There are many times and in many ways in which God speaks to us. That I believe is clear to all of us. Remember back to the first Nugget in this series and what I told you of the ideas the cell group came up with on this topic. We all agreed that collectively God had spoken to us in many different ways just like the writer of Hebrews tells us. Let’s explore another dimension to the way in which God speaks to us.
The first level concerns us directly. Whatever He may say and in whatever way He may say it is for us personally and no other. God has spoken to me more times than I care to mention about all sorts of things. Perhaps the most poignant and direct of all was the time He called by the name of Maher Shalal Hash Baz. I have shared that experience many times in different contexts, so I won’t repeat it.
The next level God may speak to us is for the benefit of other people. This may happen if we sense a “word of prophecy” which God intends for a certain person or group of people. It may be the person who has just arisen from the waters of baptism or may be for the church gathered in a worship service or a small group. This is not normal and is usually associated with the manifestation gifts in some way. The other possible context is in terms of preaching to the whole church. This can come about because we have been asked to preach by our pastor in our own church, or by a pastor from another church. It may be a result of us sensing that what God is telling us is for the whole body and not just us personally. We may well have a strong impression that “I have to share this with all those gathered here. This is for the church.”
The first time this happens is scary. How do I know that what I am thinking is right or not? Do I just go with the impression in my mind or do I check it out with someone – the Pastor for instance? I would strongly suggest you check it out with the leaders. Such a “word for the body” needs to be checked with those in leadership. The first time I had that impression I had not preached before but had the idea that this message I was receiving was for the whole church. So I went to our pastor and told him what I was thinking. He listened and nodded and then said, “Leave it with me.” I talked to God about it and sensed Him tell me I had now played my part. I had told the leader and I was to leave it with him. I did not have the mantle of authority to do anything more. Months later at a church camp the Pastor asked me to share what I had told him with the body.
From that point on I began to be asked to preach in our own church from time to time. Following our call to Bible College and Wycliffe, the preaching opportunities grew and I soon learned that knowing what to preach for the church was a different level of seeking God. How do you know what to share with the Church. How do you know what it is God wants you to share. That is a skill and a sensitivity that has to be learned and practised. I would spend hours seeking God for what it was that He wanted me to share. There have been times when He has made it very clear to me long before the time of preaching. There have been other occasions when I had thought I was to share one thing, only to find the day before, or on the morning I was to preach the focus I was to share had changed. I had a strong sense from the Holy Spirit that I was to share on something totally different – but something nonetheless which I had been thinking and praying much about. There have been a couple of times over the years when I believe God changed the topic as I walked to the pulpit. One another occasion I felt God told me I would know what to preach when I stepped up to the pulpit. Now that took another level of faith to trust that would happen. I have even been sitting in church (in Indonesia) and had the leader for the service kneel beside me and ask if I could preach the message:- the preacher had called to say they were not able to make it. The time for the sermon was NOW.
I have often read the words of the prophets who brought hard messages to preach and wondered what it was like to bring a hard word. Prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel who were vilified by the people for always talking about the people’s sin. Jeremiah was called “Terror on Every Side” by the people such were the nature of his messages. Well there has been one such time for me. I had a very strong series of messages come to me during our time in Matamata. They were linked to the references to Vessels in the Bible. I saw the number of references and realised they were a series. Then God began to fill in the details over a period of time and gave me the burden or the intensity of focus and the importance of what I was to preach in order for me to bring the series of messages. There are 7 kinds of vessels mentioned in the Bible
The Vessel of Honour – 2 Timothy 2:20
The Vessels of Mercy – Romans 9:23
The Chosen Vessel – Acts 9:15
The Clean Vessel – Isaiah 66:20, Ezekiel 24:11-12
The Vessel of Brokenness – 2 Corinthians 4:7
The Vessel of Dishonour – 2 Tim 2:20
The Vessel of Wrath – Romans 9:23
Over time, as I pulled together what I felt God was showing me, I realised this series would take eight messages to cover, starting gently and moving deeper and becoming harder and more personal for the hearers. The message on the Clean Vessel would need two Sundays to cover. I shared the general concepts with the pastor and he told me to go for it. We the people, the congregation, were the vessels and there was a continuum of thought related to our individual and collective response before the LORD that was the focus of the series. And so we started the series. I wondered how the series would be received as we went further but the pastor knew the direction and the content of what I would share and had agreed to it. I felt God’s message strongly within me and knew that I was to be preaching this series.
The response that I gained from the outset was overwhelmingly positive. I had many people coming up to me and congratulating me for being so bold to preach this series. “This is what we need to hear Ian.” “Thank you for daring to preach this, we have needed it for a long time.” There were many positive comments from most people with the exception of two from the Four en I have told you about before in this series. One came up to me early into the series and told me, “You have no right to be sharing these messages. They are not of God.” I told him that I believed they were indeed from the LORD and I felt compelled to bring them. Furthermore, I had told the pastor about the series and he had agreed I was to bring them.”
As I went further and deeper in the series of Messages on the Vessels an interesting thing happened. The response from the majority of the people was one of immense gratitude and appreciation for what I was teaching and sharing about our human condition. However the response from two of The Four became increasingly vitriolic and intense. I was also aware that the pastor had a weekly meeting with the ring leader of The Four, where he expressed his opinion on what Ian Vail was doing. The message was that the messages were splitting the church and were hugely detrimental and needed to be stopped. When I had finished the second of the messages on The Clean Vessel, the pastor called me mid-week before our leadership meeting and told me he had had a delegation who had asked that the series be stopped as it was harming the church. Well, that was interesting as scores of people were telling me at the door on exit how good this series was and “how much we needed it”. Only one person had ever come and told me to my face that I was being divisive and negative on three separate occasions but I had heard no other negative input only positive. However at the following leaders meeting I was told that the Vessels Series was being put on hold until another time. I am still waiting for that other time to be announced.
Yes, the series of messages on the Vessels was shutdown. People came up to me over the ensuing weeks and said things like:
“Why have you stopped preaching the Vessels messages?”
“We need those, we have to finish the series.”
“I want to know about the Vessels of Brokenness, Dishonour and Wrath.”
“You can’t stop there, we need to finish them.”
I would tell them, “It is not up to me. I have stopped because I have been asked to put the messages on hold by the leadership.”
I can tell you I sought the LORD long and hard over that time:
“Was I wrong, had I in fact heard from the LORD? Was this just me and my thoughts?”
“Was the series divisive?”
“Was it too hard hitting?” “
Was it even what I ought to be doing?” Did God really show me . . . “
I asked God for confirmation that I was preaching what He has asked me to do? If I was, then I could bear whatever reaction came with it. I had to be willing to bear the reactions in the same way the Old Testament prophets had.
Into the midst of this quandary came a gift from the LORD via someone on the Wycliffe Board who gave me a book and said, “I just felt I needed to give you this book at this time.” They knew nothing of what was going on in Matamata at the same time.
The Book was The Potter’s Touch (Consecrated to Servanthood) by Dr Sam Sasser.
The Table of Contents of which is:
From Ruin to Righteousness
Go Down to the Potter’s House
He Makes Again Another Vessel
The Vessel of Honour
The Vessel of Mercy
The Chosen Vessel
The Clean Vessel
The Vessel of Dishonour
The Broken Vessel
The Vessel of Wrath
The only difference between Sam Sasser’s material and mine was the order of #8 and #9. Sam Sasser had outlined the continuum of thought in brief and I had taken it a lot deeper. I can tell you I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. I held that book in my hands and wept copious tears of sadness and joy all at the same time. Writing this now those tears have come back again for the same reasons. Tears over an unfinished series and tears of joy for God’s confirmation to my heart.