7 Things Preaching Has Taught Me About God
I have learned a lot of things about preaching for God, but this post is about what preaching has taught me about God.
June 1 marks the fifth year that I have served as Senior Pastor at Spanish River Church. Despite serving as a teaching pastor for years, assuming the week-to-week preaching responsibility that accompanies the lead role has challenged me and changed me. It has also taught me some key lessons about the Lord. Here is what I am learning:
God comes through.
I don't know how many times I have been struggling with my message on Friday only to record in my journal on Monday, "God came through." If there is one thing of which I am absolutely convinced it is this: the Lord will give me the message for Sunday and he will deliver on time! I may not like the hour when it finally comes (click here to read "My 400 Silent Years"), but he will provide. Paul's words are true for preachers too: "And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus."
God keeps me weak to show me he is strong.
There are many Sunday mornings -- probably most Sunday mornings -- when I enter the pulpit feeling weak. This may be physical weakness (tiredness) or spiritual weakness (battling some bad attitude, doubt, or frustration) or mental weakness (despite my best efforts, the message just seems to be lacking a certain something). I enter weak, but God shows up and gives me strength. The second-most-played song of the 1574 that are on my phone is "Everlasting God" by Lincoln Brewster. The song's refrain is, "strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord" (based on Isaiah 40:28-31).
God brings me what I need during the course of the week.
It is amazing to watch God provide during the week what I need for the weekend. There are many times when someone will refer me to an article, share a story, or pass along a resource that fits perfectly with my sermon. At other times I will look to a shelf of trusted commentators, consult with a few, and discover that my chosen traveling companions were just the voices I needed to hear. John Ortberg said, "I don't just work for God, I work with God." If God knows when the sparrow falls and every hair on my head (Matthew 10:29-30) and calls out every star by name (Psalm 147:4), then certainly he knows what I need for Sunday and is able to bring it.
God cares enough to wake me up!
When God get me up -- Get up! This is a hard and fast rule in my life. God gives rest (Psalm 127:2), but he also wakes us up at times (Acts 12:7). I have discovered that when God wakes me up earlier than I intended to wake, it is always for a reason. Usually the reason is this: I think I'm "good-go-go" for Sunday, but I am not. There are message tweaks that I have to make. At times the wake-up call comes very early and I have to fight off the Abominable Slumberman, but I NEVER regret getting up. Why does God wake me up? I used to think it was because God cares about me -- and indeed he does, but Sunday is not about me. I am learning that the bigger reason is that he cares that his people learn about Him.
How I feel about it is not the best gauge of what God did with it.
Some Sundays I walk away feeling like the MVP of the Super Bowl. Yes, the sermon was that good (at least in my mind). Other weeks, I feel like I have failed miserably. "Do I really have to greet people as they walk out of our worship center? Can't I just hide in the corner, regroup, and come back next week?" Interestingly, it is not uncommon after one of the "low days" to get a word of thanks in a note or text from someone whom God has touched through the sermon. God works everything together for good -- even "bad sermons."
Mark Driscoll has addressed this so well. In "Preaching and Teaching Jesus From The Scripture" he wrote, "After you've preached, let it go and sleep like a Calvinist. Don't listen to your sermons over and over beating yourself up. Once you've preached a sermon, let it be a finished work and move on. Passion, courage, and boldness are keys to preaching that simply cannot exist in someone who is too analytical or critical of themselves, so lighten up, have fun, and let it fly in Jesus' name."
God can use a donkey, but usually doesn't.
Solomon said, "In all hard work there is profit" (Proverbs 4:23). Preparing a sermon is hard work. Praying, studying, crafting, "rehearsing," and evaluating takes hours and hours. Occasionally God gives me a message lightning quick, but normally it comes at the end of a long trail of diligent preparation. Sure, God did use Balaam's donkey to deliver a message (Numbers 22:21-39), but that was the exception not the rule. This week he is going to use me. It is going to take a lot of work to get there. He is honored when I do my best to present myself to him as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
God wants me to know that preaching is what I do, it is not who I am.
I easily confuse my work with my identity. What I do often looms larger than who I am. That's not God's way. Paul's letter to the Philippians begins, "Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus." That greeting is instructive. Paul and Timothy were their names, servant was their role, but their identity was Christ Jesus. I need to remember that. Name: Tommy. Role: Servant (preaching is part of that role). Identity: I belong to Jesus. Of course I want to do my best, but good job or not, my role does not define me. Jesus does. That is an important lesson for my work, it is an important lesson for any work.
Preaching is my calling. God uses it to care, lead, protect, encourage -- sometimes even to rebuke -- the family of believers called Spanish River Church. Why? Because he wants us to "grow up" (Ephesians 4:15).