“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ” Hebrews 3:7-11; Psalm 95:7-11
As it turns out, hard hearts come in a pretty large variety of shapes and forms…even among church leaders. It is rarely as overt as Israel’s rebellion at Meribah. More often, it is a mild arrogance or self-reliance or pride at the heart of our hard-heartedness. So, as I study the above passage, I am reflecting on some of the less obvious (but more common) ways I have seen leaders “harden their hearts”…including me and my own heart.
Hardening our hearts to the power of God’s Word. Every time we catch ourselves thinking, “what this text needs is a little more of me…a little of my flash and polish will go a long way in helping it hit home in this sermon…” our faith in the power of God’s Word diminishes just a little more. Every time we receive a compliment for a lesson well-taught and we fail to acknowledge that it was God’s Word and not our communication skills that caused the real transformation, we steal God’s glory, and our heart hardens just a little more to the miracle of His living word.
Hardening our hearts to the power of prayer. When the priority we give gathered prayer meetings falls somewhere between repairing the hems of the …
“If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan? Jeremiah 12:5
Church leadership, especially the pastorate, can feel a little like the plight of Sisyphus…forever pushing that boulder up the hill with little or no results to show for it. They won’t pray…they won’t listen…they won’t volunteer or help…they won’t commit. But, oh, how they will complain! Sometimes you just feel like giving up.
I think every pastor who feels oppressed and burdened and stressed to the point of giving up should take a break and study Jeremiah’s ministry…really try to crawl around in Jeremiah’s skin. I promise, you will feel much better about your own circumstances!
Jeremiah spent 40 years obediently delivering a message nobody wanted to hear. Nobody. At all. He pushed and he pressed. He obediently spoke, again and again. He was ridiculed, beaten, imprisoned, and his own family scoffed at him. And through it all, to the very end, he was so very, very alone. And at the end of 40 years of these tireless efforts, he had not a single conversion to show for it. None. Jeremiah prayed and he begged God to change his assignment. He cried and he pled. He wished he had never even been born. And at one particularly low point of his depression, God’s response to him was something along the lines of “You think this is bad? The hard part hasn’t even started yet!”
But Jeremiah’s plight teaches us something important about how we measure our “success” in answering God’s call (and, just as importantly, how we should NOT measure our success). Maybe there will be amazing results to …
“As for the prophets who lead my people astray, they proclaim ‘peace’ if they have something to eat, but prepare to wage war against anyone who refuses to feed them. 6 Therefore night will come over you, without visions, and darkness, without divination. The sun will set for the prophets, and the day will go dark for them. 7 The seers will be ashamed and the diviners disgraced. They will all cover their faces because there is no answer from God. ” Micah 3:5-7
This passage from Micah has something to say to us about pastoral authority. And so does professional baseball.
They say that, among the various professional sports skills, hitting a major league baseball pitch may be the most difficult. I’ll buy that. And as far as I’m concerned, nobody practices that skill any better than Josh Hamilton. I honestly think he has maybe the sweetest swing in baseball. Last year, his four-home-run performance against the Orioles became just another illustration (just to put that in perspective, that has only been done 16 times in all of MLB history…that makes it even more rare than pitching a perfect game). But let’s be clear about those home-runs. They do not happen because of Hamilton’s amazing backstory, and they do not happen because of his title or his position as a major league player, and they do not happen because he has somehow earned the respect of his team mates or of opposing players. Those home-runs happen because of many long hours of perfecting a swing and then repeating that swing perfectly under a variety of circumstances. It is about sticking radically to that perfection and not wavering from it even a little bit. When Hamilton does that, when he sticks …
“Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger,
in whose hand is the club of my wrath!” Isaiah 10:5
I know I have joked (kind of) in previous posts about how theology watchdogs in the blogosphere (and in the church) are annoying in the same way as that teacher in high school who constantly corrected your grammar while you were trying to talk. But I also do recognize that God has given us brothers and sisters whose giftedness and very calling is to help us keep our doctrine pure…they are the doctrine disciplinarians, if you will. You know the ones I mean. They blog about your favorite pastor, who made a horrendous, unbelievable, heretical, probably-not-saved-if-you-say-this theological error in his sermon last week. They call him out by name, and the venom with which they attack him is, well, pretty ungodly. Or they review the most recent book by one of your favorite authors and basically question his very humanity, not to mention his spirituality, because of the position he seems to have taken on this theological issue or on that social issue…again, with uncommon rancor.
[And, as an aside, you know what is one of my pet peeves? That blogger almost never makes any attempt at all to actually contact that pastor/teacher/author in order to practice this “discipline” or “accountability” Biblically, which pretty quickly gets me wondering whether they are really loving this brother or rather are just a little envious of his acclaim. But I digress.]
I know that God disciplines us. And I know that he often uses others to do it. I am really OK with that. In fact, it seems like a good plan to me. I think scripture gives us plenty of examples of God using people to discipline his children. …