The response of King Jehoshaphat as the Ammonite and Moabite armies approached Judah would have stunned the authors of many contemporary manuals on church leadership, noted pastor Alistair Begg at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
As the enemy soldiers drew near, Judah’s king grew fearful, called a national fast and cried out to the sovereign God who had made a covenant of redemption with Israel. God responded by destroying the enemy armies, setting off mass worship of the one true God throughout Judah.
Begg, pastor of Parkside Church in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, was the keynote speaker for Southern Seminary’s annual Power in the Pulpit preaching conference which drew more than 300 pastors from Kentucky and surrounding states. Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. and preaching professor Hershael York also were featured lecturers for the March 14-15 sessions at the Louisville, Ky., campus.
In the same manner as Jehoshaphat, ministers in the 21st century will discover God’s power when they realize their own weakness and their utter dependence upon Him, said Begg, host of the national radio show “Truth for Life” and author of several books.
“God’s purpose is that we might depend entirely upon Him,” Begg said. “Jesus didn’t say, ‘apart from Me you can do a few things.’ He said, ‘apart from Me you can do nothing.’ We cannot do anything as we ought without the help that He gives.”
God often brings adverse circumstances into the lives of ministers to demonstrate their weakness, Begg said. Only when a minister sees, like Jehoshaphat, that “the battle belongs to the Lord” will he be in a position to see lasting fruit born through his ministry, Begg said.
“If we will not come to the point where we flat-out are prepared to acknowledge our weakness and our powerlessness, then God -- because He wants to achieve His purpose, loves His church so much, and is prepared to use strange individuals like you and I -- will bring into our lives that which is necessary in order to bring us to the place where we have to admit that we are flat-out powerless,” Begg said.
“And at that point, there is the possibility for progress. Until that point, we may be apparently influential, we may be strategically involved, we may have all kinds of things apparently going for us, and we may discover on that day [of judgment] what we thought was gold and silver and precious jewels actually was wood, hay and stubble, and the day [of judgment] brought it to light.”
When a minister recognizes his own frailty, his response should not be emotional but theological, Begg said, noting that Jehoshaphat responded to this realization theologically by realizing that God is the gracious sovereign Lord who can be trusted to keep His promises to His people.
Theology -- contemplating the character, attributes and work of God in redemption -- brought equilibrium to Jehoshaphat’s leadership and it will bring stability to the contemporary pastor’s ministry in the local church, Begg said. When a congregation knows God as He is set forth in Scripture, their praise will be God-centered and not man-centered, he said.
“Jehoshaphat takes his emotional reaction [to his own weakness] and sets it within what he knows of God,” Begg said.
“There is a great need for theology to frame our responses, for theology to undergird our praise. It is one of the reasons that our praise is so bad in so many different places, because it is not grounded in singing about who God is and what God has done. We are constantly being asked to sing about who we are and how we feel about things.
“We do not engage with God as a result of a feeling; we engage with God as a result of what has been accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is our theological framework which not only addresses our problems but gives fuel to our praise.”
Ministers must articulate the weakness of human beings and the power of God, Begg said. The antidote to human impotence, he said, is not found in anxious hand-wringing but in the undiluted proclamation of the Word of God.
“We need the Word of God brought home by the Spirit of God to the people of God in a way that addresses their circumstances,” he said. “[Ministers need to say,] ‘This is what God says. What do we do now?’ Even the king [Jehoshaphat] says he is powerless and clueless. You need to know that the battle isn’t yours, but it is God’s. You need to learn what God does, and you need to know what you are to do.”
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