FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Sometimes a preacher must stand firm even if the circumstances around him seem to suggest an opposite course of action, Mark Howell said in chapel at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Nov. 30.
The pastor of First Baptist Church of Little Rock, Ark., Howell is the son-in-law of Southwestern’s president, Paige Patterson.
He also is Patterson’s hunting partner, and it was on a hunting expedition in Africa that the pastor learned his lesson about not backing down when the going gets tough.
While Howell and Patterson were hunting, a herd of elephants encircled the pair. Every instinct he had told him to run, Howell recounted, but Patterson told him, “We’re not here to run. The worst thing you can do is run from a wild animal. It will catch you every time.”
Howell said life in the ministry is often like hunting dangerous game. The preacher’s message may not always be popular and the pressure may be intense and sometimes instinct may say, “Get the resumes rolling.”
But the Bible provides a different example, Howell said.
Preaching from 1 Kings 22, Howell recounted that the prophet Micaiah was summoned before the kings of Israel and Judah to advise them on their battle plans, but his prophesying a word from God gravely offended the kings. This is a message about resolve in the ministry, Howell said.
“When trouble comes, we want to run,” Howell said. “We think it’s time to get the resumes rolling…. But Micaiah says, ‘No. I have staked my claim. I will never compromise my conviction, come what may.’”
In contrast, when Ahab, king of Israel, and Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, asked the “professional prophets” whether the kings should invade Ramoth-gilead, the professionals told the kings what the kings wanted to hear, Howell said.
The professional prophets even fashioned visual aids — the “PowerPoint” of their day — in order to persuade the kings to “go, gore, and be glad,” Howell said.
He contrasted Micaiah’s qualities of genuineness and honesty with those of the court prophets of Ahab, the “cheap” imitators in the story. “Are you a cheap imitation or are you the real thing?” Howell asked.
Micaiah was different, Howell said, because of “the choices he had made in his life,” choices that likewise will “make the difference whether you are the real thing or a cheap imitation [in your ministry.]”
The prophet chose “character over conformity,” Howell said. Unlike the “paid, professional and pragmatic” prophets of Ahab, Micaiah held firmly to his integrity and relied on God.
Micaiah also chose “conviction over compromise,” Howell said. The king’s messenger who was sent to summon Micaiah to the royal court advised Micaiah to agree with the other prophets. The implication, Howell said, was likely that if Micaiah did agree then he could join the professional prophets and “climb the ministry ladder” to success.
Micaiah refused this subtle pressure, saying, “As surely as the Lord lives, I can only tell [the king] what the Lord tells me.
“My life is built on conviction, not compromise. I will be a man of conviction, regardless of the cost,” Howell said as he paraphrased the prophet’s message.
Micaiah’s conviction was costly, however. He was verbally and physically attacked by Ahab’s prophets for his honesty and integrity. Howell said the episode reminds preachers “that when you stand on conviction and refuse to compromise, watch it; trouble is coming. You can mark it down.”
Howell also said that Micaiah chose “consequence over comfort.” In an attempt to manipulate God, Ahab sentenced Micaiah to prison until the king returned safely from the battle.
But Howell said that Micaiah sealed his own fate when he refused to back down from saying that Israel would be defeated in battle and Ahab would be killed. Since Micaiah knew that Ahab would never return, he knew he would never be released from prison.
“Are you willing to stake your life, and say, ‘God, if it means everything else around me shall crumble, I will accept the consequences that you bring, or that are brought upon my life. I am never going to opt for comfort’?
“Where are the real prophets today?” Howell asked. “[Where are] those who choose character rather than conformity, those who choose conviction over compromise? Where is the one who is saying, ‘God, I will be a person of consequence, and not seek after my own comfort’?”