The Watchman on the Wall
The watchman on the wall is a venerated archetype of the prophetic servant standing guard outside his community so that he might warn the village of approaching danger. It’s a romantic stereotype that many have embraced, but it may not be the best model for ministry. And if one chooses to live this way, it may actually do them more harm than good.
One problem is the idea that the prophet ought to remain outside his village. I’ve come to know prophets who have found themselves isolated from fellowship with other believers. The usual explanation is that others have shunned the truths they speak in favor of believing lies. Many prophets truly believe it’s only their revelation that has caused them to be rejected, and not their presumption, their pride or need to control others. So they live as outcasts of God’s household, in the manner that legend says men of God did long ago—as watchmen on the walls at the edges of their communities.
In the past, I’ve felt it was enough to speak what God revealed without compromising the message. If people ignored the message, it wasn’t the prophet’s problem. There is some truth to this because people must have ears to hear the message. You can’t force anyone to receive revelation. But if a prophet is to have an effective ministry, it’s not enough to merely speak what God reveals. The prophet’s audience must also receive and act upon his words. Otherwise, his ministry bears no fruit.
But lately, I’ve come to realize that the harder part of prophetic ministry is developing relationships within a community where people are willing to listen to us. If a group is initially resistant to a prophet’s message, he can help them become more receptive. But that takes time, and it requires trust. It’s not an easy task—especially if the prophet views the community as being sinful. Living with and loving sinners requires a higher level of spiritual maturity.
We might also consider the possibility that the prophet has been emotionally wounded by rejection. I don’t know anyone (myself included) who hasn’t. It might seem like a cross we need to bear, but the Bible says Jesus bore our griefs and sorrows on the cross. And if He bore them for us, there’s no reason for us to carry them any longer. He paid the price to bear our emotional trauma and we need to let Him heal our emotional wounds. Emotional healing allows us to live in peace with others.
I wonder if it’s possible to be a watchman in the home, or a watchman in the university, or even a watchman in the workplace. I wonder if God could use us to watch for danger where our influence is organic and our message is more likely to be received and acted upon. If, as John Maxwell says, leadership is a matter of influence, then maybe there’s room for watchmen in places other than out in the cold at the edges of civilization, where no one can hear them.
Jesus was the quintessential prophet. His message was received by sinners more warmly than by any other group. They loved Him, they heard His message and they acted upon it because they knew how much He loved them. The love of God caused them to repent. And His love was not just a matter of words, as is true for many of us today. It was demonstrated by acts of service. If a prophet is going to be used by the Lord in a community, he must make himself (or herself) a part of that community. That requires a heart that loves and serves others right where they are at—sin and all.