The scene is a small farm in south Alabama sometime in the late 1940’s. The farm house is situated on a knoll about 100 yards from the gravel road that runs through the country community. Behind the house and under the hill lies a large field. The farmer, Red Rucker, doggedly works the field with a mule-drawn plow. His patience is being sorely tested on this day. The weather is typically hot and humid, and a swarm of flies is relentlessly attacking Red’s mule.
Red notices that his teenage son, Huey, is sitting comfortably in the shade of the back porch of the house. Huey, having finished his chore of cleaning the chicken coop, obviously needed something else to do. Red pulls up the mule, ties off the reins, and calls to Huey to bring the fly spray to him. “Huey,” yelled Red, “bring me de fly spray!”
“What’d you say daddy?” hollered Huey. “I said, bring me de fly spray!” “I can’t hear you daddy!”
At that Red’s face became redder than his hair as he gave forth a shout at the top of his voice, “Bring me de fly spray now!!!”
“Huh?!” yelled back Huey. Red threw up his hands in disgust and cried, “Oh, just forget it!”
“Okay, daddy!” was Huey’s quick reply.
Huey practiced selective hearing. No doubt he had heard and understood every word Red had shouted to him, but he chose to act only upon what he wanted to hear. All parents know about selective hearing. Our children are experts at it.
Father God knows about selective hearing too, because his children of both Old Testament and New Testament generations have been experts at it. The entire history of Israel is laced with expressions of obstinance toward God’s word. From the beginning it was so. Yahweh could etch His word on tablets of stone at Sinai but He could not inscribe His word on the hard hearts of His people.
Obduracy continued to characterize God’s children in the New Testament era. Jesus wept openly over Jerusalem because of her stubbornness toward Him. In His heart He knew that just as Israel had rejected God’s word and killed the purveyors of it across the centuries, she would reject Him, the ultimate expression of God’s voice, and kill Him in an effort to silence a word they were unwilling to hear. The writer of Hebrews accurately summarized the collective experience of the spokesmen of God through the ages when he wrote “Concerning him [Jesus] we have much to say, and it is hard to explain since you have become dull of hearing” (Heb. 5:11).
Ezekiel was told that his hearers, even in defeat and exile, would be hard-headed in their attitude toward the word of the Lord (2:3-5; 3:4-7). Hopefully, you and I will never face, Sunday after Sunday, people as stubborn toward God’s word as Ezekiel’s Israel, but we can expect that in a lifetime of preaching we shall have to endure seasons when our hearer’s heads seem as hard as flint and their hearts appear as blocks of ice. We shall preach the gospel of grace overflowing toward sinners, and some will shed it off their backs like so much water. We shall proclaim holiness and purity of life and some of our people will continue to trash themselves upon the garbage heaps of immorality.
What Ezekiel dealt with and what we face is not really a hearing problem at all. When God’s children don’t listen, it is not because of stopped up ears but stiff necks.
So what do you do when you pour out your life in preaching and people don’t stop to listen? Do you quit? Do you reduce your message to positive-thinking platitudes pleasing to people’s ears? Do you look for a more receptive congregation? None of the above!
Hopefully, God will do for you and me what He did for Ezekiel. He will make us as hard-headed as our hearers (3:8-9). Is there a way that the Lord can enable us to reach down after a string of blue Mondays and find the resilience to preach one more sermon?
I believe that the Lord used some experiences of Ezekiel to make him hard-headed enough to keep on preaching to a stubborn people. He may use similar experiences in our lives to render to us the motivation to stay and keep on preaching to obstinate people.
One such experience is the resurgence of a heart recharged with God’s word (2:8-10; 3:10). We can persist in preaching to people who aren’t listening by keeping our hearts full of God’s word. This involves more than reading and memorization of Scripture. It necessitates obedience to that word ourselves. Until we do as God says in our personal lives, we are not truly hearing God. Keil’s interpretation of Ezekiel 3:10 clearly indicates this truth: “All my words which I shall speak to thee lay to heart, that thou mayest obey them [emphasis mine]. When thou hast heard my word with thine ears, then go to the exiles and announce them to them.”
Michael Green shared the story of a little boy who was furiously riding his tricycle around and around the block. Someone stopped him and inquired where he was going. The boy replied that he was running away from home. “Then why,” came the next question, “do you ride around and around the block your house is on?” “Because,” said the child, “my mother told me that I couldn’t cross the street.”
Just as the child’s obedience kept him close to his mother so will our obedience keep us close to our Father in heaven, which will in turn ignite the flame of His truth in our hearts and minds, making it as fire in our bones.
Another experience which renews our motivation to preach to obstinate people is the awesome sense of responsibility we feel as God’s appointed watchmen for His people (3:17-21). As surely as Ezekiel sensed an obligation to warn both the wicked and the righteous when they disobeyed God, we who are called to ministry today sense an obligation to warn people of the inevitable judgment of God upon sinners.
Curly Hallman was asked at a press conference right after he was named head football coach at Louisiana State University what he thought about the discipline of players. He replied that he believed players needed to fear their coach. “Fear is lacking in our land today,” he said. I disagree. Fear as such isn’t lacking in our land today. People are riddled with anxiety. Ask any counselor. But people fear the wrong things. What is lacking in our land today is a healthy fear of God.
Proclaimers of God’s word, as God’s watchmen, carry an obligation to warn people of the wrath of God. The word for warn is used no less than fourteen times in Ezekiel. The apostle Paul felt the duty of the watchman and expressed this feeling in Colossian 1:28: “Whom we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”
So we shall keep on preaching whether people listen or not. No matter how disillusioned and discouraged the drought of response to God’s word makes us, we shall preach again and again because we must stand our post as watchmen. And if any blood is found on our hands before God, let it be the crimson stain caused by our own toil and sacrifice for our Lord. Never let it be the result of lives lost because we let them slip through our fingers without a word from God.
There is yet another experience which keeps the flame of desire to preach to obdurate people flickering in our hearts. It is the resilience of life given by the gracious touch of Jesus our Savior. Ezekiel’s personal experience of God’s presence motivated him to undertake the task of preaching to hard-headed people. He said more than once, “The hand of the Lord was strong upon me.” Our personal relationship with Jesus Christ drives us to keep on preaching when all indications are that we are wasting our breath and casting pearls to swine.
John Killinger wrote in Christ in the Seasons of Ministry about F. W. Robertson, who was one of the greatest preachers of the nineteenth century. He reminded us that Robertson died at the age of thirty-seven, prematurely old and worn. Killinger explained that Robertson was “stuff of our stuff; overworked, underpaid, the target of many accusations because he stood for human rights.” He was often troubled by depression, especially after feeling like a failure on Sunday.
Once when Robertson was going through a terrible time of depression, he wrote, “I go into the country to feel God; dabble in chemistry, to feel awe of Him; read the life of Christ, to understand, love and adore Him and my experience is closing into this, that I turn with disgust from everything to Christ.”4
“In the end what else is there?” wrote Killinger. “After the stormy night at sea or the toilsome night with no fish taken, we come to the Christ of the open fire, with the fish quietly simmering in a pan, and feel again the excitement that has grabbed at our hearts all those years…. We walk with Him along the shore… and hear Him ask, probing gently, ‘Do you love me?’ ‘Yes Lord, you know I do.’ ‘Feed my sheep’.” Such a timely, tender touch of grace! And our Lord comes through with a touch personally suited for us that enables us to bounce back from discouragement and find the will to preach again.
Indeed God works in our lives to enable us to keep on preaching when people aren’t listening. He makes our heads as hard as theirs by doing a work in our hearts. He gives us resurgence of will by recharging our minds and hearts with His word. He gives us a sense of responsibility by reminding us of our duty as watchmen. And He gives us a resilience in ministry by a personal touch of His gracious presence.

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