Christianity 201

January 22, 2014

Did You Really Hear from God?

Today we’re in Jeremiah 23:

21 I did not send these prophets,
yet they have run with their message;
I did not speak to them,
yet they have prophesied.  (NIV)

21 I didn’t send the prophets,
yet they ran anyway.
I didn’t speak to them,
yet they prophesied anyway. (CEB)

21 I did not send those prophets.
Yet they were in a hurry to give their message.
I did not tell them anything.
Yet they prophesied anyway.  (NET)

21 “I have not sent these prophets,
yet they run around claiming to speak for me.
I have given them no message,
yet they go on prophesying.  (NLT)

The force of this verse is clear, but the second line is nuanced differently in each of the above translations. The CEB brings out the idea that the prophets went out regardless of having not heard; the NET Bible suggests that they were in a big rush to speak, and the NLT suggests what we sometimes call a “beehive of activity.”

Each one of these three alternatives to the NIV offers a different potential application.

To me, the CEB suggests someone who, like the characters in the comedy The Blues Brothers goes forth saying to themselves, “We’re on a mission from God,” when in fact God didn’t authorize that particular mission. Blogger Johnny B. writes that this really turns a true prophet into a false prophet:

How many times do we follow false gods or do things against God, yet try to give God the credit?  Beware false prophets as you venture out and open yourselves to the world today.  Constantly, throughout the day, be in tune to God and what He wants you to do.  Be not a false prophet, but a man (woman) who follows God and displays Jesus in his (her) daily walk and actions. 

In an article about problems in the church in Africa, someone recently wrote:

They prophesy lies in God’s name, but God did not send them, command them nor speak to them.  They prophesy lying vision, worthless divination and the deceit of their own minds.  Jeremiah 14:14.  They are all over the place and they spring up every day like mushrooms.  They claim to be “men of God,”  “apostles,”  “pastors,” “prophets,” “bishops,” “archbishops,” and what-nots, but they lie!  They are ordinary criminals parading as “men of God” and deceiving the gullible who don’t know their Bible and have no discernment.

With the NET Bible, we think of the times we think first and speak later. This is even more important when we presume to speak for God. I’ve already covered the idea that each of should be “slow to speak” in this article and this article.

However, we can’t assume that if a pastor feels he hasn’t heard from God this week he should simply move directly to the closing hymn and dismiss the service early. But it does suggest that there are indeed such times. Could the pastor phone up a church member and offer him or her the pulpit? In conversation with hurting people do we open our mouths when perhaps just our presence — even in silence — or an offer to pray is what is called for?  Do we know someone who needs encouragement, but we pick up the phone or send the email before we’ve really been given something of substance to say?

In ministry this is sometimes called burnout; though the term would have been somewhat foreign to Jeremiah or this context. In a review of the book Leading on Empty by Wayne Cordiero, a reader defined it:

Burnout happens when you keep pushing yourself and don’t know when to slow down… As a leader you give and give, but you can’t give what you don’t have…

Singer Jackson Browne called this Running on Empty,

Running on-running on empty
Running on-running blind
Running on-running into the sun
But I’m running behind

Can it be that in so doing you cross the line from true prophet to false prophet?

The Voice Bible echoes this with the addition of an extra phrase:

21 Eternal One: I did not send these so-called prophets,
        but they have run to you with their empty words.
    I did not speak to them,
        but they claim to speak for Me.

With the NLT, I see the breadth of ministry defined. God gave us a word to give to person “A”, and we then scurry out thinking that “B,” “C,” and “D” need to hear it as well.  Probably entire churches have been founded on what was a single word that was meant for a particular individual, location or situation.

In the NLT rendering there is a picture of running around, ‘to and fro’ as some say; a picture of busy church people busy doing church things.  A great deal of energy is expended, but the result is heat when what’s needed is light.

Sometimes this flurry of activity is about the building of someone’s personal empire, either a pastor or a ministry organization. The Reformation Study Bible says the verse reflects ” a picture of zeal in their self-serving propagation of falsehood.”

This doesn’t mean that all overburdened, overtaxed pastors are necessarily spreading false doctrine, but certainly it can be a variable that increases the propensity to error.  The phrase “yet they go on” suggests an individual in desperate need of an “off” switch or even a “pause.” We need to take time to refresh and dare I say reload in the sense of hearing from God afresh.

That’s the message in the very next verse:

22 But if they had stood in my council,
    they would have proclaimed my words to my people
and would have turned them from their evil ways
    and from their evil deeds.

Hearing from God is key.

Tomorrow: In preparing today’s message I uncovered an article that really deserves to be featured here on its own. If you thought today’s coverage of this topic was too light, take a deep breath and come back tomorrow for in-depth exposition of today’s key verse.

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