I often say that Peter is my favorite apostle since we seem to share the same approach to life: If in doubt, talk. If you say enough, you might say something.
We see Peter implementing this flawed philosophy on the Mount of Transfiguration, for example, when he tried to give advice to the glorified Christ and was told by the Father to “listen to him” instead (Matthew 17:4–5). I have attempted this strategy on numerous occasions, preparing sermons and Bible studies and then asking God to bless what I planned to say.
The busy Christmas season is especially fertile ground for this defective homiletical strategy. I remember weeks during Advent when I was asked to bring a different message at Sunday school parties, musical events, and other gatherings seemingly every day. All the while, I felt the pressure of preparing to speak to the largest Sunday crowds we would see until Easter.
However, I have learned from personal experience that the old adage is true: Don’t get ahead of God, for he may not follow. Listening to God before we speak for God is more vital to our calling than we might imagine.
Let’s learn that lesson today from one of the most courageous and impressive prophets in history.
“You are the man!”
Second Samuel 12 tells the familiar story of Nathan’s confrontation with King David over his affair with Bathsheba. From what I can tell, David’s coverup of the affair by arranging for the death of Bathsheba’s husband was not public knowledge.
When Nathan said to the all-powerful king, “You are the man!” (v. 7), it would seem he took his life in his hands. The monarch who essentially murdered Uriah, one of his “mighty men” (1 Chronicles 11:26, 41), could plausibly have arranged for Nathan’s death to cover up his sin as well.
While Nathan is one of the prophetic heroes of Scripture, however, there came a time when he got it wrong.
David expressed to the prophet his desire to build the temple of the Lord (1 Chronicles 17:1), and Nathan replied, “Do all that is in your heart, for God is with you” (v. 2). However, “that same night the word of the Lᴏʀᴅ came to Nathan, ‘Go and tell my servant David, “Thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ: It is not you who will build me a house to dwell in”’” (vv. 3–4). The Lord then explained that David’s son would build the temple instead (vv. 11–12).
On this occasion, it would seem that Nathan spoke for God before he spoke to God.
What our culture needs most
Francis Schaeffer was right: God “is there, and he is not silent.” All through Scripture, from Adam and Eve to John on Patmos, he speaks to his people. And he often speaks through them to the world: “The Lord Gᴏᴅ does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).
However, before we can speak a word for God, we must hear a word from God. We are “ambassadors for Christ” who receive a message from the Authority we serve and then share that message with its intended audience (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20).
I am convinced that our secularized culture needs nothing so much as it needs a genuine word from God. Not just a word about him—a word from him.
I am also convinced that this word from God will always align with his written word. In fact, in my experience, when God speaks to and through me, it is almost always the direction of his Spirit to the appropriate passage of Scripture I need to understand and then apply to the situation at hand.
The key is to listen always before we speak—not just during our “quiet time” in the morning but all through the day. We can claim his promise: “Your ears will hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21). But we must be close enough to our Father to hear his voice and desirous of receiving and sharing his truth.
“Let me find you by loving you”
As we head into the very busy Advent season, I am praying that you and I will be anointed and empowered to speak a word from God to those we influence. Every time, in every occasion, with every person we meet. We are not containers of biblical truth but its conduits. When God speaks to and through us, we are sharing a precious and life-changing gift with everyone we serve.
But, again, we must seek to hear from God before we can speak for him. Charles Spurgeon noted, “It is a rule of nature that the inward affects the outward, as light shines from the center of the lantern through the glass: when, therefore, the truth is kindled within, its brightness soon beams forth in the outward life and conversation.”
In the Proslogion, St. Anselm (1033–1109), the great philosopher and scholar, prayed: “Teach me to seek you, and reveal yourself to me when I seek you, for I cannot seek you unless you teach me, nor find you unless you reveal yourself. Let me seek you in longing, let me long for you in seeking; let me find you by loving you and love you in the act of finding you.”