Ezekiel 33:31-32 “My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.”
Probably most preachers suspect this is the case with them, at least sometimes, but that can be a bitter pill to swallow. Throughout the Bible God makes it clear to His spokespeople that they are responsible to communicate what He gives them, but they aren’t responsible for people’s response. That becomes a major problem when preachers allow the lack of genuine response to embitter them, so that they stop speaking the Word. It was this same Ezekiel who received the definitive word on that, God telling him twice that if he failed to speak as he was told, the fate of his intended hearers would be on his head. The first time was in chapter 3, right after God called him as a prophet, but the second time was in this very chapter, so in saying this, God was in no way giving Ezekiel an excuse to shut up and stop speaking the Word of the Lord. This is a tension experienced by every person who speaks God’s Word, but the good news is that some people really do receive what they hear, take it to heart, and put it into practice. When that happens, it makes it all worth it! However, every preacher has to be careful that they themselves are paying attention to what they are saying, to do it rather than just proclaim it. We can deceive ourselves into thinking that just saying it is good enough!
This applies to me in spades. I minister in Japan, which statistically has the worst response level to the Gospel of any country in the world, and at the same time I have deceived myself at times into feeling that just knowing the Word was enough, rather than actually putting it into practice. I was particularly struck by the reference here to singing, since God has blessed me in the area of music, and I had a vocal music minor in college. Whether I’m singing or speaking, people seem to like my voice, but whether my words ever get past their ears into their hearts is a different matter. I’ve got to be at peace with the reality that this is God’s business, and it is between my hearers and Him. At all times I am to seek God’s guidance and anointing so that I am indeed speaking His words and not just my own, and that I am speaking them in the most understandable way possible. There is indeed a craft to speaking, and I need to keep working on it. However, I keep coming back to the basic reality that I can’t save anyone by my own powers of persuasion or the force of my will. That is a transaction between the individual and their Creator. That said, I need to be available for God to use me to that end whenever and however He chooses. He has demonstrated that He can and does do that at times, and that is my hope and prayer.
Father, thank You for the privilege of speaking Your Word. Thank You for those who actually do receive it. I was so encouraged by some of the testimonies at the Thanksgiving dinner! I pray that I would never give up, but would always be available as Your mouthpiece, Your hands, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!