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“Is there a word from the Lord?” Why people come to hear preachers preach

August 22, 2023 -

A preacher in blue jeans and a long-sleeve shirt holds a Bible in his right hand while speaking to a congregation. Photo by Memento Media on Unsplash

A preacher in blue jeans and a long-sleeve shirt holds a Bible in his right hand while speaking to a congregation. Photo by Memento Media on Unsplash

A preacher in blue jeans and a long-sleeve shirt holds a Bible in his right hand while speaking to a congregation. Photo by Memento Media on Unsplash

As Babylon’s armies threatened the nation of Judah, King Zedekiah sent for the prophet Jeremiah and asked him, “Is there any word from the Lᴏʀᴅ?” (Jeremiah 37:17). There is an eternity-changing significance to the little word from.

The Hebrew word means “out of, coming from, originating within.” The king wanted to know if there was a message from God, not about him or for him. He desperately needed to know if the prophet had heard from Almighty God and, if so, if he would tell the earthly king what the heavenly King had said.

I am convinced that Zedekiah’s urgent question is the heart cry of our day. People come to hear us preach and teach, not so they can hear what we think but so they can hear what God thinks. Not because they want human opinions but because they want divine wisdom. They hope that in our words they will hear God’s word.

The psalmist spoke for everyone we serve: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1–2).

This means that our highest calling is to do whatever it takes to hear God speak to us so he can speak through us.

What does such a calling entail?

One: Stay so close to God that you can hear his voice.

Elijah discovered the voice of God in “the sound of a low whisper” (1 Kings 19:12), but he had to be quiet enough to hear it. Moses heard the voice of God in a burning bush (Exodus 3:4), but he had to be close enough to hear it. John met the risen Christ on the prison island of Patmos, but he had to be “in the Spirit” to see him (Revelation 1:10).

Francis Schaeffer said rightly of God, “He is there and he is not silent.” But like a radio, we must be “tuned” to the frequency of his Spirit. Like a reader, we must be close enough to his book to read its words. Like a congregation, we must be near enough to the pastor to hear his voice.

This is why practicing the presence of Jesus is the most fundamental and urgent calling of our ministry.

Our seminary education and years of experience have taught us to speak about God. Our pastoral office positions us to speak for him. But as is true of any relationship, only time spent in his presence enables us to speak from him.

Satan knows this, which is why he does all he can to keep us from such intimacy with the Almighty. He tempts us to commit “private” sins the world never sees, knowing that these sins grieve and quench the Spirit just as if they were public and keep us from hearing from God. He urges us into busyness that keeps us from solitude, enticing us to measure success by what people think of our frenetic activity rather than what God says to us and then through us.

Mother Teresa testified that when she began her religious life, she spent 90 percent of her prayer time talking to God. Toward the end of her life, she spent 90 percent of her prayer time listening to God.

When last did you take an hour to listen to the Lord? Ten minutes? When last did he speak directly to you from his word and world? When last did you hear a message from him, not just about him?

Two: Have the courage to say what God says.

Peter famously declared of Scripture: “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). There it is again: they spoke from God.

Such ministry will often come at a public cost. Jeremiah was imprisoned for speaking truth from God (Jeremiah 38:1–13). John the Baptist paid with his life for his prophetic condemnation of the king’s immorality (Matthew 14:1–12). Every apostle but John was martyred for their faithfulness, and John was exiled and imprisoned on Patmos.

Some of my great faith heroes are Cuban brothers and sisters who are paying an enormous price to serve Jesus on their Communist island. They get the worst jobs and houses; their children get the worst schools and military assignments; some are jailed and worse. But their faithfulness is sparking a spiritual awakening that is transforming their nation.

We are seeing the same in the underground church movement in China. The persecuted church in Iran is the fastest-growing Christian movement in the world.

More believers died for Christ in the twentieth century than in the previous nineteen combined, and indications are that the twenty-first century will be even worse for Christians. Believers in the US are increasingly isolated, ostracized, and castigated as dangerous to society.

In such times, it is always tempting to say what the culture wants to hear and is willing to reward. We are watching pastors, churches, and entire denominations compromise on sexual morality, for example. In times like these, we can measure the degree of our obedience to Christ by the degree of opposition we face from those who oppose our Lord (cf. John 15:18).

As my high school youth minister used to say, if you’re not running into the devil, you’re probably running with him.

Not conduits but channels

Here’s how our two themes come together: I believe that God will not entrust his word to those who will not declare it fearlessly and courageously. He does not share his wisdom and will with us as options for us to consider but as orders for us to obey. Pastors are not containers but conduits of biblical truth.

Only what happens to us can happen through us. Conversely, only what we allow to happen through us can happen to us.

This Sunday, and probably this day, someone will be asking, “Is there a word from the Lord?”

What will be your answer?

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