by John Forman
In one of our recent lectionary readings, Jesus says: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves…” It got me to thinking: we live in an age full of prophets. We are surrounded by people who want to encourage us to do something; to buy their product or program for happiness or to vote for their candidate. But I don’t think those are the folks Jesus is warning us about. Seems clear to me that his warning is about the wolves that have gotten into the sheepfold…people, to be blunt, that are in the house of God.
I’m fairly adept at keeping an eye on those outside the church offering less than nutritious fruit. It gets a little trickier when dealing with other Christians, but I can usually manage it by remembering that there’s a difference between an opinion, an offer or a request, and the person holding it. It’s a good practice for me to judge the offer without being judgmental about the offerer.
But there are “false prophets” that are even harder for me to watch, and those are the “false prophets” with myself. We all have many aspects of our selves: some of us are parents or partners; a person can be a woman or a physician; an Episcopalian or a Democrat; a heterosexual or a person of color – in fact, one person could be all of those things. And depending on what we are doing and the circumstances, we can find ourselves speaking a slightly different voice as we lean into one of these aspects of ourselves. My “daddy” voice, for example, is substantially different than my “husband” voice and Jennifer lets me know right away when I’ve confused them!
There are other parts of us that also have voices. They may or may not speak out loud, but maybe you’ll recognize some of these: the inner critic, the controller, the rebellious son or daughter, the voice of reason, the playful child, the fixer, the protector, the doubting skeptic, the seeking self.
Each of these parts of us can serve a fruitful purpose…they might protect us from our own gullibility or push us to greater achievements or protect us from harm or help us keep our sense of playfulness alive. They can help us to stay in bounds or break us out of them. But sometimes, these same voices can hold us back. Voices of caution can become the voices of fear. Voices of freedom can become voices of disregard for others. Voices of protection or certainty can become voices of stagnation. Over time, these voices can begin to persuade us that we should be living in fear – which is substantially different than momentarily alarm or concern.
Fortunately, one of the other voices we have within us is the voice of Christ – or in scripture, the voices of God, apostles or angels – saying over and over again: “Do not be afraid” or “Do not fear.” We can listen again for the voice of our shepherd…the voice that loves us…telling us not to live in fear, but to live in hope, because when the inevitable storms come and go, Christ will be standing with us.
John Forman is a member of St Paul’s who serves at the altar, leads St. Paul’s intercessory prayer team and is a Eucharistic Visitor. Outside of St. Paul's he is a Benedictine oblate of Mt Angel Abbey and an organizational development consultant and executive counselor. John is the managing partner of Integral Development Associates.