I will be involved in a fight on Sunday morning!
Let me explain…
I heard two very different comments during the course of the last year, prompting some personal reflection. This has again played on my mind as I come to preach on Mark 6:14-29 on Sunday morning…
In a context far removed from Randburg Baptist Church, someone said to me that they “enjoyed the preaching” of a particular pastor. It’s not an uncommon statement. While there are no doubt many who do not “enjoy” my pulpit ministry (too deep, too long, too technical, too boring, not enough stories etc), I have also been the recipient of that kind of comment – on rare occasions! “Pastor, I enjoy your preaching. You speak well.” You get the picture. Well, for a sinful man, that feels good, and fuels pride quite quickly.
The second comment was in lecture I attended on a year ago by Dr Mark Jones, a Puritan expert visiting from Vancouver. The seminar was on worship. The point was made that worship is a battleground, because there is a war between divine faith and shallow human faith as we come to worship. God wants our focus on him, whereas we want to “feel good.” And so on…
It got me thinking… on an ever narrower issue: Preaching, as part of corporate worship. Is preaching the Word of God to be regarded as “enjoyable?” What is our standard for assessing pulpit ministry? It preaching to be fun, or is it a fight?
For the true preacher of God’s eternal truth, I would suggest that it is a fight. It is a fight to be disciplined in preparation, it is a fight of the mind and heart to engage with the text, and to hear God speak. It is a fight to avoid a thousand distractions and carefully plot through the historical context and grammatical construct of a passage. It is a fight to understand the text in the world in which it was written, and it is a weekly fight to grapple with the application of those principles in our era. It is a fight to be a workman unashamed who rightly divides the truth. It is a fight to stand and deliver in a way that is Spirit-dependant, and not rely on some clever homiletical tricks. Preaching is a fight.
But what about out in the pew? Is it also not a fight there? As hearers (and at times I am privileged to sit and hear as well J), we also have a fight on our hands. In our sin-affected humanness, we want to feel good, to have our ears tickled, and to feel warm and fuzzy stuff. We do not like to have our minds challenged too much, to have some funny stories and good illustrations and to ensure that the preacher dude doesn’t go on so long that our minds wander. The preacher must be engaging and fresh. I happened to see the profile of a pastor that a Call Committee of a South African Baptist church produced a few years ago: they wanted someone whose preaching would be relevant, inspiring and creative… sadly, biblical and accurate and applicable did not feature.
And those are just the superficial little fights we have.
The bigger battleground is the heart, is it not? God’s Word, accurately unpacked and applied is deadly. Psalm 19 is clear as to the effects of God’s Word – reviving the soul, bringing light to the eyes, making wise the simple and bringing joy to the heart. But souls do not actually want to be revived. We actually like our darkness a little too much. Proud sinners do not want to be confronted and made wise through challenges to godly living.
Preaching is a fight as the Word is unleashed. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12, ESV). There is a fight that occurs each Sunday in churches – both in the pulpit and in the pew. There is a sword at work, empowered by the Spirit of God. And the sword thrusts are hard, clear and decisive. The Scriptures shatter our pride, open our eyes to the glory of God, and humble us before a cross and a suffering Saviour who alone can save, show us our sins and fallenness and highlight God’s standards. We fight against that sword. It would be must easier if the preaching was just fun. But when the sword is being used, it cannot be enjoyable. It is not enjoyable to be convicted. It is not enjoyable to have your mind challenged, and brain stretched with divine truth as doctrine is infused. It is not enjoyable to be confronted with your own sin and failure and waywardness. It is not fun to have the way of godliness painted for you, and the demands of Jesus illuminated. It is not fun to see the centrality of a cross where Christ died so that you and I could be set free. It is not fun to have our thoughts and attitudes and behaviours exposed for that they truly are, and to then be challenged to confess, repent and strive for godliness. It is never enjoyable to come face-to-face with the idols of our hearts, and to be reminded of our need of Christ and His righteousness. Oh yes, to be sure, it is always gloriously encouraging to be reminded of the cross, Christ, justification and the hope and vitality that we have as part of the “every spiritual blessing in Christ.” But even that is a fight, and not fun.
I know I will be in a fight on Sunday morning. You will be too, no doubt! I pray that I will be accurate, clear and relevant. I hope that appropriate application will be brought to our people as the Word is unpacked. I trust that there will be real engagement with the truth as the Spirit works to illuminate and convict and change. I pray that much life change happens – for me and for all who will be present.
I hope no one will leave saying that the preaching was enjoyable.
It will be a fight for all of us.