“Begin Again”: A Weekly Devotional for a New Year, Week 27

“Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.”

Acts 11:27-30

We don’t often think of prophets, when we think of the New Testament. We associate them – of course – more with the Old Testament. But here they are, and they do something that the Old Testament prophets did very little of: They predict. They predict a calamity is about to afflict, not just Antioch, but the whole world. And they do not predict accurately because they checked the conditions; asked the experts; consulted the stars, and so on.

Instead, the prophets sought counsel among themselves and with God. The prophets in the Old and New Testaments operate in schools – in groups. Their call was to be in intimate relationship with God, and on the basis of that relationship, to be able to speak a word to God’s people in a particular place, at a particular time. In our Scripture passage for today, it’s this: “Time to get ready for a famine, and save and help as many people as possible.”

Take a look at a couple of things, with me: the first, is just what I mentioned – there is a group of people who have developed their ability to be in touch with God: to listen prayerfully; to receive from God, when he speaks. That there is such a school, assumes that there are right and wrong ways of learning to listen for God: Therefore, everyone in the school tests their “best practices” with one another. 

The first step in this right way, was to listen with others, and not simply on your own. We are told: “… these prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch”.  Prophets, plural.  It is extraordinarily tempting to think that prophets are people who stand alone, against great odds – against all the naysayers, idolaters, and so on. But when we look more closely, in the Old and New Testament, it is clear that the prophets operate in schools – in groups, for accountability’s sake (1 Kings 22:19-22; Jeremiah 23:22; Amos 3:7; 1 Corinthians 14:32; 1 John 4:1)

The second thing to notice, is that this prophecy comes so that God’s people may prepare and help, when the time of testing arrives. That is strange, when you stop to think about it. Couldn’t God just not send the famine? We don’t know the conditions “on the ground” that led to the famine: Was it God’s judgment? Was it simply a part of our fallen, groaning creation? We do know that a famine came, and God’s intention was to preserve life from it – to save from deep suffering.

The great “famine” we experienced, beginning in 2020, taught me this, hard-won lesson: Do not rely on yourself, alone, to discern what God is doing, but go to Spirit-filled Brothers and Sisters, who are listening and sharing with one another. The past two plus years has had the disastrous effect of isolating many of us. Perhaps we should take the example of the prophets, and join with others who make it their priority to ask: “God, what do you want us to learn in all this?” God has already begun to answer. God has more for us. I know it. Let’s press into this together, and strive to see clearly just how much God wants us to change.

Prayer: God, when we live through difficult times, it’s very easy to think: “It’s all up to me – I have to figure this out, myself.” But your prophets show us that we’re in this thing, together. You want us to speak with, pray with, and live with people who are serious about the change you want to see in us. Help me, Lord, find those kind of people, and stick with them. Amen.

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