Hearing from God: An Aside

Seeing Jesus in 1 Samuel
We will return to 1 Samuel, but I want to take a digression to chase a rabbit trail. Last time we saw God speak to Samuel and what that meant for us; now I want to take a step back and look at this theme of God speaking throughout Scripture. As we look throughout the Old Testament, God’s pattern is to speak to his people through prophets who speak on his behalf. He speaks to other people and in various other ways, but that office spans most of Israel’s history, in one form or another. It is is important to realize that this office is picked up (although not exactly in the same way) by the apostles in the New Testament, and continuing on past them, (although in an even less similar way) by way of the pastors of local churches and finally directly to us as well.

Commonly when we think of how the Lord speaks to us, our first thought (and rightly so) is to think of Scripture. The Bible is God speaking and revealing himself to us. If we were to pursue the idea further we would talk of others ways how the Lord speaks to us: maybe through circumstances or in a still small voice as we pray, or even godly counsel, and while I am not opposed to those methods when rightly used, in discussing those other ways I think we tend to neglect what is Biblically the most common way we should expect to hear from the Lord. Through our pastors as they preach and minister to us.

I think that is a strange thought to us. At best I think the general way we view the preaching ministry is something akin to the way we read a book about God and seek to take away good information or good advice without recognizing that something fundamentally different is going on. In part this low view of the place of the pastor in discerning God’s call on us is probably a long lasting result of the protestant’s move away from Catholicism, where the priest specifically and the church in general operates on a much more authoritative level, given that the priests intercedes for the believer in a unique way. The Reformation rightly recognized the priesthood of all believers and that therefore no human priest can serve as a mediator between God and man. That role is reserved for Christ alone—the god-man. While this is right sometimes the risk is we move farther away than even the reformers themselves and under emphasize the role of the pastor and the church rather than overemphasize it as the Roman Catholic Church does. If you want to consider just how important the Reformers saw pastors, realize they labeled the two marks of a faithful, Biblical church as the right preaching of God’s word and the right administration of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper (a few added a third of the right use of church discipline).

Another reason we tend to downplay the role of our pastors in our lives is the church on the whole has been moving in a more and more individualistic understanding of Christianity over the past couple centuries. The place of the church in general and the pastor specifically has been largely downplayed and under valued, and the near sole point of emphasis is the believer’s relationship with God as an individual instead of seeing the believer’s relationship with God in the context of the church. If you want to see a clear example of this individualistic mindset simply consider how often we are admonished in the corporate worship serve that it is just “you and the Lord now.” We can speak of the corporate worship of God almost as if we just so happen to be in the same place at the same time singing the same songs/listening to the same sermon. It is not irrelevant that we worship the Lord together. But that is a topic for another day.

So the Lord speaks to us. And he speaks to us in Scripture which is first and foremost and is our measure to determine where he is speaking to us in other places. So the pastor’s word is never absolute, but we are to be as the Bereans, “searching the Scriptures daily” (Acts 17:11) to see if the things preached are so. There are all too many examples of pastors abusing their authority to their own sinful ends and even the best of pastors is still fallible. But nonetheless a faithful pastor is a gift from God.

In Acts 20, Paul is addressing the Ephesian pastors and he says in verse 28, “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God.” What I want to draw attention to is pastors are made pastors by God himself. Pastors are one of Go’s appointed needs of caring for his church. They are an expression of his love for the body. And realize it is these same pastors who are made so by the Holy Spirit, who Paul warns in the next verse, “fierce wolves will come in among you not sparing the flock” In other words some of those same Spirit appointed pastors will soon go from caring for the flock to seeking to devour it.

I say all of this because as soon as I say “God speaks to us through pastors” the first thing that comes into many of our minds is cases where pastors were abusing their authority. Cases where pastors are preaching a false gospel and leading the flock astray. And we recognize rightly, that we should have no expectation that God is speaking when those men are speaking, except in the manner of a blind squirrel occasionally finding a nut. Such men have abandoned their calling and will give an account on the day of judgment. But such abuses should not lead us to shutting our ears to our pastors altogether. Yes, pastors are fallible, yes we should test all that is said against the word of God, but yes we should expect God to minister to us through them.

To give one more example, in 1 Peter 4:19, Peter admonishes his readers, “therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” What does that have to do with pastors? Look at the next verse 5:1, the first word is “so” which leads us to expect that this verse will be a development of what has already been said. “So I exhort the elders (pastors) among you…shepherd the flock of God that is among you.” Looking at those two verses together what we realize is that if we, the flock, are to suffer well, trusting our souls to God while doing good, a necessary part of that is the pastors shepherding ours souls well. All that to say then is that your life will bring anxieties. Your life will bring stresses. There is suffering, and sorrow, and fear lying in wait for in the coming days and weeks. And the the means by which God intends to give you the grace to faithfully withstand those temptations and find in him sufficiency to endure all things is the pastors he has entrusted to us.

So when we go to church on Sunday (or tune into the live stream as the case may be) do we go with the expectation that God is going to speak to us through the sermon? That God has put a specific message on the heart of your pastor with the intention of speaking into your life? When he gives you counsel, do you take it with a sense of it being merely good advise or is there a weight to it that says “God has put this man in my life for a reason, I need to give careful thought and attention to what he says and not reject it out of hand” The pastor may at the end of the day be wrong, but we should not reject it out of hand and should see his feedback as signal that we need to reconsider.

This may seem a little strange to some but the Lord has convicted me concerning this issue to the point that when I go to my pastor with something concerning my life, saying “I want to do x” and he says, “I think it would be better to do y or if you did x and z it might be better,” my default is pretty much to prefer his thoughts to mine and go with what he says. I may argue my case but often I have already internally decided to follow his wisdom, and my push back is more toward helping me understand his thinking so that I can better do as he suggests and not simply do it as a rote. I recognize that not everyone has a relationship with their pastor that this necessarily makes sense. My pastors knows me and knows the word. But also recognize that sometimes in our pride our response to someone encouraging us to take a different path is this idea “well they don’t know me” and sometimes you are right and if they knew you better they would suggests a different course but often times that is simply an excuse.

One more danger we face in this digital age is to put more stock in “super pastors” rather than our pastors. To put the matter bluntly, there is a reason why John Piper, David Platt, or [insert your favorite pastor here] is not your pastor. The Holy Spirit has made your pastor your pastor not some other superstar in the evangelical world. That is not to say we cannot listen to them, be blessed by them, etc. but if I do so to the neglect of being engaged with my pastor I am missing out what God has for me.

In 1 Timothy 3:16-17 we read: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be, equipped for every good word.” These are words that we are familiar with but the words that in light of discussion on hearing from God and pastors the words that follow should be seen as well. 1 Timothy 4:1-2 “I charge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom, preach the word…” For Scripture to have its full God-breathed effect on us, sanctifying us conforming us to the image of Christ, we need our pastors. They are a gift from God. An expression of his love. As we devote ourselves to God and his kingdom and seek to listen to him as he speaks to us, may we listen with eager expectation when our pastors open up the word of God to proclaim it into our lives.