Prophetic Voices

To keep from writing about things happening here and now, I am drifting into memories past.

Prophesy was the main gift in our church.  Prophesy was supposed to be the best gift and one that all believers should exercise.  But, with certain restrictions of course.  Namely that male leaders be present.  Yep, I think that was the only real restriction.

A broken parody of weepy King James English was the expected vernacular, but some brave people spoke in normal voices and risked their prophesies sounding less sacred.  To distinguish from ordering fast food we were to end every other word with ‘Ah’ instead of ‘mmm’.

Most of them sounded the same: “Yea, andAh heareth theAh voiceth of the LordAh.”

I was a failure and thought I was alone in my inadequacy.  One time all the young people (ages 30 and under) were called up to the front.  We stood behind the pulpit and were only allowed to leave once we had ‘prophesied’.  I was 7 years old.

I was petrified.  I love public speaking, but speaking my own words or the words of whatever character in the school play was very different from speaking the words of The Lord.

And I was the last one up there.  I was frantic.  The only things that came to my mind I recognized as my own thoughts.  There was no foreign voice that I couldn’t control.   I now recognize this as a sign of mental health not to have strange voices bouncing around in my head, but then I was sure it was a sign of spiritual disease.

Finally I mumbled my favourite verse into the microphone and walked off in disgrace.  The congregation cheered.  Did they think God had just spoken through me?  Had I deceived them?  Now I was doubly guilty.  A big burden for a little kid.

I second guessed every single thought I had from then on, certain that the devil was talking to me or worse- that everything in my head was just from me.  All the bad was mine, and that meant all the good and charitable thoughts were mine and possibly not good at all.  What if I didn’t want to really help that person but to think of myself as a good person?  Was I being prideful instead of loving?

I was still determined to prophesy.  I interrogated every person I could about how they knew prophesies were from God.  It was very disappointing.  It sounded like they just thought of something preachy and said it.  I thought of preachy stuff all the time.  I gave imaginary sermons while brushing my teeth.  I knew all those thoughts were from me, so I stayed silent.

Questioning what was prophesied was taboo for a girl like me.  That was only for the men in office.  To be fair they did ask us to test everything that was said against the scriptures.  Well, they could have demanded genocide and still have been scriptural.

I first allowed myself to question prophesies while in India.  A pastor stood up and berated the little community of believers, mostly poor women of the lowest caste.  He told them the reason that their church didn’t have a proper building was because they didn’t evangelize enough and have enough tithe payers.  I was disgusted.  This wasn’t from God, but from a greedy man’s desire for status.  This pastor, by the way, sold his 13 year old daughter as a child bride to an abusive man.  She ran away and was working at the orphanage I was at.

Another prophesy at a similar church was from a plump young man addressing a few women who lived alone with their children.  (Their husbands lived with their other wives.)  These women fed their kids by working 12 hour days, 6 days a week, in the fields in the hot sun.  The prophesy told them to leave everything, especially their families, and evangelize.  God would provide for their children if they only had the faith.  I saw these reed thin women falling to the ground and crying in anguish.  I hope none of them did it.

Later, at the orphanage, I told an interactive bedtime story like I did every night.   There were only about 20 children who were real orphans there since it was a holiday and the other kids had gone to be with family.  I felt a message in my heart and I ‘knew’ it was from God.

That night I had an overwhelming urge to hug each little left behind child.  I wanted to say, “You aren’t alone.  You are loved.  I love you.  God loves you.”  That was it.  But because there was that emotion behind it and a rapid pulse, I was sure it was from God and I couldn’t speak on his behalf without an elder or a deacon.

I hesitated to tell lonely abandoned children that they were loved because of a patriarchal fear – the fear of the lord.  Meanwhile, other people did not hesitate to take advantage of poor desperate people to improve their own financial status.  All in god’s name.

I now delight in swearing in god’s name.  Much better than prophesying.  Do I hear an Amen?


6 thoughts on “Prophetic Voices

  1. Ahab says:

    The story of the Indian pastor sounds like the worst kind of patriarchal abuse. It sickens me that there are such greedy, callous people in the world.

    I’m confused, though. Isn’t prophesy supposed to be about announcing future events? In your church, it sounds like prophesy was more about making pious-sounding statements. How exactly did they define prophesy?

    I have an anecdote about so-called religious prophesy. A friend of mine who converted to Apostolic Christianity had a “prophesy” while we were on a train back home from a concert. He claimed that he would return to the city where the concert took place, but I would not. That was two and a half years ago, and he still hasn’t returned to that city … but I’ve been back three times and counting.

    • prairienymph says:

      That is funny about your friend. Have you ever brought it up with him?

      Prophesy was to ‘exhort, encourage, and guide’ – other churches call it “a word from the Lord” but don’t stand up in a congregation and start shouting it out like we were supposed to.

      Only certain leaders were allowed to prophesy in a way that would predict future events or reveal past or present issues. Everyone else usually reinforced how superior our little group was or berated us for not submitting to the Holy Spirit enough. A few said that God told them who to marry (one to very young girl and the other to an already married women). That was frowned on.

      There was a pattern I could have followed. Start by “thus saith the Lord”. Throw in a reference to crossing the Jordan, going through an open door, or tearing down a wall. God is asking us to do something extraordinary, but we must submit to his will. God loves us very much. The end. Ooops, I mean, AmenAH.

  2. AmenAh, and an iHug. Thanks for sharing that.

    That is an odd indoctrination experience, the prophesy thing. I think I would have had the same misgivings. Putting words into God’s mouth would scare the bejesus out of me! But for those willing to suspend dis-belief, or just accept it, it probably quickly became what was normal, and probably developed a strong loyalty to that church given that most other churches did not have that, um, “gift.”

    How did you end up in India, if you don’t mind me asking? Or do you already have a post explaining that which you can point me to?

    Of course you probably know now that the pastor who sold his daughter and the corporal young man who told the single mothers to leave their kids and evangelize were only following solid, Biblical principles. 😉 Scriptural morality at its best, including the selling of the daughter.

    But I think the thing which struck me the most is how you were afraid to share love with the orphans for fear of God. That made me sad, but I am glad to see that you are recovering well from that mental abuse.

  3. prairienymph says:

    I ended up in India since our church sent missionaries there who ‘converted’ a couple who later ended up with an orphanage and school. People kept dropping kids off at their compound and they went from a few kids to over 100 in a few years.

  4. atimetorend says:

    AmenAh here too (the wise fool beat me to it). That patriarchal stuff in your old religion — how horrible, that any woman would feel intimidated from offering compassion to others. I saw it in my church to a degree, but mercifully far more moderate than what you went through.

    I remember one time going around a circle and praying for someone who had just been in a car accident. I prayed something which felt “prophetic” to me, inspired by God. I felt it with a strong emotion.

    After I prayed, a person with a reputation for having a “prophetic” voice prayed almost the same thing, but they didn’t quite pray it, they prophesied it. Instead of saying, “I pray that this will be a time of so and so…” for the person, they said something like, “I believe the Lord says this will be a time of so and so…” It was really the same thing, but everyone was much impressed by the prophetic voice, rather than my prophetic prayer. Drama!

    Looking back, I think the experience is much more easily explained by natural human sensitivity, compassion, and empathy for a person going through a trial in life. There wasn’t a difference between my “prophetic” prayer, or the other person’s “prophetic” prophesy, or if there had been present, a humanistic word of compassion.

  5. PNL says:

    An interesting side-note regarding the use of Old English to add an air of authority to prophetic utterances: This could be considered cultural beyond religious circles. In engineering and law Old English tends to be used for what is considered serious legalese, to add a sense of gravity and authority (at times to my annoyance).

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