(September 30, 2017) Stuart Reynolds challenges preachers and church attenders…
It is said that one Sunday morning as Martin Luther ascended the pulpit to preach he prayed, ‘God, Thou knowest how busy I have been this last week, and my study for preaching hast suffered, please give me a word for today!’
To which the Holy Spirit whispered to his heart, ‘Martin, thou art lazy!’
1. Preachers without fervour!
What about the rest of us who, unlike Luther, are not among the best? Are we preachers lazy? Are our hearers not hearing and practicing what they hear?
‘Is there any word from the Lord?’ asked King Zedekiah of Jeremiah (who had finally been brought from the prison to the palace). The prophet answered promptly and positively, ‘Yes…’
Today when this Jeremiah 37:17 question – which needs both to be asked and answered in increasing measure – is raised, a prompt Jeremiah-type answer has become conspicuous by its absence and consequent silence.
- When was the last time you really knew it was the word of God you were hearing being preached from the pulpit in your local church?
- When was the last time it was evident that the preacher has been with God, heard from God, and is speaking for God in the anointing of his authority?
- Preachers – when was the last time we truly sought and delivered the whole counsel of God entrusted to us … even if it were to land us in a situation akin to Jeremiah and we could be taken from prison to the palace and then to a pit?
2. Places of famine!
Long gone are the days when you could be confident that in most of the churches you could visit – even without having prior knowledge of who the preacher might be – there would not be a famine of the genuine word of the Lord in that local church.
John 5 tells us about an invalid man who, along with others, had loitered around the Pool of Bethesda in the hope that God would come and help and heal.
A question here: Why were such people – the blind… lame… paralysed – around this pool and not at the temple? Ivor Powell‘s suggested answer: ‘A dead church sends seekers elsewhere’ is not only probable here but is applicable to many churches today!
In certain churches the downward spiral towards death is often decorated with:
- Servants becoming ornaments.
- Spiritual arrogance overwhelming biblical ignorance.
- Doing things right eclipsing doing the right things.
- Worship about performance with worshippers now consumers.
- Services timed without the truth being told.
- Nothing to offer… not able to keep… ‘sending seekers elsewhere!’
No wonder Amos 8:11-12 states, ‘”The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it”.’
3. People in folly!
God told Ezekiel: ‘… your people are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, “Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.” My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice”’ (Ezekiel 33:30-33).
‘Is there any word from the Lord? – the question sounds right, seems real, but asking the question is not enough in itself, it’s what we do with the message the answer reveals.
The apostle Paul writes in 2 Timothy 4:3ff of those who ‘gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.’
- They seem to be asking this right question (‘Is there any word from the Lord?’) but they don’t really want Jeremiah’s answer because they want to choose the message.
- Whether it be by TV, online, radio or the printed page, we are surrounded by celebrity ‘preachers’ and self-proclaimed ‘teachers’ – many of them great at catching our ear – with their carnal presentations and productions, watered-down and then washed-down with a little scrap of scripture thrown in to quieten the conscience … but not cleansing the heart because the appeal is only at the level of our flesh.
- We have ‘conferenced’ and ‘seminared’ ourselves to death, satisfying ourselves that we have asked the question, as we take our hurried notes, follow our clever ‘steps to’ and grasp our mystical ‘keys to,’ indulging anyone who professes to give our self-considered ‘right’ answer, while turning off and away from those who give us the scripture-centred true answers. From messy-church to mindless worship, this is what many have become.
4. Prophets speaking falsehood!
God clearly warned against false prophecy and teaching through his appointed prophet in Jeremiah 23:16ff… for example:
“This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord… But which of them has stood in the council of the Lord to see or to hear his word? Who has listened and heard his word? I did not send these prophets, yet they have run with their message; I did not speak to them, yet they have prophesied.’
God gives a warning of delusion… ‘But if they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed my words to my people and would have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds… I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, “I had a dream! I had a dream!” How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds?’
Today there is a need not only for genuine anointed preaching but for listening to and practicing what has been heard!
5. Product of fire!
Just the last month, over the airwaves of two national UK based Christian radio stations, I heard the weekly Sunday morning sermon slot being sold on the ‘merits’ of ‘sermons based on stories’ – what about sermons based on scripture? Another prides itself on its ‘gentle’ communication of the word of God – lest we offend!
No wonder God continues through Jeremiah:
‘Let the prophet who has a dream tell his dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?’ declares the Lord. ‘Is not my word like fire,’ declares the Lord, ‘and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?’ (Jeremiah 23:28-29).
Our ‘dreams’ may only be the product of indigestion – God’s word is always the product of his inspiration, thus there is a crucial distinction of honour and order of priority between the two. One of the differences between dreams and God’s word is substance/weight/authority. Another difference is outcome: ‘straw’ can comfort and give warmth, but ‘grain’ feeds and nourishes. We can do without straw but not godly grain.
We end where we began, with Martin Luther: ‘I was born to fight devils and factions. It is my business to remove obstructions, to cut down thorns, to fill up quagmires, and to open and make straight paths. If I must have some failing let me rather speak the truth with too great severity than once to act the hypocrite and conceal the truth.’
6. Prayer for action!
Lord, grant that…
- Preachers wait on you to receive your word for their hearers and deliver it fearlessly.
- Hearers will know they are receiving the godly grain of your genuine word.
- Christians will readily receive it and willingly put it into practice!
- Churches will again be on fire because they have heard and have acted on your word of life.
Stuart Reynolds, Ears 2 Hear Ministries, is UK based ministering as an itinerant preacher, teacher in evangelism and revivalism in the UK and USA. Links: firstname.lastname@example.org / mobile +44 (0) 7816 853 551 / http://sdhareynolds.wixsite.com/earstohearministries.
The Broken Pastor speaks candidly to the church regarding the reality that many pastors are hurting, even on the edge of quitting. Stuart Reynolds writes from the heart and pastoral experience encouraging broken pastors that they are not useless, that they can move on benefiting the kingdom despite churches not understanding the challenges they face.