Over ten years ago I was in Ghana, helping to equip a group of pastors from West Africa. My most vivid memory from that time was etched in my mind during a particular lunch break. The host pastor invited us into his home and while we were eating he turned the television on. Behold, a pastor from Texas was preaching up a storm! Unfortunately, he was railing for (or against?) a federal “flat tax.” At the time, one of our country’s political debates was whether the graduated federal income tax should be changed to a single rate “flat tax.” This preacher had an opinion and was expressing it forcefully.
I sat watching these West African pastors as they attempted to absorb what the TV preacher was saying. They assumed that this famous, international television personality must be speaking God’s truth to God’s people. Surely this pastor should not only be listened to with great care, but also emulated. I still wonder if those West African pastors preached about a flax tax the following Sunday in their churches?!?!?
Over 2600 years ago, the land of Judah was experiencing a similar crisis. While Jeremiah was preaching judgment and repentance, false prophets were preaching their own thoughts.
“They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” (Jeremiah 23:16b, 17)
These false prophets were likely thinking: it doesn’t really matter what I say, as long as I say something interesting and hopeful.
It mattered a lot, for God was listening.
“Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord. I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’” (v.23-25)
The prophets thought that God was on the other side of the universe, too far away to hear and too disinterested to care. No. God is a God at hand. God hears every lie, every distortion, every foolish word spoken. God sees these false prophets promoting their own purposes rather than His.
Often when I prepare to preach, I imagine that God is sitting in the first row of the church listening to my every word. I remind myself that he is in the audience, in fact, he is the audience…I have an audience of One.
This realization sobers me deeply, because I realize that I, too, am vulnerable to bring my own biases and deceptions to the pulpit…not unlike the lying prophets of Jeremiah’s day.
“How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal?” (v.26-27)
The pulpit is a powerful platform, but also a seductive one. To some degree, we can’t help but bring our own agenda to the pulpit. Each of us have our personal hobby horses that we’re tempted to ride across the platform. And then there’s the seductions of our audience…their attentiveness and their affirmations. Our preaching priorities and motives can quickly become mixed.
This shift in priorities or motives places us, as teachers and preachers, in terrible danger. Simply put, if our words and ideas form the centerpiece of our message, God sets his face against us.
“Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another. Behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who use their tongues and declare, ‘declares the Lord.’ Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, declares the Lord, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them. So they do not profit this people at all, declares the Lord.” (v.30-32)
Woe to us if we speak our own words. Our words are weak, flimsy things that may actually lead people away from the things of God.
“Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (v. 28-29)
Yes, biblical preaching matters!
Since joining Leadership Resources International in 1989, Craig directed its international ministry, and as of January 2010, he now serves as President. A graduate of TEDS (M.A., Mission), Craig is a stimulating teacher and has equipped and encouraged pastors and churches throughout the U.S., Latin America and Asia. Craig also serves on the Board of Directors of TOPIC (Trainers of Pastors International Coalition), an association of pastoral training organizations focused on accelerating pastoral training worldwide. Craig has authored articles appearing in several magazines. His first book, Unlikely Warriors, was published in 1992. He is also co-author of Finishing Well in Life and Ministry: God’s Protection from Burnout.