“And he said unto me, Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with my words unto them” (Ezek. 3:4).
Nearly every Christian will have an opportunity to speak for God in one situation or another. Even those without a special calling to the professional ministry will be asked to give a talk to a congregation or a youth group, or to teach the Bible or give devotions before a group. We all ought to know how to prepare to speak for God. The Bible says, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any many minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Pet. 4:11).
We ought to look for opportunities to minister in Jesus’ name, especially by the spoken word. We ought to speak as God’s representatives and trust in the Lord to work through us.
The Bible has many stories about people whom God called to speak to some group or individual. I believe that the man whose story is the most helpful in showing us how to prepare to speak is Ezekiel. The story of his call is found in chapters 1–3 of his book. Read those chapters, and see these six steps in preparing to speak for God.
1. Realize that, with God’s help, you can do it!
Notice carefully the words of Ezekiel 2:1–2: “And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee. And the spirit entered into me when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that I heard him that spake unto me.”
Chapter 1 describes an amazing vision God gave Ezekiel in the land of Babylon. At the end of the chapter, this man is on his face, bowing before the glory of the Lord. Now God’s voice comes and says, “Stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee.” Before Ezekiel could do anything, the Holy Spirit entered into Ezekiel and set him on his feet so that he heard God. What the Lord commanded Ezekiel to do, the Holy Spirit caused him to do! In the vision, Ezekiel had seen “living creatures” and “wheels.” What they were is the subject of another study, but one aspect of the vision applies to what happened to Ezekiel. The Bible says, “Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went” (Ezek. 1:20).
It was the Spirit of God who caused things to happen! So it will be with you. What God calls you to do, the Spirit will enable you to do. Don’t turn down an opportunity to speak. Don’t miss a chance to give a testimony or say a word of witness. Whatever the Lord tells you to do, just try to do it and trust in the Spirit to empower you. Always have your confidence in the Spirit, and not in your flesh, even if the call is simply to “stand upon thy feet.”
2. Don’t be afraid.
Ezekiel was told not to fear his listeners. “Be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns be with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions: be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house” (Ezek. 2:6).
Verses 3 through 8 of Ezekiel 2 dwell upon the fear factor. Ezekiel’s congregation would give him something to fear, humanly speaking. They were “rebellious” against God, and even “impudent” and “stiffhearted” (verses 3 and 4). They would attack him with “their words” and with “their looks” (verse 6). He was going to feel as if he was living among “briers and thorns” and “among scorpions,” but he still was not to be afraid (verse 6). God’s Word was to be preached to them in the power of the Holy Spirit “whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear” (verse 5). “Yet shall [they] know that there hath been a prophet among them” (verse 5). With an important mission such as this, the prophet must not be stymied by fear! If you know that God has sent you to say a certain thing, you can lose your fear!
3. Feed upon the Word.
Chapter 2 ends and chapter 3 begins with Ezekiel eating a scroll of Scripture. “Son of man, eat that thou findest” (Ezek. 3:1).
Of course, Ezekiel was still experiencing a vision, but the significance of this scroll-eating is not to be missed (2:9–3:11). We must feed on the Word of God for ourselves in order to be ready to give it to others.
Son of man, all my words that I shall speak unto thee receive in thine heart, and hear with thine ears. And go, get thee to them of the captivity, unto the children of thy people, and speak unto them, and tell them, Thus saith the Lord God; whether they will hear, or whethfer they will forbear (Ezek. 3:10–11).
Read the Bible every day for your own spiritual nourishment. “Desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Pet. 2:2). It is from God’s work in your own life through His Word that He gives you the ability to meet needs in the lives of others. Preachers should study the Bible for the benefit of their souls more than for the preparation of their sermons. In personal Bible study you will glean truths and texts that God wants you to expound to others. Take down notes on your daily Scripture reading. Keep written records of Biblical themes you think might be used in the future to formulate sermons or devotional messages.
4. Get alone with the Lord until His hand comes upon you.
Read carefully in Ezekiel 3:12–14 about what happened next to the prophet. He had another amazing experience with the Spirit of God. He says that God’s Spirit “took me up” and then “took me away,” and “the hand of the Lord was strong upon me.” When the Spirit moved him away to Tel-abib, Ezekiel says, “I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit.” God had done something in the prophet’s heart that must happen to anyone before he can speak effectively for God. The Lord brought Ezekiel to the place in his heart and mind where he felt the same about the message as God felt about it! God was angry with His rebellious people. The message was to be one of warning. It was to be full of “lamentations, and mourning, and woe” (2:10). Now Ezekiel could feel the wickedness of the people’s rebellion and the justice of God’s punishment upon them.
When a speaker comes before a group sure that he has a message from God to deliver, and if that speaker feels strongly about that message and about getting it across the way God wants it delivered, he or she will be a good and effective messenger. Whatever you do, before you speak, stay alone with God in prayer until the hand of the Lord comes upon you in regard to delivering God’s message. Prepare your notes, but prepare your heart also.
5. Sit where they sit.
Ezekiel seemed ready to speak to the people, but he was not. Verse 15 of chapter 3 tells us about something else that must happen before we are ready to speak for God. “Then I came to them of the captivity at Tel-abib, that dwelt by the river of Chebar, and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days.”
These people at Tel-abib were the ones who were to hear Ezekiel preach first. Before he was ready to deliver a message, the prophet needed to sit where his audience sat. Compassion is a vital element in effective speaking. Know where your listeners are. Know why they are there. Get an idea what it will be like for them to hear your message. Yes, these were bad people. God had called them rebels, transgressors, impudent, and hardhearted. But Ezekiel was made of flesh too and was subject, as we all are, to their temptations and weaknesses. If he “sat where they sat” for seven days, he would learn something he needed to know before he addressed them in the name of the Lord. The prophet was “astonished” by what he learned in those vital days. The heat of his spirit was balanced with the compassion of his heart.
Sometimes when I am to talk in a children’s meeting, I go early and walk into the room on my knees, not in a posture of prayer, but as a way of seeing the room and the podium from the viewpoint of a little child. Sometimes on a Sunday morning, before anyone has arrived at the church, I will sit on the back row to reflect upon what it will be like to be where some of my congregation will be as they hear me preach. Never speak out of zeal unchecked by compassion. Meditate on the state of your hearers and put yourself in their place for a while.
6. Realize your responsibility.
Ezekiel 3:16–21 presents us with the awful responsibility of representing God and speaking for Him. You have probably read these verses before, but it would be good for you to read them again. The man who speaks for God is a “watchman,” according to this passage, and he has a great responsibility to the people he is supposed to protect. If a watchman on the wall of a city sees danger coming, he must sound a warning. The Lord’s watchman is told, “Hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.”
When we find in God’s Word matters that people around us should know, it is our duty to tell them. Since sinners are condemned to hell unless they turn to Christ, we who know this are duty-bound to warn them! The one who speaks for God must stand before people with a powerful sense of the responsibility on his shoulders. The destiny of souls and the direction of lives are at stake. He must not refrain his lips out of fear of offense.
The speaker who follows Ezekiel’s example will be effective. God will make you an effective bearer of His message if you will prepare properly to speak for Him.
Dr. Richard Flanders was pastor of Juniata Baptist Church in Vassar, Michigan and now serves as an itinerant evangelist.
(Originally published in FrontLine • March/April 1999. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)