Don’t Burden People with Your “Burdens”Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
“But stop using this phrase, ‘prophecy from the LORD.’ For people are using it to give authority to their own ideas, turning upside down the words of our God, the living God, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.”
How many times have you heard Christians say, “God told me to do this” or “The Lord told me to do that”? I’ve heard this sort of claim hundreds of times, from Christian leaders, from friends, and from members of my flock when I was a pastor. Scripture certainly teaches us that God can and does speak to his people. But, I must confess, I have sometimes wondered whether people are confusing their own desires with God’s voice. It is convenient, after all, if God just happens to bless what you want for yourself, as in: “God told me to get the new Apple iPad!”
The leaders of Judah in the time of Jeremiah claimed to speak God’s words to the people. Yet they were making it all up, claiming God’s inspiration for their self-generated messages. Through Jeremiah, the Lord rebuked the false prophets: “But stop using this phrase, ‘prophecy from the LORD.’ For people are using it to give authority to their own ideas, turning upside down the words of our God, the living God, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies” (23:36).
The phrase translated here as “prophecy from the LORD” employs a play on words in the original Hebrew. “Prophecy” renders the Hebrew term masa’, which literally meant “burden,” but also came to refer to an inner burden placed on the heart of a prophet. Thus masa’ could mean “an oracle” from God. You can see this play on words especially in Jeremiah 23:33. If someone asks “What prophecy [masa’] has the LORD burdened you with now?” Jeremiah was to reply, “You are the burden! [masa’].”
To build on Jeremiah’s word play, I’d say that we should not burden people with our “burdens.” Although God might truly speak to us, we must not use the language of “God spoke to me” simply to authorize our own desires. Leaders, in particular, should beware of the common tendency to attribute our plans to God in order to shortchange a process of careful evaluation of our proposals. If we truly believe that God has whispered in our hearts through the Spirit, then we should be eager for the discernment of our community so that God’s guidance might be understood and followed. As godly people seek wisdom, as they weigh all things in the balance of Scripture, then the true burdens from the Lord will be sifted from the selfish claims that become so unhappily burdensome.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Do you ever say, “The Lord told me . . .”? What do you mean when you say this? How do you know if something is from God? What helps you discern God’s guidance for your life?
PRAYER: O Lord, how thankful I am that you do speak to us. You speak through the gifts of your Spirit. You guide by moving our hearts. You speak as your Word is rightly preached and taught. You direct through the discernment of your people. And you communicate with us through Scripture. Thank you, Lord, for being a God who speaks.
Help me not to trivialize this marvel by attributing to you that which is not from you. May I not say “The Lord told me” just because something seems right to me at the moment. Teach me, Lord, to hear your voice accurately. Encourage me to submit what I’m sensing from you to the discernment of my Christian community. May I be open to what you want to say to me . . . always. But may I also be wise in weighing what seems to be from you. May I never be a “burden” to you or to others by claiming your authority for that which comes from my own heart. Amen.