From time to time I think back on the first really difficult lesson about preaching the Lord gave me. I was 21, newly called into the Lord’s service, a college senior, and engaged. At Christmastime, a country church invited me to preach in the Sunday morning service. I was elated. And it was Christmas, right? This should be simple.
The problem was that I worked 72 hours that week selling men’s clothing in downtown Birmingham, my college job. When I got back to the apartment each night, I was so exhausted I did not feel like thinking about the sermon. Finally, I decided to wing it in the sermon. (Now, if you are a pastor, you can imagine me–a first timer!–trying to ‘wing it’ when I’ve never preached before. You know the impossibility of that.)
I would simply tell the Christmas story and preach the various aspects of it.
The other problem is that Margaret and I arrived in time for Sunday School and were sent to the young people’s class. The teacher was apparently intimidated by my presence–the very idea is ridiculous, but since I was the preacher that day, she assumed I knew more than I did–so she asked if I would teach the lesson. And foolishly, I agreed.
Preachers in the audience will recall how eager you were to do anything when you were first starting out.
I ended up telling the class of six or eight young people everything I had planned to say in the sermon. When preaching time came, I was dry. I had nothing. The five to seven minutes of embarrassing stuttering, stammering, fumbling remain with me to this day. The Lord did me a wonderful favor that morning: He let me humiliate myself in front of a congregation as a lifelong lesson never again to go into the pulpit unprepared.
God has valuable lessons for each of us, and doesn’t mind that we have to learn some of them the hard way. Here are a few that come to mind….
f you are too busy, too lazy, or too otherwise distracted to spend sufficient time in the Word and on your knees in sermon preparation, God will let you fail. He does not mind in the least humiliating you to get that lesson across.
There is no substitute for quality time spend with the Lord in preparation for the hour on Sunday.
Two. Misplaced love.
If you love preaching more than you love the Lord Jesus, you are not going to be preaching very long.
There is no substitute for devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ.
If you think you can hire an assistant to take the hard jobs of pastoring the church from you and still be the shepherd of the congregation and please your Lord, you’re fooling yourself.
There is no substitute for a shepherd spending time with his flock.
If you love the spotlight, enjoy being the focus of attention, or simply have a great gift for public speaking, this does not qualify you to preach or constitute a call from God.
There is no substitute for the call of God upon His servant.
Five. Humble people.
If you disdain the small church and sneer at the folksy ways little churches often do their work, you are coming mighty close to disrespecting your Lord.
There is no substitute for loving God’s humble children.
If you think because you are doing the work of the Lord that you do not have to tithe–“Hey, everything I do is holy to the Lord!”–you are a hypocrite of the first order.
There is no substitute for the redeemed of the Lord giving generously and sacrificially.
If your purpose in broadcasting or telecasting your church service is to make your name known, you are glorifying the wrong name.
There is no other Name.
If you overeat and under-exercise and then ask the Lord to bless your health, this is close to presumption. He might choose to do it anyway, but it’s His choice.
There is no substitute for proper care and maintenance of the Lord’s temple.
If you think your wife and children should accept your frequent out of town trips, your absenteeism from family events, and your neglect just because you are doing the work of God, you are living in a dream world. Wake up before you lose your family.
There is no substitute for the family God has given you.
If you think having a seminary degree (or two or three) automatically compensates for poor preaching skills and lousy pastoring and that they entitle you to the big church, you will wake up pastorless and angry at whoever sold you that bill of goods.
There is no substitute for faithful and devoted service to the Lord Jesus Christ, using the skills and mentality God has given you. Get all the education you can, but do not expect it to open a door. The unemployment rolls are loaded with the highly educated.