Preaching is Strange

When it comes to the event called preaching, there might not be anything more exhilarating, more puzzling, more exhaustive, more challenging, and more rewarding then the man standing behind the sacred desk expounding the Word of God. Truly, preaching is strange because it an event that requires human discipline and preparation, while at the same time can only accomplish good by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit.

Why is preaching strange?

Discipline in the Study

As those who are commissioned to preach the Word of God, there can be no substitute for diligent study and preparation. Our time must be well-spent in working through the text, understanding the passage in the context of the redemptive narrative of the Bible, as well as gleaning the doctrines from the text through the lens of systematic, biblical, and historical theology. Meditating upon the text and chewing on the text are essential for us as we think about the congregation, we will be feeding the Word to. None of this can be neglected. Yet, discipline in the study is not only a process of reading, thinking, and writing. The preacher’s time in the study must be one of cultivating spiritual disciplines in his own life. I will confess, more times than I care to admit, that my time in the study was an exercise in writing a sermon rather than seeking to be personally fed and changed. In our time in the study, we must come desiring first to be changed and to be conformed into the image of Christ. It is not enough for me to know what my people need to hear from the text. I need to hear from the text. I need the conviction of the Word to pierce my own heart.

Preaching is a public act of worship. How dangerous it can be for us to substitute that public act for private adoration, worship, and sanctification. Let us commit to pray for ourselves and for other ministers of the Word that we not neglect personal holiness for the public platform that comes with preaching. As one writer puts it, “The biographies of the finest Christians illustrate for us, the bedrock of the truly devoted life is a daily discipline of private prayer and meditation on the Word of God. No matter how far along the Christian way we travel, our need of these things will never diminish. As has often been said, there are no shortcuts to holiness.”[1]

The Power of the Spirit

            Paul was a model theologian-preacher. The apostle faithfully expounded the Word, connecting Christ to the themes of the OT, and rightly setting forth the word of truth. Yet, as the apostle argues in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, the power lies not in the preacher but the Holy Spirit. For all of our preparation and study, there can be no substitute for our reliance upon the Spirit of God. Ezekiel 37 summons us to join with Ezekiel in understanding that the breath of God is what brings life to the valley of dry bones. There is no more humbling truth for the preacher to know and live by then that his role as a herald means that he is not the main attraction. When the preacher begins to think he is the star of a production, then he has forgotten all he claims to be. The preacher is the messenger sent forth to declare the glories of God and the mighty power of the kingdom. If we do not rely upon the Spirit of God, if our confidence be in our own abilities, then we will resort to tricks, emotional manipulation, and seeking to always be “fresh” and “relevant” by the standards of contemporary culture.

As we step into the pulpit, realizing how we are totally dependent upon the Spirit of God brings a peace and rest to our souls. This does not give space for laziness in the time of preparation. However, it will cause us to be aware that the people need not hear from me but from the God of heaven. Spurgeon said it well, “It is better to speak six words in the power of the Holy Spirit, than preach seventy sermons without the spirt.”[2] When Martyn Lloyd-Jones described preaching as “theology coming through man who is on fire,” the great pastor pointed to the power of the Holy Spirit. This is why we need Him during our time in private study and prayer. May God help us all to realize how desperately we need the Spirit as we preach!

What About Feelings?

            What about those Sundays when I step out of the pulpit and feel like a failure? I imagine that all preachers feel this way at some time. Personally, the Lord has blessed me where I preached and everything seemed to go almost perfectly. When I stepped out of the pulpit, I felt like Whitefield or Spurgeon, like I just hit a grand-slam, and any other image you can think of from sports. That type of “buzz” can become an idol. Not every Sunday feels that way. What do we do then? Some Sundays we can feel like hypocrites because we know that we are sinners and fall short in so many areas. Brother preachers, you are not supermen. You are sinners who have been transformed into saints, clothed in robes of Christ’s righteousness, heralds of divine grace, and stewards of the Word of God. Each time we preach, we are involved in a spiritual battle. As I was recently reminded, preaching is about us being faithful and not about attaining a feeling.

Conclusion

Preaching is no easy task. Sometimes the reward comes a time after we are finished preaching that sermon. Regardless of where Christ has put you, remember that you are His herald. That’s a solemn, weighty task but also a joyful, glorious labor! Preaching is strange. Just as soon as you think you have figured it out, you receive a divine reminder that you really have not. That sermon you think you fell flat on your face in the pulpit is the one that God uses to change a life. Is it because of the preacher? No, it is because of the Spirit of God who happens to use clay pots like you and me. Let us rejoice in that as Sunday approaches! May our preaching be that which glorifies God!

[1] John Cheesemen, The Priority of Preaching. (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 24.

[2] Ibid., 27.

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