Preaching is the greatest privilege given to a minister. It is also the most ominous responsibility pressed upon a minister.
Each Sunday before worship, I pray this prayer:
Lord, I am not worthy to preach your Word. I am tainted by my sin. Do not let my sin taint the Word which you have given to me to preach today. Let me get out of the way, so you can preach Your Word to Your people.
When I rise to preach, I do so with fear and trembling. God is counting on me. The people who are desperate for God’s Word are counting on me. Everyone is counting on me, but I am counting on God.
Most weeks, God speaks clearly to me, His Word is in my heart and on my lips. Those weeks, I am ever grateful for His gift and for His good work. Those weeks I preach confident that He is using me to speak His Word.
Yesterday was not one of those Sundays.
I was preaching from John 7:14-24. I had spent hours in preparation, exegetical work, personal reflection, commentary study, and prayer. I knew the text forward, backwards, and upside down. Despite these efforts, a sermon never came to me.
By Sunday AM, after 13 days to prepare, after panicked prayers, and after a sleepless night wrestling with demons, I had scrapped together a few thoughts and packaged them into terrible disarray. When I rose to preach I had zero confidence in what I had and was terrified of the impending failure of the sermon.
I abandoned my notes and rambled like a mouse in a drunken stupor trying to escape a maze. Perhaps the best thing I did was to keep it short. Between services I went to my private prayer place in the church to pray and found myself weeping.
For the second service I came at the sermon from a different angle, but felt like I was drowning with each new word and phrase. I preached a bit longer, hoping that God’s Word would finally explode from my lips and rest on at least one person’s heart.
I wanted to hide rather than meet’n’greet as the congregation exited the sanctuary. I prayed that no-one dare say that the sermon spoke to them. I apologized to a dozen or so folk for the mess I had made of God’s Word. I refused to accept any compliment which was passed my way.
I had failed God! I failed the congregation! Every Pastor has had this experience. This is one of those times when ministry is a heavy burden.
In my grieving, guilt, and shame, God reminded me of Isaiah 55:10–11:
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (ESV)
He reminded me that my effort was not wasted not was it waste.
I cannot linger in these postpartum blues because it’s already Monday Noon and Sunday’s coming, again, and again, and again.
Lord, help me, your people are counting on You.