Back in the day, miners brought canaries into the mines to monitor the air quality. The canaries chirped and sang all day long, but when carbon monoxide levels—undetectable to humans—rose too high, the birds stopped chirping because they couldn’t breathe or, due to the noxious fumes, they had died. The canaries served as portents of danger.
All of us need canaries who will alert of us danger, but alas, they chirp a lot, make a mess, and their cages can get a bit unwieldy.
But do we have stand-ins for these feathery folk?
Please join us in today’s daily Bible conversation as we explore modern-day canaries.
1 Thessalonians 5:4-28
INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS
Jeremiah 19:1-21:14. Today’s reading gives us a good window into Jeremiah’s dilemma. God called him to be a prophet, giving him prophetic messages which he couldn’t contain. “His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones” (Jeremiah 20:9). Jeremiah didn’t ask for it, in fact, we read a few days ago that he didn’t want to be a prophet. So immediately after prophesying destruction over Jerusalem, Pashhur the chief priest, has Jeremiah beaten and thrown in the stocks. In 20:7-18 we read Jeremiah’s complaint.
In the middle of his grumbling he says, “Sing to the Lord! Give praise to the Lord! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked” (Jeremiah 20:13). He probably spoke these words with tongue firmly in cheek.
Ironically enough, as his prophecy of destruction begins taking place, the king sends Passhur the chief priest—the same man who had Jeremiah beaten—to Jeremiah in order to appeal to God to save them. But it was already too late.
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THE WORD MADE FRESH
As Paul concludes his first letter to the Thessalonians, he gives a list of rapid-fire instructions. Four short instructions seem to fall in line with today’s theme:
Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. 1 Thessalonians 5:19–21.
Prophecy is one of those topics that churches tend to avoid. Like a canary cage, they can get a little messy, so they decide to steer clear of it altogether.
Much to their disadvantage.
Prophets operate within the body like that little bird in the cage (although we hope they don’t die when something goes amiss). As a pastor, I’ve learned to monitor the prophets. “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets,” we read in Amos 3:7.
Prophecy and prophets played a pretty significant role in the early church. In fact, the New Testament uses variations of the word 104 times. Paul encouraged the church in Corinth to stop fixating on tongues and instead desire to prophesy.
Notice that in today’s passage, Paul equated skepticism toward prophecy with putting out the Spirit’s fire (other translations call it “quenching the Spirit).
So who are these prophets and where do we find them? Chances are, they exist in your church (hopefully you attend one). In more exuberant churches—like the ones I attended as a child—they’re pretty easy to identify because they’re given room to speak. In more reserved churches, they’re much more difficult to spot. They often seem to hear from God more clearly than anyone else, or, like the canary, they seem aware of trouble before it presents itself. Sometimes, they even exhibit a capability of knowing something that is about to happen.
At various times, God has used prophetic people to greatly encourage me. While serving on the staff of a large church, I began feeling overwhelmed that my church was going to blow up to pieces. A couple of prophetic people convinced me I wasn’t crazy and helped me navigate my way toward planting a church (with Eugene, my co-blogger).
At one point, while feeling engulfed in fear about the challenges of planting the church, I cried out to God, If you really want me to plant this church, please have Anne call me on the phone this afternoon. Anne is a wonderful woman with an amazing prophetic gift.
Thirty minutes later she called me and said God told her to contact me.
Because the gift of prophecy can be a little eerie, people avoid them—which is why Paul says to accept them. But I especially appreciate the means in which he tells us evaluate them: “Test everything. Hold on to the good.”
This tells us that these modern-day canaries can sometimes get the message wrong–or we may misunderstand them. So why should we value them?
Because God values this gift. And, when it works, he can use it to encourage us, redirect us, and remind us that that he loves us. Deeply.
You can learn more about the gift of prophecy it in chapters 7 and 8 of my book Strange Fire, Holy Fire.
- What spoke to you in today’s reading?
- Describe your experience with the gift of prophecy.
- What people in your current spiritual community exhibit prophetic tendencies?
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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church with Eugene Scott in Littleton, Colorado.