Hungry For The Word!
“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine through the land — not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the LORD, but they will not find it. Amos 8:11-12
“Preaching is hazy; heads are muddled; hearts fret; doubts drain strength; uncertainty paralyzes action, For two generations our churches have suffered from a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.” J. I. Packer
I have seen it happen at a lively Christian concert. I have seen it happen on Christian TV after a spirited performance by a charismatic evangelist. But, it has never happened to me. I am talking about receiving applause at the close of a sermon. There was nothing that you might expect to arouse such a response. The sermon was not entertaining and the delivery was through my usual stammering lips. It was just a “meat and potato” teaching on Psalm 19. So, I was taken back by it. I didn’t know what to do except shut up and sit down.
After the service I discovered the reason for that extraordinary response. One of the ladies, came up to me and said with tears in her eyes, “Oh Pastor, I want to tell you that your coming here was an answer to prayer. We have been praying for someone to bring us the Word of God. We want to hear what God is saying to us. Oh thank you for coming and teaching us from God’s Word.” I was humbled and deeply moved by her response. What a joy to feed people who are hungry and starving for God’s written Word. What a privilege to be allowed to be the messenger, who merely declares the awesome riches that are found in His Word. I have no allusions that I was the intended recipient of such a joyful response. These people were not hungry for my opinions or my rhetoric. These people wanted God. They wanted “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”. I just got to be the delivery boy. What a joy!
Sadly, I also know what it is to preach about the awesome glory of God that is revealed to us in the Bible and have people look at me with blank stares. I know what it is like to declare the awesome treasures that are found in Jesus Christ and see anxious people look at their watches wondering if they were going to be able to beat the Baptists to Chile’s. I have had the opportunity to explain with great detail how God has promised to bless our marriages if we would only submit to His ways and have a wife absolutely refuse to obey. Her reason? “God wants me happy and I know that won’t make me happy.” I have had another long time member who sat under my teaching for years tell me that he had stopped obeying a clear biblical command when doing so no longer made him happy.
Why do we Christians treat God’s Word so casually? I believe there are two culprits. One in the pulpit and one in the pew. We preachers no longer preach and declare the Word with power and confidence. There are many possible reasons for this: The numbers are going down and we think the Word won’t grow the church; or, man made theories have been incorporated into the Church that claim scientific authority over biblical truth; or, our own people lack of enthusiasm and life so we think we need a fresh approach. If the preacher loses his confidence in the power of God’s Word and his congregation shows no passion for the meat of God’s Word, he may turn to fast foods and sermonettes that will bring in the crowds but in the end, leave them weak and weary.
On the other hand, you have pew sitters who have heard and heard and grown so accustomed to the menu that they may nibble but they do not digest the Word. They want their meals cut up in bite sized morsels where they don’t have to think, struggle or change. They want to be amused [a-“not”; muse-“think”: “not think”] or entertained rather than confronted, convicted and cleansed. They want the gifts of God but not the Giver. They are satisfied and comfortable and Church and the Word are only means to insure more of the same.
When the preacher loses confidence in the Word and the people lose their appetite for the Word, a terrible famine settles over the land. That famine causes His people to stagger and wander from sea to sea and north to west in search of some voice that will bring back the satisfaction and joy they once knew. What is truly sad is that many are in that state and don’t even know how desperate their condition is. Filled with artificial stimulants they may say, “I am full; I have acquired tasty foods and do not need a thing,” But God may say, “You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, starved, weak and emaciated.” [My paraphrase of Rev 3:17-18]
What can change our desperate situation in our church? First, prayer! Both the preachers and the people need to confess their lack of hunger for His words. We need to cry out to God to open the eyes of their hearts so that we can see the banquet of rich satisfying blessings that our God has set before us in His Word.” [Psalm 119:18]. Only God can open our eyes to see the wonderful things in His law. Only God can soften our hearts so that we want the God of glory more than we want His gifts. That is why Paul confesses, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. [Eph 1:17] Without Christ we can do nothing. So, we confess our sin of turning away from the glory of God and ask Him to give us a new passion to know and enjoy Jesus above all things. We can do this with confidence, knowing “with God all things are possible” [Matthew 19:26].
Second, devotion! If we pray for a new joy in Christ we will have a new love for the Word. A hunger for God’s Word is a sure sign that God is working in our hearts. The applause, the tears, and the prayers of this precious lady, are all the result of God’s working. We would not have a passion for the Scriptures if the Lord was not moving in our hearts. We prefer short sermons and entertaining skits when the focus is upon our selves. We prefer to be comforted rather than confronted when we are satisfied. But when God gives us His sweet honey [Psalm 19:11], we will want more. And, the banquet table of His pleasures we seek is found in the Holy Scriptures. As we open the Word in search of His voice we will discover His great and precious promises. [2 Peter 1:4]
Third, encouragement! The people need to encourage their shepherd by coming hungry and open to receive what God is saying through the stammering lips of their Pastor. Believe me, he has heard all week about his failures and weaknesses. What do you think would happen to your pastor if the body stood up in unison next Sunday and applauded his sermon? What if the critics were transformed into encouragers? What do you think would happen if instead of looking at their watches to see how much past noon he was going, he heard his people crying out, “Keep going! Don’t Stop! Give us more. You go dude!” I tell you for sure, they would get the new pastor they have been wanting for so long without having to go though another pastoral search!”
I felt some of that on that Sunday. When I apologized for going so long they responded, “Keep going, brother! We are loving it. Don’t worry about the time. We will stay still 1:30.” What a blessing! It was truly an answer to my prayer. I have asked God to let me use up the last days of my life breaking the bread of life to any people in any place, as long as there is was one ingredient present: a hunger for God’s Word. I don’t care how far I have to travel or how how many people are there when I arrive. I want to be the one who gets the joy of spreading the table of these soul-satisfying, Christ-glorifying; life-transforming morsels of God’s grace to a people who are hungry and ready to eat. I have found that hunger in Kenya, Zambia, Argentina and the Philippines. My prayer is that it would return to the churches of America! Let us pray. Let us devote. Let us encourage. Let us eat!
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Dr. Gary Rieben. © Give Me That Book. Email: Grieben@aol.com. Website: www.GiveMeThatBook.org. Postal: GMTB | P.O. Box 1045| La Quinta, CA 92247 USA | 619.829.2390
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