Dr Jim McClure, noted theologian, challenges…
The prophet Jeremiah encountered major rejection to his ministry. The people of Judah had chosen to follow other gods, to listen to and follow false teaching and to reject the ‘spring of living water’ whose only source was God. And God said, ‘My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water’ (Jeremiah 2:13, emphasis mine).
The people did not like the prophet’s challenging messages during his 40 years’ ministry he was consistently rejected by the people – but his messages truly represented God’s prophetic word to his people.
The prophet Isaiah also met with similar resistance from the people in his day: ‘These are rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the Lord’s instruction. They say to the seers, “See no more visions!” and to the prophets, “Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things; prophesy illusions’ (Isaiah 30:9-10).
Keeper of the Springs
The late Peter Marshall, who twice served as chaplain of the United States Senate, was an eloquent preacher. One of the stories he used to tell was about the ‘Keeper of the Springs.’ The main gist of that story is as follows.
Sheltered at the foot of a large mountain range a town developed and grew. The fury of the weather beat mercilessly on the mountains, uprooting trees, ripping up bushes, filling the springs with leaves, grass, soil and other debris, but the town was largely protected from the ravages of the storms.
High up the mountain lived an old man. Many years before he had been appointed by the town council to remove the leaves, branches and sludge that the storms had blown into the pools and springs that served the streams that flowed into the town. The town flourished because of its clean, fresh water supply on which the homes, farms and businesses depended.
At one meeting of the town council, some of the businessmen were scrutinising the town budget and they came across an item that referred to a salary for the Keeper of the Springs.
‘What is this,’ they asked? ‘Why are we wasting our money on paying for a man whom no one sees? What this man does is so unnecessary and a complete waste of money. We could use the money we would save for more worthwhile projects.’ The resolution was unanimously passed and the services of the Keeper of the Springs were abolished.
At first no one detected any difference. But as the months passes some people began to notice some changes in the quantity and quality of the water that came into their town. As the pools high up the mountain were left unattended, branches, dead leaves and sludge accumulated in them and they became discoloured and then stagnant. The accumulation of rubbish also blocked the flow of the springs and streams.
As the supply of fresh water diminished and was replaced by slimy, smelly liquid, levels of sickness and disease increased to epidemic proportions in the village and the equipment used by many of the business ground to a halt.
At first they people were confused. What had happened to the beautiful fresh water that they had always enjoyed?
One of the councillors remembered the resolution that had been made many months earlier, and hastened to call a meeting of the council. The councillors acknowledged that they had made a grave mistake and sought out the old man whom they had earlier dismissed. They begged him to start working for them again. Without hesitation the old man agreed, and soon the pure, fresh water began to flow into the town again. The stench that pervaded the town and the sickness that had plagued it diminished and the mills, factories and farms began to thrive once more.
There are so many depths to this story, many comparisons that may be made and many lessons to be learned but I want to draw attention to just one.
Prophetic preachers are in short supply
Prophetic preachers are sadly in short supply in churches today. By ‘prophetic’ I mean bold, forthright, uncompromising, God-given challenges, declared without fear or favour, by courageous men of God. We find so many examples of such truly prophetic preachers in the Bible.
However with the decline in such prophetic preaching we have seen the increase of what are allegedly ‘prophetic words’ which are usually little more than short vacuous statements, often flowery, religious sounding, non-challenging and, habitually laced with plenty of ‘Says your God’ or ‘Saith the Lord’ – but not sourced from God! Such declarations are a misrepresentation of God and an affront to true prophetic proclamation.
There are also the other forms of ‘prophetic word’ that focus on the future and on revivals that are apparently about to happen, and on so-called ‘true’ interpretations of biblical passages dealing with end times. This usually includes fitting current events to biblical verses to ‘prove’ that the end is near – and this has been taking place during the last 2000 years! Such messages tend to contradict each other and actually confuse the listener – and God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33, emphasis mine).
And there are preachers who are convinced that their role is to keep the people amused, titillated and entertained. Services are often designed to entertain the audience and send them away happy. Sermons are cast in an enjoyable format to charm the people. So ‘nice’ sermons dealing with non-challenging and ‘safe’ topics which will not cause anyone to be offended are the order of the day.
The prophetic preacher is a ‘keeper of the springs’
The role of the prophetic preacher is indispensable to the health of the church. His role is that of a ‘keeper of the springs.’ But …
When the preacher fails to exercise his biblically established prophetic office, the springs of God’s living water become neglected, polluted and blocked.
• When the ministry of the prophetic preacher plays it safe, seeks popularity and approval, his ministry is compromised and the people for whom the living streams are vital, are short-changed and deprived of God’s life-giving provision.
• There is a spiritual sickness in Christianity today. For lack of clean, uncontaminated ‘water’ Christians are conforming to the culture of a society that is hostile to the living God.
• And we wonder why moral standards are disintegrating, positive values are being turned upside-down and the church is being more and more despised, ridiculed and ignored!
The prophetic preacher needs to ensure that the ‘water’ is kept clean and that it keeps flowing in order to promote spiritual health.
Some biblical symbols of water
In the Bible the immeasurable value of water is clearly recognised – the Hebrew word mayim is used 581 times and the Greek word hudatos 79 – and many other references are made to wells, streams, rivers and sea. The symbol of water is richly employed to denote a variety things spiritual things, including:
(i) God’s Word – ‘My word is like the snow and the rain that come down from the sky to water the earth. They make the crops grow and provide seed for planting and food to eat. So also will be the word that I speak – it will not fail to do what I plan for it; it will do everything I send it to do’ (Isaiah 55:10-11 GNB).
(ii) Cleansing – Apart from the references in the Old Testament about the use of water in ritual purity and the symbolic significance of baptism in the New Testament, the cleansing is directly associated with God’s Word in, for example, ‘Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word’ (Ephesians 5:25-26). Note also what Jesus said in John 17:17 – ‘Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.’
(iii) Judgment and Deliverance – While water is used as a symbol of judgment in the Bible (for example, Genesis 7), it is also used as a symbol of deliverance in, for example, (i) Exodus 2 where we read of Moses’ deliverance from the decreed infanticide by floating on the Nile in a reed basket and being found and raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, and (ii) God’s deliverance of the Israelites from the Egyptian army by parting the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21-29). And (iii) the prophet Isaiah describes the coming celebration of God’s people, ‘Joyfully you will draw water from the springs of deliverance’ (Isaiah 12:3 NET).
(iv) Spiritual satisfaction – To the troubled Samaritan woman Jesus promised, ‘… those who drink the water that I will give them will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give them will become in them a spring which will provide them with life-giving water and give them eternal life’ (John 4:14). And in John’s vision of heaven we are told ‘To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life’ (Revelation 21:6).
(i) The Holy Spirit – ‘”If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive’ (John 7:37-39).
Today’s preacher must ever recognise that his calling from God (if he indeed has one) is to be a herald for God. Such a ministry does not court popularity, admiration or approval from anyone apart from God.
The prophet Jeremiah’s messages were generally resented by the people during his whole ministry. Attempts were even made on his life!
Amos before him courageously declared God’s anger, ‘I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me’ (Amos 5:21). For his faithfulness to God he was rejected by the people who categorically told him to stop preaching: ‘Amaziah then said to Amos, “That’s enough, prophet! Go on back to Judah and do your preaching there. Let them pay you for it. Don’t prophesy here at Bethel anymore”’ (Amos 7:12-13 GNB).
Badly needed today!
But such prophets were the ones who constantly worked to keep the springs of God clean so that the people and their religion and their society would be healthy.
And we are profoundly indebted to them today.
And we need many more prophetic preachers of like calibre today.
The springs of God from which flow life-giving water need faithful and courageous preachers to keep them clean today.
Dr Jim McClure’s Biblical Perspectives bring monthly enlightenment on various matters misunderstood or misconstrued even by some leaders. He invites questions on Christianity and church life – enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org. Author of several books and Bible study series he has a special epub offer on his well-researched Grace Revisited. See this month’s Opinion
I think the challenge set forth in this article will have more meaning in this generation than we would have thought 30 years ago. For today the church stands at a cross-road. The enemies of the church are attacking from without and within. The way this turns out will depend on whether churches welcome preachers who declare the whole counsel of God from the Bible…and whether those called to preach will give themselves to their calling with the highest regard for the Word of God, its proper and reasonable interpretation, and its pronouncements without fear or favour.