By this point in my ministerial career, I expected to pastor a church like those found in the first half of the book Acts. Perhaps not explosive growth, but certainly steady growth. Maybe not 3,000 trusting Christ at the altar call from one message, but why not 30 over the course of a year, or at least 300 over several years? Maybe not stadium evangelism, but certainly fruitful personal evangelism.
Instead, I find myself pastoring the church in Laodecia–comfortable, complacent, self-satisfied, and lukewarm. OK, I admit I’m exaggerating and it’s not quite that bad. But there are Mondays I want to pack up my books, turn in my preacher’s badge, and become a ride operator at Disneyland. At least there people would be happy to see me, or so I tell myself when I am most fatigued.
Perhaps this is why I was so encouraged by Maxie Dunnam’s article, “A prophet among you,” in The art & craft of biblical preaching, edited by Haddon Robinson and Craig Brian Larson.
In Ezekiel 2:4-5, God gives Ezekiel his marching orders. “The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn.” I can certainly identify with that part of his call to ministry. There are days when I know those people’s names. ;-} The passage goes on to say, “Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ And whether they listen or fail to listen–for they are a rebellious house–they will know that a prophet has been among them.”
It was at this point I had to take a deep breath. I needed to stop focusing on the outward results. Instead, I needed to remember that I represent God among his people. When I move among the congregation, when I preach, when I counsel, when I lead a business meeting, do people sense of man of God, if not a prophet of God, has been in their presence? That’s pretty convicting stuff.
That thought is pretty intimidating. I would be tempted to say, “That will never happen,” and not even try. But as Dunnam points out, God gives Ezekiel three instructions which will help him to carry this assignment.
The first instruction is to listen for God’s instruction. “He said to me, ‘Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you'” (2:1). As a pastor, I need to listen to what God has to say. Instead of handing God my agenda, I need to ask him, “What do you want me to do? What do you want me to learn?”
The second instruction is to realize I don’t serve in my own strength. Instead, I minister in the power of the Holy Spirit. “As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me” (2:2).
The third instruction for faithful ministry is to internalize the Word of God and make it part of my life. “And he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.’ So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. Then he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.’ So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth” (3:1-3).
On the one hand, I can identify with Ezekiel’s call to ministry and the people he was sent to serve. On the other hand, do I live and speak in such a way that people know a prophet has been among them? Rather than worry about results, I need to be faithful to the task. I need to declare God’s Word and call people to repent and change. Whether or not they respond is not in my control. My task is to represent God and be faithful to his call on my life.
As Dunnam closes, “When what you say to the people for God resonates with how you live among them as an imitator of God, they will know that a prophet has been among them.”