11 “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord GOD,
“That I will send a famine on the land,
Not a famine of bread,
Nor a thirst for water,
But of hearing the words of the LORD.
12 They shall wander from sea to sea,
And from north to east;
They shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD,
But shall not find it.”
I was wondering this morning how a church service can cram worship, announcements, prayer, and a sermon all into a one-hour service. Perhaps the worship is just two songs instead of five or six, and perhaps the announcements are just a quick “Read your bulletins” kind of thing. Perhaps prayer is short, concise, and very generalized, tacked on at the beginning, middle, and/or end of the service. And then the message is perhaps twenty minutes long–just slightly more than what it would take to read this message aloud. When the people go home from such a “fast-food” service, one wonders what would be the most memorable part of it for them. One also wonders why the priest or pastor felt compelled to make the service so short in the first place. Exactly whose schedule are they on?
With such short services taking place at thousands of churches across America every Sunday, it is easy to see why people hardly know their Bibles. Not only do they not read them at home, they also barely hear anything about the Word of God in their own churches. Weekly messages are frequently focused on a phrase or a single verse, and are often targeted at seekers rather than believers. Shouldn’t seekers after God be treated to the whole of His Word? Apparently not, since many churches spend most of their time on singing Christian pop songs and very little time on exposing people to the Bible and its riches.
Amos was a simple shepherd when the Lord called to him to prophesy to Israel and Judah about God’s coming judgment. (Amos 1:1, 7:14-15) The kings of Israel and Judah told him to stop or to go away, but Amos bore his burden throughout the land of God’s people, telling them to repent of their idolatry and injustice and oppression. Since the kings and the people refused to listen, the Lord pronounced judgment on the people Israel, announcing that they would see death and destruction, war and natural disasters of unprecedented proportions. In those terrible days, the people would mourn even at their celebrations, and they would all wear sackcloth and shave their heads in lamentation. (Amos 8:10) It would be as if the whole nation mourned the passing of their firstborn sons.
So Pharaoh rose in the night, he, all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where there was not one dead.
On that day, declared the Lord, there would be a new famine on the land. There would still be bread and water, perhaps even plenty of both. But the word of God would have departed from the land. People would seek prophets and the law and would not find them at all. People would hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness and not find His law or statutes or commandments or judgments anywhere in Israel or Judah.
23 “Make a chain,
For the land is filled with crimes of blood,
And the city is full of violence.
24 “Therefore I will bring the worst of the Gentiles,
And they will possess their houses;
I will cause the pomp of the strong to cease,
And their holy places shall be defiled.
25 “Destruction comes;
They will seek peace, but there shall be none.
26 “Disaster will come upon disaster,
And rumor will be upon rumor.
Then they will seek a vision from a prophet;
But the law will perish from the priest,
And counsel from the elders.”
Truly, although there are fewer pastors and priests to meet the needs of this nation’s growing population, it is not as if the few who remain are not preaching the Word of God. They are! And while some do short-change the Lord and His Word with tiny sermons and faint worship and rote prayer, the worst part is that the people do not carry the Word of God with them out into the world. The God-breathed Bible is no longer part of our everyday literacy–not even among self-professed Christians! We do not LIVE as though we know that the Bible is the Word of God. We treat it as just another book, as opposed to THE Book, the one and ONLY book written by the Spirit and hand of God.
And so there is a famine in our land, a drought of Bible knowledge and Biblical living. Seek in the streets and towns, in the countryside and along the seashores, and you will find fewer and fewer people who are familiar with the Word of God. Fewer still actually live by the Bible’s precepts, and few allow the righteousness and love of God to infuse their lives. People hear the gospel and claim to accept Christ, but their hearts and minds are not regenerated to become vessels for the Holy Spirit. They claim to be Christians simply because they grew up in the traditions of men’s churches, rather than truly becoming members of the repentant and renewed body of believers.
We do not see the Word of God lived out in daily discourse. Our politics and economics are as godless as in the worst days of Israel, and injustice, murder, and oppression reign over the people. I am not saying we need a theocracy–far from it! Rather, we simply need the people to live out the faith they profess, from the lowliest worker to the richest businessman, from the work-at-home father or mother to the President himself.
18 “Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites.
19 “And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes,
20 “that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel.”
There is a famine of the Word of God because so many have left their Bible sitting on a shelf gathering dust. There is oppression and poverty because we do not live our lives as Christ lived, because we the people do not seek a more perfect union with God the Father. We instead seek union with greed, money, fame, worldly honor, lust, pride, and power.
But God (Oh, how I love that phrase!) has promised something better, a day when we will no longer have to seek His Word in places it is not found.
18 Therefore the LORD will wait, that He may be gracious to you;
And therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
Blessed are all those who wait for Him.
19 For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem;
You shall weep no more.
He will be very gracious to you at the sound of your cry;
When He hears it, He will answer you.
20 And though the Lord gives you
The bread of adversity and the water of affliction,
Yet your teachers will not be moved into a corner anymore,
But your eyes shall see your teachers.
21 Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying,
“This is the way, walk in it,”
Whenever you turn to the right hand
Or whenever you turn to the left.
13 “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.
14 “He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.
15 “All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.”
You see, the Holy Spirit is come to declare the things of God, to proclaim the truth of the gospel to all men’s hearts. But the Spirit will only enter in where He is invited, and the seed of the gospel can only flourish and grow in hearts broken and then deeply nourished by the Word of God. If we would stave this famine of the Word of God, we must provide God’s Word to the world and proclaim it through our lives.
We are at a crucial moment in the history of the United States–and of the world. We face a decision much like Pharaoh did. Will we spend another night denying the sovereignty of God, living with physical and spiritual famine, or will we embrace the Word of the living Lord God and allow His Word to carry His people toward the blessings He has promised? Will we keep our mouths shut up and never speak the gospel to a world thirsty for the Water of Life that is Christ Jesus? The world cries out at the oppression and death brought on by godless men and uncaring rulers. Will the Word of God be another victim of this era? Will we live in this famine of truth when the Word lies so close at hand?
11 “For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off.
12 “It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’
13 “Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’
14 But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.”
We do not yet lack for bread nor water in this land, but we do lack the Bread and Water of Life, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Let this famine be stopped by men and women of God rising up in every corner of this land to speak the Word of God that is so near. From north to east, from sea to sea, may the majesty and glory of the Lord God be proclaimed, so that everyone may partake and be moved to repentance and faith. May people no longer have to seek for the Word of God, because they will hear it as you and I shamelessly, boldly, and faithfully share it with all the world.
Holy Lord God, may Your Word be declared to the world through the lives and words of Your chosen believers. May Your people bring Your Word into every far corner and every dark place in this land. May we never have to seek for Your Word but instead know it through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And, Father God, may all we do and all we say be pleasing to You and glorifying to You. Amen.