It is said that every sermon has two parts: What? and So What?
This is the “So What?” to the article below in which we said “The Lord is More Willing to Bless than We are To Be Blessed.”
Last week I sent that article/message to a friend and said, “This sermon is incomplete. Help me out.”
Why send it to her? Seven reasons. One: She is a deep thinker. Two: She is a solid, incredible Christian. Three: She will tell you what she thinks. Four: She sees things that elude most of us. Five: She knows the Word. Six, and critically: She has suffered a great deal in her life. Seven: I trust her.
I’m about to reproduce the entire response she sent.
What I had omitted from my sermon was the “so what” element. Like many preachers, I can take a biblical text and preach an abstract message from it that never touches anyone where they live and then walk away thinking I have been used of God. My impression is that most people in the pews know differently.
The preacher is the last to know.
Years ago, 7-year-old Holly Martin gave me a line that has stood me in good stead ever since. I was preaching about something, laboriously trying to get across some obscure point from the text, and apparently failing. Sometime in the middle of the sermon, this child turned to her mom Lydia and said, “Mother, why does Dr. Joe think we need this information?”
Is that a great question or what? In her own way, this child saw what I was missing, that a sermon has to be relevant to the hearers, otherwise the preacher is just taking a lonely trek through Scripture.
So, I sent the message to my friend and asked, “What am I missing here? I know the sermon needs to come together in some focus point, but am not sure where or how.”
Her name is Lynn and she gave her permission to share the letter:
As I awakened this morning, I was thinking about your sermon on the willing Jesus. I really think that you have some good, strong points. You have explained a number of reasons why we are not experiencing the full benefits of a willing and loving Jesus. The conclusion should tell us what, then, can we do about this. What is our next step, and how do we respond in the midst of our need and pain to this willing Jesus?
We know and accept the truth that Jesus is in fact LOVING toward us and WILLING to help us in our trials and traumas. We know that He is also ABLE. But this doesn’t change the truth about our very real situations.
Sometimes knowing this can make it even more difficult for us to understand or move on. We are looking to a God who is sovereign. He knows everything about us and our difficulties, and He has the power to change them at any given time. Yet He does not!
We wait for a miracle or deliverance from His mighty hand, but nothing changes.
These are some of the stories of people I know who pray and wait, and hold on to their last thread of hope:
I still can’t find a job and the bills are piling up. The bill collectors are calling day and night.
The bank is ready to foreclose on our home that we have spent almost 30 years paying off, and we will lose everything.
Our lifetime of good credit will be ruined.
The tests came back positive for cancer, and we are scheduled for a risky and invasive surgery with no guarantees.
My spouse wants out, and there is no hope for reconciliation.
My husband has MS and is confined to a wheelchair, and getting weaker every day. I can hardly lift him any more.
My wayward daughter is addicted to drugs and alcohol, and has ruined her life and the lives of her family.
My son is back in prison, and this time it could be for many years.
I married him because after twenty years of friendship, I thought I knew him. I found out he is a monster and I am trapped.
Ever since the accident, my husband has been like a different person. He is bitter and controlling, and I am afraid of what he might do to me or himself.
Many of these feel that God has abandoned them. They pray, and ask and wait on their Father to send help or relief. It seems that God has forgotten them. They read of His promises in the Bible, and see Him responding to those around them. They see those who already are blessed and not in need receiving even more blessings, while they wait with no response of their own.
What can they do now as they wait on God? How can they hang on and not lose their faith or hope in the Father they have trusted all of these years? How can they move forward in a situation that hurts so much and makes no sense? How do they respond to the willing and able Jesus who has not yet made a move toward them in response to their prayers? What if they are in no way responsible for the situation they are in, but a victim of their circumstances?
I know these are hard questions, but they are being asked every day.
This is what I have had to do for myself. Like so many others, I do not have the power to change my circumstances on my own. I have done as much as I can, and have given it over to God.
I pray. I wait. I hurt. I cry. I wonder.
I experience a roller coaster of emotions from fear to despair to hope. I cannot control my situation. I ahve no ability to control those who hurt me.
I have only one string left to play on my battered violin. That is my will, my power to choose. To choose what I will believe about God, and what I will do with these beliefs.
Billy Graham and his evangelist friend, Charles Templeton, stood at the crossroads in their faith together one day. Both saw the pain and suffering in the world. A world that seemed inconsistent with the love of a willing Christ and a loving Heavenly Father. They had the power to choose what they would believe. A free will.
Charles chose to doubt, and walked away from his faith and thriving ministry as an evangelist.
Billy chose to believe God, despite the same questions and doubts that his friend had. Charles lived and died without God, and as for Billy….well, the rest is history. Two men of God, two evangelists, both faced with a decision and a flurry of hard questions. Each with his own will and the power to choose.
As for me, I choose to believe God. The willing Christ. The one who died for me. The one who has been there for me in times past.
I will hold on to what I know and have known. I will pick up my old violin and play as sweetly as I can that last string, that last thread of hope. God has never failed anyone yet, and He is not going to begin with me.
I will keep waiting, and trusting, and praying. I will not give in to Satan’s continual attacks on my faith. I will cling to the old rugged cross and the willing Savior who took my place and died for my sins.
I choose to believe in the One who paid a debt that I owe, and could never repay.
If He never did another thing for me, He has already given me more than I deserve. Thank you, willing Jesus.
Note from Joe: My first thought on reading this was that I would simply quote Lynn’s complete note for the final point of the sermon. But if you’ve tried that, you know it’s not the best approach. So, what I did–I preached it two nights ago–was to think through all she has said here and let it permeate my heart. Then, in the sermon the thoughts and words were my own. I doubt if Lynn would recognize it. But I knew she had made a great contribution to this message.