(Thanks to my dear friend Fred C. for inspiration on this one.)
A dear friend and I communicated today by email about our first time preaching experiences. He fainted, and I nearly walked out in front of a congregation wearing a new suit on which I had failed to remove the price tags from the sleeve of the coat (caught it just in time!).
We’re both grateful that we’re many years past those first time experiences of standing before people in the attempt to preach the Gospel. Nevertheless, we do well to maintain always the sense of inadequacy and desperate dependence on the Lord that our maiden preaching opportunities fostered.
“And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ… Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God” (II Corinthians 2:16-17; 3:5).
Foolish is the Christian preacher or teacher who feels confident in his own ability to apply God’s truth to the hearts of people. Certainly, we do well to prepare ourselves with much prayer, reading, study, pondering, and seeking to coordinate the “precept upon precept, line upon line” of God’s Word (Isaiah 28:10). We can and must do all these things. If, however, the Holy Spirit does not personally apply the illumination of Christ to the hearts of hearers, all is for naught. He alone knows the nature of each person’s need, and He alone causes necessary propositional Truth to become just as necessary personal apprehension of the living and true God.
I fully expect to discover when I get to Heaven that some sermons I believed to be have been among my best prepared and delivered will rank very low in actual effect for the glory of God and the benefit of others. Conversely, some messages that seemed stilted and barely comprehensible to my own understanding may have been the most effectual and graced of the Spirit. Indeed, when impressed with ourselves, we do well to recall the inadequacy of our ability to determine our own spiritual condition and performance. No less than the Apostle Paul confessed, “I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord” (I Corinthians 4:3-4). Thus, we do well to maintain our sense of “desperate dependency” on the only One who can lead and enable us to fulfill our calling.
I share this with you because one of the best prayers we can offer for Christian communicators involves their growth in apprehension of God’s faithfulness, and their own weakness. No place exists in Christian ministry for the self-important or the self-confident. Again, no less than Paul informs our prayers and provides the example of the heart fully aware that those called to preach or teach possess no independent or inherent capacity for the task…
“I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” (I Corinthians 2:3-5) “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” (II Corinthians 4:7)