For the sake of this article, it is necessary that we define the term “prophet” because many people probably don’t understand it. Men called of God may see themselves in different ways. Some would say that they are and “exhorter.” Others define themselves as an “encourager.” But the prophet is a little different. A prophet is someone called by God to transmit God’s message to God’s people no matter the consequences. He is given the gift of being able to “cut to the chase” and get to the heart of the matter instantaneously. It is a natural attribute and a gift the prophet possesses to be able to see the root of a matter while others are trying to figure out the peripheral issues surrounding it. He takes the shortest route between two points quickly and is able to discern the situation and the solution. This gift is not something he practices and acquires. The prophet is viewed as a person of few words. He sees no value in dancing around the issue. The unvarnished truth gushes out of him like oil from a well or water rushing through a breech in a dam. The core problem is so obvious to him that he often gets irritated by those who complicate the issue at hand by not being able to see what is so very obvious to him. He is often accused of being brash and uncaring with little mercy and compassion. In reality, the prophet has both these attributes but is so straight forward that others think he lacks them. He simply wants to deliver God’s message as quickly and strait forward as possible so His people can avert the problem at hand. This politically correct world drives a true prophet to the brink of despair because he has no patience with it at all. He sees himself as captured by something far greater than himself; the call of God to be a prophet. There is nothing he can do but speak the truth. So, the prophet will tend to come across as hard, opinionated and gruff when compared to one who sees himself as an exhorter or encourager. The exhorter will come closer to the approach of a prophet than will the encourager.
Many preachers of today spend their lives trying to attain something that being a prophet of God was never meant to entail. God’s men in the Bible were never popular and trendy. Their concern was not how they were perceived or if they were accepted. They were not self focused narcissists. They were not comfortable. Their calling was not easy or fun-filled and certainly not profitable. It was grueling, costly and punishing. But, the reward was great. As long as one is seeking to gain something for himself, he will never be a true prophet of God. He, himself, will be in the way. If he abandons himself for God’s calling upon his life, then God’s best is for him, and His best won’t be things the world can bestow. In fact, God’s “best” for him may not be realized until he is no longer locked into this worldly system of things. And, if he is faithful to his calling he must realize that the world will hate him simply because he is speaking God’s message to them.
True men of God, genuine prophets, have always stood where God told them to stand. They didn’t define their own comfortable position and, most of the time, found that they were on alien territory standing against the flux and flow of society and the prevalent ideas of the day. I believe that this politically correct environment tends to neutralize and even eliminate the prophet. Too many men in our pulpits are allowing the environment to fashion what they say and how they say it. Too many are able to rationalize themselves into complicity and compromise, convincing themselves, within themselves, that their motives are pure. If God has given a word on a subject then that’s the final word. He only has to say something one time for it to be true forever. The changing attitudes of society have no effect on what God has said. Bring Him your compromising arguments all you want to but God is not impressed. One’s audience might be well pleased but they are not the ones who will be doing the judging. The true prophet could not care less about what others think. If God has laid down a principle and made a statement on a subject then that settles it for the prophet. He has judgment in view not the complimentary words at the church door following a service.
A true prophet is also one who does not fear the consequences of fulfilling his office. No where in scripture do we find where God’s prophet cowered back and failed to deliver His Word. Even Elijah did God’s will which resulted in the death of four hundred fifty of Baal’s prophets before he allowed the fear of Jezebel to rush upon him. His human emotions took over and fear fell upon him. But, God got him straightened out immediately and with God’s assurance and encouragement, he went on to do His Will completely. He is one of the few who never experienced a physical death being taken into heaven in a whirlwind of fire. John the Baptist was fearless and bold when he warned King Herod about adultery. It cost him his life but he never backed down. He had God and judgment in view, not the present situation. The Apostle John was so feared because of his message and commitment that he was banished to Patmos. A greater work came from this and we only have to read Revelation to realize that truth. The fearlessness of the Apostle Paul firmly stands as an example of how a true prophet is fearless and totally committed to God’s calling. He never wavered and it finally cost him his life. But, even in trouble and death he gave a stout witness of the fact that a prophet is fearless. I could go on and on but the point is well taken: a true prophet does not fear the consequences of fulfilling his office. God’s strong and convincing calling carries him through any crisis. The divine calling is the overriding factor of his life. Nothing else really matters to the true prophet.
The New Testament prophet’s driving passion is to forth tell the Word of God. The Old Testament prophet was one who told what was coming. The New Testament prophet makes very clear what and Who has already come. He does not fore-tell coming events but forth-tells the settled Word of God. Therefore, the New Testament prophet spends the vast amount of his time preaching directly from the Word. Topical subjects are usually dealt with as they surface during his treatment of a passage of scripture which contains principles which apply to that subject. But, he rarely preaches without dealing directly with the text. He is, almost exclusively, an expository preacher. There is a place for good topical preaching. There is nothing wrong with it as long as it is grounded in a Biblical principle. In fact, topical sermons should include an element of exposition in them just as expositional sermons will usually touch on topics to make its point. The two go hand in hand if properly done. But, the point is made that a prophet’s first inclination is to go to the scripture instead of writing on a topic. He is driven to the Word as a natural spiritual instinct. The prophet struggles with preaching topical sermons because he is bound to the scripture by his nature and doesn’t primarily think in terms of subjects except as they emerge from the text.
It is easy for a prophet to become discouraged when he sees that the people do not incorporate into their lives the principles and truths that he sees as so vitally important. He spends his life telling his people the things that God Himself has shown him and laid on his heart to preach. After a period of time observing that the people seem not to have heard him, he reaches the point of exasperation. Then, the thought comes: “why do I continue to do this? They obviously are not listening and applying what I have given to them from God.” “I am wasting my time and these people are simply tolerating me and my message.” “It really means nothing to them because, if it did, they would let it affect their lives.” “They take their notes, compliment the preacher and then the truths evaporate when they get on the parking lot.” Yes, it is easy for the prophet to get discouraged and at that point, he must refocus on his calling and not on the perceived results. If he focuses on results he will get discouraged. If he focuses on his calling from God, he will realize that the success the world seeks is not the issue. His faithfulness to his calling is the issue. The results must be left up to God. When I was in the business world, my boss would say to us: “succeed or else.” But when God called me to preach, He said: “be faithful or else.” “Leave the ‘success’ up to me.” But having been raised in a society which trumpets success, it is easy for the prophet to feel rejected. No one wants to hear his level of correction and warning. They had much rather have their ears “tickled” and will actually like it much better. When I think of a prophet who deserved to be discouraged, I think of Jeremiah. Yet, he never changed his message or approach no matter what happened to him. It cost him everything, but the call upon his life was far more powerful and all consuming than his care for his life. The true call upon the life of a prophet exhibits that kind of empowerment and commitment. To a New Testament prophet, I would say: “keep going. Don’t look back. Don’t apply your idea of success to your ministry. God’s calling has its rewards and our idea of success is far less than God’s best for you.”
A true prophet of God is also one who will expend himself for the work the Lord has placed upon him. A pastor should see himself as one to be expended for his church and ministry. But sadly, today, too many men see the church as something to be used to actualize them and their personal ministry. It is a means of providing a job, supplying an audience and giving a venue for him to perform. The idea that the pastor should be expended for the church is foreign to them. Thank the Lord that most men are not like this but we have a growing contingency of them coming along in our modern day. Hopefully, in the coming days, the spiritual “hoopla” surrounding so many preachers as they seek to make something of themselves will end. Hopefully, an utter reliance upon God and His sustaining power in them will cause them to so serve him that the world doesn’t matter and that their work will have the imprint of eternity on it.
Every pastor deals with a certain reality every single week. I’ve heard it referenced as the “relentless return of Sunday.” You preach your heart out, pour yourself empty, and exhaust yourself physically and emotionally only to wake up on Monday or Tuesday and realize the process begins for another week. In many ways, it is equivalent to writing and presenting a research paper every single week.
Any honest pastor will tell you there are days when you stare blankly at a certain passage of Scripture and have the thought, “How do I preach this?” We question how to make it into an outline. We wonder how we can apply this to our people’s everyday lives. Sometimes we even wonder what in the world the passage means!
I’ve discovered a secret that has been more helpful to me in sermon preparation than any other principle. I also believe it’s the key to personal discipleship, to counseling burdened people, and even to sharing the Gospel with a lost friend. Here’s the principle: Just say what the Bible says.
That may sound overly simplistic. In fact, I bet when you read that statement, you thought it was an extremely elementary thing. I understand that. I really do. I also believe that sometimes we complicate preaching, discipleship, counseling, and evangelism. I want to encourage you to begin implementing this simple principle in your everyday life. Here’s how this statement affects the following areas.
There are passages that are difficult to preach. Shocker, right? Some texts are hard to understand, difficult to work into an outline, or tough to try to apply to a group of people. My guiding principle throughout this is to just say what the Bible says. I believe it was Paige Patterson who once said, “Expository preaching is getting your people to read their Bible.” There is perhaps no better way to implement expository preaching than to just say what the Bible says. No more, no less. It’s important to notice that the most important question in sermon preparation is not, “What does the commentary say?” God wrote a book. Let that book speak to the people of God.
What is successful discipleship? People would probably answer this in a myriad of ways. I believe all successful discipleship has one thing in common: an intensified passion and focus on the Word of God in the life of the person being discipled. If that happens, then it truly will affect all other areas of his life. In other words, if we can get that person to begin to just say what the Bible says, we have helped put him on the path toward an abiding walk with Christ.
The Word of God affects all of counseling. It doesn’t matter if it is a professional counseling environment or one friend counseling another over coffee. We have all had those difficult times in the midst of counseling someone else or simply giving advice to a friend where we have come to that line. You know, THAT line. Do I take a step out and tell him what he really needs to hear? Do I tell him what God’s standard is for his life? Or do I cower back in fear and just say something to appease him? We should maneuver through these times by simply saying what the Bible says.
The reality of heaven and hell are tough things for a lost culture to grapple with. If we’re honest, it is a difficult message to deliver to people who don’t believe the same way we do. Some, in an attempt to be loving and inclusive, change what the Bible says to make it more palatable to a lost person. How unloving! The most loving thing we could ever do is say what the Bible says. The Bible speaks of repentance, of faith, of surrender, of taking up your cross, of following the Lord Jesus Christ. Those words are life. Just say what the Bible says.
I truly believe that if you’ll begin to practice this principle in your everyday life, you’ll see the Lord do some amazing things. God loves to work in the lives of those who hold His Word as the source of life and truth in the world. Will you take God at His Word? Will you just say what the Bible says?
With my semi-retirement coming up, I have been reflecting on the journey God has taken me on. In 1973, when I was 22, First Baptist Church of Wyaconda, Missouri, called for my ordination.
In those days, ordination was taken seriously, and a church would only call for your ordination if you had demonstrated real evidence of God’s calling on your life. I don’t mean to downplay modern ordinations, but it seems to me that the church is ordaining people as fast as the copier can print. I am of the old school that says there should be a period of testing and examination of those who feel called.
I also understand the struggle of that calling. It is hard to tell if the feeling you have in your heart is from God or the hot sauce at Senor Fajita’s restaurant. In either case, you need the Lord.
Back in those days, ordinations were far and few in between. I was nervous about the whole process. On the Sunday of my ordination, the church set aside an entire afternoon to examine my doctrine. A chair was placed in the center of the platform, and the auditorium was full of ordained deacons and pastors from all over the county. I took the hot seat, and the examination began.
The first question they asked was about my testimony and how I came to saving faith in Christ. I told the story of how I was lost, without hope and unable to save myself. I told of how I called upon the shed blood of Christ to cleanse me and asked Jesus to become the Lord of my life, promising to follow Him the rest of my days. They asked me to quote Scriptures to back up each of my points.
Another man stood up and asked me to testify about how God called me into the ministry. I told the story of how I was going my own way when God tapped me on the shoulder and whispered in my ear that he wanted me to preach the gospel. (I left out the part about the hot sauce; these were very serious men.)
Still another man asked me to explain what my spiritual gift was and how it had manifested itself in my life. Again, I responded with Scriptures and testimonies of God using me in teaching for the church.
For the next three hours, I sat there, sweating, as they grilled me on every possible doctrine: salvation, justification, sanctification, the Second Coming and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. These men were just warming up. Even though many were laymen, they knew the Scriptures backwards and forwards and could preach the gospel at the drop of a hat.
They were almost through when one of them had another question for me: Would I always preach in a Baptist church?
“No, sir,” I said simply.
There was a collective gasp and a rustling in the pews as they turned and looked at each other. Did they hear correctly? In their mind, I had just gone from being a Baptist to Badtist.
The man who asked the question looked stunned. “Maybe you didn’t understand. Will you always preach in a Baptist church?”
Again, I answered simply, “No, sir.”
“Where do you think you’re going to preach?” he asked.
I explained to him that my calling was not to be a Baptist but a defender of the truth, preaching hope to the lost, those in need of a Savior. I would preach “in season and out of season” (1 Tim. 4:2). If no one came, then I would do what the Lord said in the book of Luke: “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that My house may be filled” (Luke 14:23, KJV). I told him if God allowed me, I would keep going until I had preached to the uttermost parts of the earth. “Yes, I am a Baptist, and I will probably be asked mostly by Baptists to come and preach,” I explained. “But if God opens other doors, I will step in and proclaim His Word.”
After I finished, the men dismissed themselves to convene a council to discuss my answers. It seemed to take forever, but after an hour, they came out, laid hands on me and presented me to the church. I was glad it was over. And almost 45 years later, I still feel the same. The author of Acts says it best: “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24, NIV).