A while back, I told the church about my favorite explanation of the role of a prophet. I got this from John Ortberg:
Imagine that you have perfect pitch, musically speaking. You can hear the slightest deviation from the proper sound when someone is playing or singing. Now imagine that you live in a world where no one can sing. The sounds of their songs are the most offensive noise you have ever heard, yet they are blissfully ignorant of their own awfulness. They sing constantly at the tops of their cursed lungs, all the while thinking they sound like Pavarotti or Susan Boyle. How would this make you feel? A little cranky, perhaps? Would you feel compelled to speak out?
In Ortberg's analogy, the prophet was someone who had perfect SPIRITUAL pitch. They weren't sinless, but they were acutely aware of the will of God and painfully sensitive to what our sin does to His honor. Yet they lived in a spiritually tone-deaf world, where people sinned wantonly and thought of themselves as morally upright. Prophets had no choice but to preach. They weren't fortune-tellers, although God sometimes gave them insight into the future. Instead, they were the whistle-blowers who refused to let society go down in flames on their watch. Being a prophet didn't pay, and it often ended up costing them their lives. After all, armchair opera singers like you and I don't like being told how we really sound.
Keep that in mind as we begin a new series on the book of Amos. He was an especially cranky guy, even by prophetic standards. Yet his book is particularly applicable to our times. He preached to an Israel that was affluent and secure, and their "affluenza" had produced religious hypocrisy, injustice, and all manner of loathsome characteristics. Amos was a farmer from the southern region of Judah, and he didn't endear himself to his elitist northern neighbors with his preaching. But he had a loving purpose; destruction was coming upon Israel, and they had precious little time to avert the disaster through repentance.
From the outset of this series, the question each of us has to address is this: Am I open and willing to hear what God has to say to me? Do I want to know if I'm headed in the wrong direction? That's what we'll talk about this Sunday as we look at the first two chapters of Amos. The answer to those questions could make all the difference in our lives.