When we went through the book of Jeremiah a few weeks ago, we talked a bit about the trouble that Israel had with false prophets. In fact, that God's people in general have always had (and still have) with false prophets. There's never been a shortage of persons willing to walk around and shout from the hillsides all the things that God never said.
But when we get to Ezekiel, we see that the problem with false prophets is not just about what they said, but something more. A false prophet, the real prophet tells us, may speak what God has not spoken or may speak when God has not spoken (Ezekiel 22).
And it is the second part of that that is truly scary.
Most of us consider ourselves decently intelligent. It's not too hard, much of the time, to figure out when someone is claiming something to be of God that isn't of God. God has revealed His character to us over and over and over again and some things just don't gel with who we know that God is. For example, if someone came shouting that God wanted you to take care of yourself first, to watch out for your own interests, to never worry about what was happening to anyone else, we'd probably be pretty quick to say that can't be God. (Probably...but "preachers" are claiming this sort of thing all the time, and the church is buying into it.) If we're honest with ourselves and can push past the appeal of being told what we want to hear, we know that that's not really what God is about, so that's not a word that God would give us.
It's much harder, though, to know God's timing, and here's where we run into trouble. Because we know that there are some things that God would say. There are some things that God would do. There are things that God would absolutely promise to us, ways He would absolutely act in our lives that are in perfect accordance with His character and everything that we know about Him. For example, take a difficult health diagnosis. We know that God is a Healer and that He loves restoring broken things, so we don't give a second thought to someone who wants to step into our circumstance and declare that God is going to heal us. Of course He is. That's what God does. That's in God's character.
But...it might not be in God's timing. Therein lies the rub. Because it's absolutely something that God would do, but is it something that God would do right now? Is it something God is doing?
This is where so much heartache comes in. Right? It's when we pray, knowing that God is a healer, and we don't get better. Or we pray, knowing God is a healer, and our loved one dies anyway. It's when we hold onto the character of God, absolutely sure in who He is, and hear those words of His heart spoken over our lives...but we haven't bothered to investigate the timing.
Now, I know. It sounds cruel. It sounds un-God-like. It's hard to take. As if God, the Healer, the Lover of our souls, would heal us, but it's a Wednesday, so not today. That's not what we mean when we talk about God's timing. It's not some wishy-washy tick-of-the-clock sort of thing. God's timing has to do with a whole lot more.
It has to do not with the position of the stars, but with the position of our hearts. It has to do not with this chapter, necessarily, but with the story as it's being told. It has to do with maximizing the glory that God's going to get out of this, and He doesn't get glory from stepping in prematurely. God doesn't get the same glory keeping His people out of Egypt as He does leading them out through parted waters. A sinful heart doesn't repent the same way if it is kept from its consequences as it does when the heavy weight suddenly becomes lighter.
Jesus doesn't take the world captive unless they are looking for Him, and they aren't looking for Him until they get to that place in the story. Put Jesus anywhere else in history, literally anywhere else, and the story is fundamentally changed. It changes everything.
It's all about timing.
So when we hear a word of God spoken over our lives, when we're tempted to listen to the prophets among us, we have to ask ourselves not just whether what they're saying is true of God's character - is it something He would do? but whether what they're saying is also true of God's timing - is it something He would do right now?
This could save us a lot of heartache.