7 Things the Prophets Might Say To Us

The Old Testament prophets are a fascinating collection of books. From the majesty of Isaiah, through the agony of Jeremiah, and the visions of Daniel, to the conversation of Habakkuk, and the brevity of Haggai . . . all of them are magnificent books to read, to study and to preach today.

But I wonder what they would say if they travelled through time and visited our churches today? What would they say to us preachers? Here are seven quick thoughts to ponder, feel free to add more.

1. Get something from God and give it to others. The prophets were burdened by God with a message that they had to share. For some of them, we only know about a small handful of those burdens. But what they had from God was so heavy, so important, it had to be communicated. Maybe they would be confused by our frequency of preaching, but perhaps our paucity of conviction in preaching? If you get to go before God and prepare a message from Him, based on His revealed word, for your listeners this week – then give it everything you’ve got.

2. Why don’t you grab attention and hold it? Assuming you have God’s message to communicate, why wouldn’t you do whatever it takes to make sure people are listening? These were messengers who smashed pots, buried belts, lay naked, bought back their straying wife, etc. I wonder if they would find our approach to preaching God’s word entirely too casual?

3. When did popularity become the measure of success in ministry? Speaking for God can mean being thrown in a well, imprisoned, even sawn in two. Surely the prophets would scratch their heads at a world where preaching prowess is determined by popular acclaim on social media? And what about preaching that is designed to keep our congregations happy so that we won’t stir upset among our listeners and “weaken the church”? Did Jeremiah determine his impact by the number of books sold?

4. When did now become God’s timeframe? While it would be simplistic to characterise the prophets as mere predictors of the future, we can’t get away from how much they did speak of the future in God’s plans. I wonder if they would be confused by how much we speak about today, and how little we speak of that day?

5. Why are you so afraid of speaking to the specific issues of today’s culture? Even though our preaching may lack the future perspective all too often, it is also a common feature to not really hear anything about today’s world in any penetrative and incisive way. The church pulpit has largely retreated from its civil function of providing conviction and clarity about contemporary culture. Too often sermons can feel like a presentation to a special interest society that deliberately does not target the world beyond its four walls. And if we claim that our society is no longer listening to the church? I can imagine an awkward raised eyebrow from a prophet, or a quizzical look from Jonah and Nahum and others who spoke to totally pagan cultures with God’s message.

6. Where is your confidence in what you are saying? Perhaps the prophets would be buoyed by centuries of celestial reflection and rebuke us for a total lack of confidence in God’s word to change lives and empires.

7. Keep going! Or perhaps they would remember their own struggles and sympathetically urge us to keep going. They knew what it was like to see little fruit and to feel like their efforts were wasted. Proclaim the word of God, muster a strong “thus says the Lord,” but keep going – it is worth it!

It would be interesting to study a specific prophet and do this post again. Specific points, rather than general reflections. What do you think they might say? Any prophet in particular, or all of them combined? Put your thoughts in the comments below.

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Join us for Psalms Today, a new series of brief videos from Cor Deo Online. Each video contains one detail from the Psalm, and one point of application for today. Watch the video. Read the Psalm. Share what encourages you with someone else in conversation, by text message, in the video comments.

Drop Down the Ladder

Many great sermons turn out to be good sermons.  Sermons looking set to be good often end up average.  How is it that the last few minutes of a sermon can change it from powerful to pleasant?  One key element is the final descent of the preacher down the ladder of abstraction.

The text must be understood in its original setting for the detail to make sense.  Then the process of theological abstraction moves the preacher toward relevance for the contemporary listeners.  But this is not enough.  It is easy to stop at this stage of the process, and a natural place to let off the preparation pressure (after all, surely listeners can take the abstract and apply it specifically in their own situation?)  Actually no, listeners do not generally apply abstracts to their own lives.  Don’t stop with “trust God!” or “love God more!” or “love one another!” or “be faithful in your relationships!”  These are all abstracts.

To really cement the message as a great, not for the sake of your reputation, but for the sake of lives changed to the glory of God, push through for specific application.  This means re-contextualizing the application for the sake of your listeners.  What will it look like to trust God for some of them this week?  How would greater love for God show up in their daily lives?  What specifically might one do to demonstrate genuine love for another believer in the church this week?  Where is faithfulness tested and proven day by day?

Don’t finish a great message in mid-air and thereby transform the great into the good.  Be sure to earth the message through specifics, stepping down the ladder of abstraction so that the rubber can meet the road of real life.  Listeners generally struggle to take hold of an abstract and apply it specifically, but they are very adept at hearing a specific that fits the life of another in the same pew, and translating that specific into a specific that relates to their version of real life. The Bible is relevant, just be sure to demonstrate that reality for some of your listeners.  The rest will gladly translate for themselves!