I was reading in my quiet time this week from Jeremiah 23. It is a very sobering passage for pastors and leaders in the church. I heard Richard Blackaby speak on this passage about a year ago at a Pastor Leadership event. God really spoke hard to me. The message of this prophet was relevant to Israel when he spoke it and, sadly and frighteningly, it is relevant for us today. Jeremiah begins this passage with this statement:
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD. 2Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:1-2 ESV)
If you read that, you see how serious God is about those of us who claim to lead His people. The standard is incredibly high. The consequences are eternal. How many times are we, as leaders really hearing from God? Are we drawing His people TO God and His Word or are we in actuality, maybe uniwittingly, scattering them from Him? It is sobering. It is challenging. If you read the entire chapter, it will cause you to question some things in your heart…it has me. It’s easy to point to the TV evangelists and the “prosperity gospel” hawkers out there or the super mega church guys who seem to be getting rich off the church and others and say, “Yeah, that’s about them.” But is it only? Is it about us…the average pastor or Bible study leader in the average church, the church planter who is just getting started, the missionary, the para-church leader, the pastor of the highly successful church that is new and growing rapidly…too?
Read this section of Jeremiah 23 starting with verse 16. I’ve quoted it in the New Living Translation because it reads pretty clear. Then ask yourself, “Am I hearing from God? Do I as a church planter have a vision from Him? Am I just taking words from others and saying they are form God? Am I just trying to gather a crowd and tell them that everything is gonna be ok, because God loves you no matter what?” We need to hear from God. Then we need to faithfully teach and proclaim it.
16 This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says to his people:
“Do not listen to these prophets when they prophesy to you,
filling you with futile hopes.
They are making up everything they say.
They do not speak for the Lord!
17 They keep saying to those who despise my word,
‘Don’t worry! The Lord says you will have peace!’
And to those who stubbornly follow their own desires,
they say, ‘No harm will come your way!’
18 “Have any of these prophets been in the Lord’s presence
to hear what he is really saying?
Has even one of them cared enough to listen?
19 Look! The Lord’s anger bursts out like a storm,
a whirlwind that swirls down on the heads of the wicked.
20 The anger of the Lord will not diminish
until it has finished all he has planned.
In the days to come
you will understand all this very clearly.
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.
22 If they had stood before me and listened to me,
they would have spoken my words,
and they would have turned my people
from their evil ways and deeds.
23 Am I a God who is only close at hand?” says the Lord.
“No, I am far away at the same time.
24 Can anyone hide from me in a secret place?
Am I not everywhere in all the heavens and earth?”
says the Lord.
25 “I have heard these prophets say, ‘Listen to the dream I had from God last night.’ And then they proceed to tell lies in my name. 26 How long will this go on? If they are prophets, they are prophets of deceit, inventing everything they say. 27 By telling these false dreams, they are trying to get my people to forget me, just as their ancestors did by worshiping the idols of Baal.
28 “Let these false prophets tell their dreams,
but let my true messengers faithfully proclaim my every word.
There is a difference between straw and grain!
29 Does not my word burn like fire?”
says the Lord.
“Is it not like a mighty hammer
that smashes a rock to pieces?
30 “Therefore,” says the Lord, “I am against these prophets who steal messages from each other and claim they are from me. 31 I am against these smooth-tongued prophets who say, ‘This prophecy is from the Lord!’ 32 I am against these false prophets. Their imaginary dreams are flagrant lies that lead my people into sin. I did not send or appoint them, and they have no message at all for my people. I, the Lord have spoken!