Preaching That Transforms:
These Bones Shall Live
James Earl Matthew said, "Preaching as God intended will never lose its power nor its reason for being. Human concern will shift with every generation, but Gods means of addressing human need will never change."
Pastors will never be more culturally relevant and better able to connect with people of this generation than when they stand under the anointing of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the timeless truths of Gods Word.
Preaching may seem unable to compete with the fast-paced multimedia culture in which we live where appetites have been whetted by special effects, action-packed movies, and video wizardry. We want to preach the gospel and see lives transformed. Yet, when we look at our congregation, we may see a man who is cheating on his wife; a businessman who has pulled a fast one on the IRS; the restless teenagers in the back pew passing notes and appearing to be completely tuned out; the church officer who is doing his best to undermine our ministry; and the man who, within the first 5 minutes of our sermon, is already fast asleep.
Pastors do not have to compete with Hollywood. They have something television, and the movies can never give: the life-transforming Word of God and the power of His Holy Spirit. Pastors bring words that are healing balm to hurts, words that quench thirsty souls, words that break bondages and set the captives free, words that affect eternity.
Paul declared in 1 Corinthians 1:18, "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish, foolishness; but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God."
We use drama to bring people to encounter God. But the appointed means God has ordained to transform lives is the preaching of the gospel. It is the power of God to save.
The prophet Ezekiel lived in desperate times (Ezekiel 37:114). The nation of Israel had been carried into captivity to Babylon due to its own sin. Though it had been warned for years by the prophet Jeremiah and others, Israel continued to rebel. As a result, through three waves of invasions, the Babylonians destroyed the city of Jerusalem and took its inhabitants captive. While Jeremiah stayed in Jerusalem to minister to the remnant who remained, Daniel and Ezekiel were taken into exile and ministered to the exiled Jews.
Every prophet of God is given divine revelation and then entrusted with the responsibility to share that message as God directs. In Ezekiel 33, God gave Ezekiel a picture of his responsibility. The one who received a message from God was like a watchman. If the watchman failed to warn the people and they were destroyed, the watchman would be held responsible. Yet, the watchman had the power to declare the message; and, if the people listened, they would be saved.
The destiny of people is in our hands. But it is the highest and greatest privilege to be chosen to be Gods messenger. Ezekiel 37 reveals that Gods message preached in Gods power can transform lives. It can impact nations and change the world. Spirit-anointed preaching is Gods means by which His power is unleashed in the world to do His work.
Much preaching today is academic, intellectual, and informational. It is communicated with eloquence and oratorical skill, but it is powerless to change lives. Spirit-anointed preaching is when the fire falls from heaven; when unction rises within the soul. It is where the preacher leaves off and the Holy Spirit takes over. Thats when the Holy Spirit convicts, corrects, woos, delivers, heals, revives, and restores.
There is power in Spirit-unctionized preachingpower that cannot be obtained with academic degrees, hermeneutical skill, homiletical position, or exegetical study. It cannot be taught; it must be caught through prayer and waiting on the Lord.
Ezekiel 37 reveals four essentials of preaching that transforms.
The preparation of the messenger
The messenger must be empowered by the Spirit. Ezekiel 37:1 says, "The hand of the Lord was upon me." The qualification for ministry is not our degree from the institute of higher learning. The qualification for ministry is not the credential we carry in our pocket or hang on our wall. The qualification for ministry is the hand of the Lord on our life. The hand of the Lord is Gods strength; it is Gods power; it is Gods equipping us to do the task He has called us to do.
Ezekiels call was not an isolated event; in fact, it began in chapter one. Ezekiel was by the river Chebar when the word of the Lord came to him and the hand of the Lord was on him.
The phrases"the hand of the Lord was upon me" and "the word of the Lord came to me" are used repeatedly of Ezekiel. It was a lifestyle for Ezekiel to walk in the anointing of God and to be tuned to His voice. When we walk under the control of the Holy Spirit, we will hear Gods voice and receive Gods revelation.
Be moved by the spirit
The hand of the Lord carried Ezekiel in the Spirit and set him down in a valley full of dry bones. If Ezekiel were candidating for a place of ministry, I doubt he would have chosen the valley of dry bones as his new congregation.
We need to be sure we are where the Spirit of the Lord wants us, and we are not at a church because of a cushy salary package. Then we will preach with conviction, minister with commitment, and persevere through a time of dry bones until we see God move.
Ezekiel was stationed in the middle of a huge battlefield where tens of thousands had been slain. The vultures had gathered there time and time again. The rains had washed the bones clean. The bones were white, having been bleached by the sun. There was no sign of life. Yet, this is where the Spirit placed Ezekiel to minister.
The Holy Spirit will help us see the true condition of the people we minister to and will cause our hearts to be sensitive to their needs. We will never be more seeker sensitive than when we are Spirit sensitive.
We hear about preaching to peoples felt needs. But Israel in that day did not know what its true need was. The people may have felt their true need was for deliverance from Babylonian captivity. They may have thought their need was to return home to Jerusalem. But the Spirit showed Ezekiel their true condition and their need.
We can get in the mind of unchurched Harry and Mary, but the unchurched may not know their true spiritual need. We can poll our congregation to find out what the hot spiritual topics are, but the church often does not know its own spiritual need.
As Ezekiel viewed the dismal scene, two thoughts arose in his mind. First, the bones were many. The need was overwhelming. Second, the bones were very dry. The condition was intensely desperate.
Mere information could not address the need of that congregation of dry bones. Ezekiel could have told them why they needed the Spirits life in them. He could have given them the seven steps to spiritual life and it would not have brought life. They needed God to breathe on them.
Too much preaching is informational, not transformational. Only the Spirit of God can destroy the yoke of the enemy and transform a person.
When you first entered into ministry and began to preach, if you are like most of us, you were desperate before God. You said, "Lord, I need to hear from You. God, give me a message." Before you stood in the pulpit you cried out, "God, You must be with me. You must anoint me." But after a few years of ministry, you learned how to prepare a polished message. You learned how to have pulpit presence. And you learned you could get in the pulpit without desperate times of prayer before God.
Listen to the question God asked His servant: "Son of man, can these bones live?" (verse 3).*
The phrase "son of man" is a reference to Ezekiels humanity. Humanly speaking, it was impossible for these bones to live. But Ezekiels faith was in God when he said, "O, Sovereign Lord, you alone know" (verse 3).
The preacher stands between two worlds. The first command was to preach to the bones, and the second command was to prophesy to the wind. It takes both to see lives transformed. Prophesying to the wind is intercession and a desperate plea to God to endue the people to whom we preach with His life. There are a lot of people prophesying to the bones. But we lack a great deal of prophesying to the wind. Preaching without prayer is ineffectual.
Ezekiel prophesied to the bones, but there was still no breath in them. There was a noise, a shaking, a coming together, but still no life. There is a lot of noise in our churchesmusic, preaching, and multimedia. I am for these things, but they are not a substitute for the Holy Spirit.
Ezekiel saw the bones come together into an organized body. In the same way, our churches run like well-oiled machinery. We have vision statements, mission statements, purpose statements. But it doesnt matter how much you dress up a corpse; its still dead.
There was no life until Ezekiel prophesied to the wind. Then the breath came and infused life into those bones. When the Spirit blew, that congregation received life and stood to its feet as a mighty army. If it happened for Ezekiel, it can happen for our churches. Whatever condition our churches may presently be in, God wants to breathe on them and pour out His Spirit. But we must be empowered, moved, and be led and utterly dependent on the Spirit.
Preparation of the messenger comes first, then the revelation of the message. When we are spiritually prepared, we will hear from God. What the people need is not another sermon; they need to hear from God.
Be faithful to declare the message, despite what we see before us
Can these bones live? Gods power is not limited by our circumstances. Gods Word is not bound by mans indifference. Gods Word is alive and powerful.
We must prophesy. Prophesy means to speak forth for God. We must proclaim the message with such unction of the Holy Spirit that it comes forth with the authority of the Lord.
Remember what was said of Jesus in the Gospels. "He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Matthew 7:29, KJV). Why? Because the rabbis of that day said, "Well, Rabbi Gamaliel said . . . ." They simply regurgitated what Rabbi Gamaliel said. It was the word of the word of somebody who said he had heard from the Lord.
Be sure youre not just regurgitating what somebody else said. Be sure you are hearing a word from the Lord for the people to whom you minister. We need God to speak through us with a force of "thus says the Lord."
Paul did not come with excellence of speech or wisdom in declaring the testimony of God. Rather, he came in weakness, fear, and much trembling. His speech was not in the persuasive words of human wisdom, but in power and demonstration of the Spirit.
We must be faithful to declare the message with Gods heart. Ezekiel heard every little rustling and shaking because his heart was sensitive. We must be faithful to declare the message God has given us. We cant compromise the message because we are afraid of offending the family that gives the biggest tithe. We need to prophesy as the Lord commanded.
Transformation through the message of Gods Word
The Word of God convicts people of their condition.
On the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached under the anointing of the Holy Spirit: "You, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross" (Acts 2:23). But by the end of his preaching, "they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, Brothers what shall we do? " (2:37).
Recently two Colombians who had just arrived in the United States came to our Sunday morning service. They didnt speak English, so they heard the service through electronic translation. At the end of the service they both gave their hearts to the Lord. They came back to our 5:30 p.m. Spanish service with three friends. One of those friends gave his heart to the Lord. Then they stayed for our 6:30 p.m. service, and the other two gave their hearts to the Lord. In 1 day five Colombians had received the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior even though they didnt speak English. It was the convicting power of the Holy Spirit.
Gods Word sanctifies.
In our church is a woman who is an altar worker and prayer ministry leader. When she first started coming to our church, you could tell she partied on Saturday night and came to Sunday morning service to fulfill a duty. But God began to transform her life on the outside and in her heart as well. She says, "When somebody first invited me here, I would go to clubs on Saturday night. Then I would just sit through the service on Sunday morning. But after a while God started dealing with me and I could no longer do the things I used to do." The preaching of Gods Word sanctifies peoples lives.
Gods Word brings deliverance.
A 7-year-old girl spent the summer in Haiti with her grandparents who are voodoo priests. She came back demon possessed. She came into our prayer ministry and every time we laid hands on her, her body would go into contortions. Her voice dropped to the level of a bass and she said heinous things. We prayed, and that young girl was delivered. Two weeks later we baptized eight members of her family because they saw the miracle of God in her life. The Word of God brings freedom.
Gods Word brings healing.
Ten years ago, a woman who said she was born Catholic and would die Catholic was diagnosed with lupus. Her friends kept inviting her to church and she said, "No, Im Catholic. Ill never go to a Protestant church." The disease became so grave she came one Sunday. The message God gave me was that the Lord still heals today. God delivered her from lupus. She got saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit within 1 month. That woman is one of our most dedicated ministers in the church today.
Spirit-anointed preaching of the Word will produce revival. It will produce salvation. It will produce healing. It will produce deliverance. R.A. Torrey said, "Pentecostal preaching produces Pentecostal experience." The Word of God preached under the anointing of the Holy Ghost will transform lives. These bones shall live.
|Maria Khaleel-Gilleland is senior pastor of New Life Assembly of God, Pembroke Pines, Florida. The preceding was a sermon she preached during the 2002 Pentecostal Preachers Conference held in Springfield, Missouri.|
*Scripture references are from the New International Version.