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If Necessary, Use Words

Today I’m thinking about the prophets. For the last several days I’ve been working on a study on the Old Testament prophets for my small group. And something that has really stuck out to me is how their lives are so wrapped up in their message. The classic example is Hosea, who God called to marry a prostitute and was doomed to a life of buying back and forgiving an unfaithful wife, to be a living allegory of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God—and God’s relentless love.

Yesterday, I was starting my personal time with God. I asked God to speak to me, to show me whatever it is I needed to hear as I read. I launched my Bible app, which opened to Ezekiel 24. I had turned here when I was working on the small group study, to read the first half of the chapter, when Ezekiel hears that Babylon has besieged Jerusalem. But what my eyes fell on this time was the second half, which opens with these verses:

Then this message came to me from the Lord: “Son of man, with one blow I will take away your dearest treasure. Yet you must not show any sorrow at her death. Do not weep; let there be no tears. Groan silently, but let there be no wailing at her grave. Do not uncover your head or take off your sandals. Do not perform the usual rituals of mourning or accept any food brought to you by consoling friends.”

So I proclaimed this to the people the next morning, and in the evening my wife died. The next morning I did everything I had been told to do.

Ezekiel 24:15-18 (NLT)

I don’t think I could give any adequate commentary on those words, other than to let them speak for themselves. So stop, read that again, and let it sink in.


I’m reminded of St. Francis of Assisi, who said, “Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.” If anyone lived that out, the prophets did. (OK, depending on how you define “gospel,” it’s up for debate as to whether their message was part of the gospel, or was just fulfilled in the gospel, or whatever. That’s a whole nother discussion that I’m not going to address, in this post anyways. It’s more the concept that I’m trying to get at.) Sure, they had a lot to say, but often their most powerful messages were not what they said but what they did. And sometimes what God called them to do to make those points was…well, yeah. Along the lines of what Hosea and Ezekiel had to live through.

If you’ve read my last couple posts, are you starting to pick up on a theme here? Yeah, this is what I meant when I said it’s been a recurring theme in my life for the past many months.

But seeing it in the lives of the prophets hits a particular nerve in me. And, now that I think about it, brings a new sense of clarity. You see, my gift is prophecy. I hesitate to say that here. I don’t generally like to “flaunt” it, or tell people that’s the case. I let God speak through me, but I feel no need to make a point of calling myself a prophet or anything. I never would have dreamed of claiming it on a public web page. But I feel like you need that context to really get where I’m coming from.

Because now I think I begin to understand just why God has been driving at surrender so much. It seems he calls his prophets to an even more demanding level of surrender. I remember Jim, one of the pastors of my campus church, saying a couple weeks ago to a few of us that we all need to be ready to obey God when he calls us to do some pretty radical things—and then he added that that is especially true for those with the prophetic gifting. (Man, this is literally everywhere.)

Why? I think these stories, and others like them about these and other Old Testament prophets, shed some light on that: so that our lives are consistent with our message. At the very least. Better yet, so that our lives are the message. And only minimal explanation is needed. “Preach the gospel…if necessary, use words.”

And suddenly it clicks why that quote had such an impact on me when I first heard it. And really, that mindset is more natural to me. Those of you who know me personally know that, for the most part, I only use words when necessary. Or, to borrow a line from a favorite of mine, “It takes a long time to say anything in Old Entish, and we Ents never say anything unless it is worth taking…a very…long…time…to say” (The Two Towers). But living it out—now that I can do. It comes more easily to me, at least.

Why am I saying all this? Honestly, I’m just speaking my thoughts aloud. Well, in writing. At the least, I hope the quote from Ezekiel is as impactful to you as it was to me. Or the quote by St. Francis, for that matter. And maybe some of my thoughts about their application to my own life will be helpful in processing yours.