurate, right or wrong. Experience and feelings are subjective where the Word of God, the Bible, is objective and our standard to which a word and a lifestyle is compared and judged.

So today many are declaring ‘the word of the Lord’ when there is no word. They are speaking from the soul and not the spirit. They are prophesying in the flesh and not in the Spirit. Oh, it sounds spiritual. But it is not. There are seriously few true prophetic words being spoken today. Yes, God is still revealing His heart through the prophets. But, true prophets who know the heart of God are hard to find. So, people run here and there looking for a word and buy into what is not from the Lord and thus are deceived. 

Very true today as we continue to face the Trucker’s Convoys and the multitude of false prophesies and misquoted and out of context Scripture passages that people are using to justify non-Biblical behaviour as they cause serious and long-lasting division and strife in my nation and now other nations. All done, so they say, “in the Name of the Lord” with is simply a blatant lie.