The conclusion of a conversation Morag and I were having this morning:
God’s Word never fails. Its promises are true through and through, like purest silver refined seven times. God’s Word never returns to Him void but accomplishes that for which it is sent forth.
Here’s the thing though: The teaching of man can fail us when it is the teaching of man and at variance with the unfailing trustworthiness of the Word of God. The fact that it comes from a pulpit or a conference lectern does not enable it to escape that powerlessness. That is why the charismatic scene and to a lesser extent the evangelical scene can sometimes be filled with disappointed people. (The liberal scene causes less problems in this regard because it never leads anyone to expect anything from God anyway – at best he is a God whose presence and activity is hidden, which sort of stacks the cards in favour of expecting nothing in the first place!) The teaching and programmes of man are presented as though they were the Word of God: folk sincerely follow the teaching to the letter, but they find that often, “It doesn’t work.”
Perhaps you have followed through a course that offered you all sorts of victories in the Christian life and it didn’t work; perhaps you are part of a church leadership team that followed through an evangelistic programme or a mission programme that gave very disappointing results despite the expectation raised by the advertising blurb and glossy and persistent marketing that eventually wore down your resistance and your better judgement. Sadly I met so many Christians in the course of being a parish minister or through some of the wider ministry the Lord seemed to call me to, who were quite simply suffering through being squeezed into the mincer of some Christian sausage machine that failed to meet individuals as individuals and only offered a pre-formatted programme as the route to “more.” Over the years people have occasionally tried the sausage machine approach on me when ministering to me in one setting or another. I don’t bear any animosity to those who have treated me that way, who made me feel I was being turned into some sort of performing monkey that must dance to their tune or school of thought, but it did feel wrong and it made me sad that trust was abused and people, me included, were turned into fodder for a method.
Has your faith floundered on the authoritative sounding teaching of a man or woman? Well, it is maybe good that it has, even if the disappointment was hard to bear. It may drive you back to saying to the Lord Himself, “Show me Thy ways, O Lord. Teach me thy paths.”
If you are a preacher, make sure you are not fundamentalist in your allegiance to any given school of thought or theology, for no person including those to whom we owe much in the Lord is without fault in what they say, including theologians who have an “ism” attached to their name from times past, or a multi-million ministry in terms of money or followers today! I pray you will have a commitment to study hard to truly divide the Word of truth. Don’t offer the teaching of another human being to people as though it were the bread of life: offer it in very small doses that genuinely back up the Living Word of God.
Forgive me too, if I add one more thought (I know these blogs can sound arrogant as though there is no one right but me! That is not my heart. I believe time is short and the days are evil and we need to make the most of opportunities we have. If I throw a lot of my own experience into your lap, it comes from a desire to see the lost saved, the saved filled, the sick healed, the oppressed set free and the Word of the Lord coming in power more so than I have ever seen yet, or any of us have ever seen yet. At most I can speak from a background of a very ordinary ministry blessed with partial fruitfulness not all of which may pass the test of Judgement Day ).When I was preaching regularly I had an inbuilt filter or two through which at times unconsciously but at other times very deliberately I passed what I was planning to say in a sermon.
The first filter was that I thought of someone who had known horrendous abuse and all that flows from that to damage living, trusting etc. I would ask myself if what I was planning to say not only honoured the Word of God but honoured life stories like that. Albeit the Word of God itself accomplishes that for which it is sent forth, was the way I was thinking of presenting it going to create a needless blockage: was it a thoughtless presentation that would set up obstacles to hearing?
The other filter for me personally, is that of Christian leaders and Christian believers all of whom ministered and lived out their Christian witness against a background of persecution; I met them at a conference. Trite methods promoted in self-confident sounding programmes seemed so hollow to me when I was in that setting for two or three weeks. I think of them often. It was a life changing experience that affected how I present the Word of God: would what I am preaching hold any water at all in the lands these dear people came from?
Fellow ministers, I hope you might set some filters for yourself that will help you present the Word of God in a thoughtful empathetic way, otherwise the Word of God can become a tool in the hand of the enemy to wound hope or faith; the road to recovery can be a long one.
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This was especially good to read. I have found myself more recently filtering my sermons out of awareness of what a couple of close people are grappling with and of a longing for authenticity, and have also thought (though not met like you have) how various things would hold up in the face of the experience of persecuted Christians.
Also this year have been trying more to let my bible reading be what I find first ( and write down) before reading my daily notes booklet. Find myself getting quite excited by this way! That was thanks to be given a surplus page a day diary for Christmas so thought i’d use it for my bible/prayer times.
You wrote what I was very concerned about on Wednesday night. Perfect time for a word of caution for me. Thank you