I sit at my desk gazing at the glowing screen of my laptop computer looking over the notes I’ve developed over the previous week. I rehearse the sermon in my mind imagining the inflection of voice I will employ in my delivery, making visual markups to my notes – highlighting certain illustrations, changing font color and size, being sure that the page number has been added to the top center header of my notes (When I do not get the page number on the notes, inevitably I will drop my notes and only discover they are out of order in the middle of the sermon).
There is always a time before I leave the office when I preach to myself. Reminding the pastor that he is about to stand before hundreds of people who will actually listen to him. He better have something worthwhile to say! It better be more than human philosophy, worldly wit and stories – the pastor must bring the Word of the living God to the people, people who will be dead eventually, cast into eternity. The pastor will also be dead eventually – so the guy was right who said, “We preach as dying men to dying people.”
It’s then that the gravity of my office fills my heart. I am always compelled to call out to God to fill in the gaps – gaps in my preparation, gaps in my character, gaps in my recollection. Who is sufficient for preaching the Word? I’m an ordinary guy who earned a college degree by pure grace and is wrestling his way through seminary – which seems far less graceful. I can’t seem to shake the 20-30 extra pounds that I carry with me at all times. I battle the world, the flesh and the devil on a daily basis. But, I am about to stand and speak for God. Surely there are a hundred men in our congregation more apt to the task. But I have been summonsed by the Most High God and I dare not refrain from preaching. He was with me in my preparation, guiding my study through the very words He inspired godly men to pen. Surely He will be with me in my delivery.
I hit the print button, walk down the hall to take my notes from the printer, return to my office to once again lay out my notes. Once again I read over them, sensitive to His guidance as I mark out entire sections, jot down a few last minute thoughts. Last of all, I ask God if He is pleased with what I have prepared. I often think of the human writer of the text I’m preaching (Currently I am preaching through John’s Gospel). I think of the writer sitting in my congregation and wonder if I have been true to his intent.
At that point my mind seems to shift to the congregation that is gathering in the auditorium. I remember that there are teenagers there who sit engaged, leaning in and contemplating what their pastor is saying – they need to hear from God. I remember that there are young families – they had a hard enough time getting to church with toddlers, babies and all the chaos of life. I remember the men and women who are in their 40’s and 50’s – the parents of the teens – they are concerned about their kids, their jobs, their marriage. I remember the seniors, many of whom have faithfully walked with God for decades, others who are no more spiritually mature than our teenagers.
I remember that I as the preacher stand as a bridge between Galilean sands and the red dirt of Alabama – I speak from the culture of Heaven to the culture of the Tennessee Valley. I am all at once a mailman, an interpreter, a translator – I deliver the Word of God. I must be filled with God’s Spirit; I dare not stand in front of those people with sin in my life. I am a trumpeter and I must sound out the clarion call to readiness. My blast must be clear in order to be heard above the clamor of a thousand demons who desire the Book to remain closed, the apostles to remain silent and the people to remain pacified with toys as they whisper lullabies into their ears.
I leave my office ready to wage war with the Sword of the Spirit. I walk amongst the people – I realize they have not prepared for this time as I have. They are concerned about the temperature, the announcements, upcoming lunches, and the weekend’s ball game. Somehow with God’s help, their attention must be arrested. Pastor Chip takes the stage and prays. His prayers are like arrows shot toward heaven calling upon God to glorify Christ in all we are about to do. The Pastor of Worship takes the stage – the lyrics are pregnant with truth. God is praised with the cymbals, drums, horns, strings, and voices. I deliver the message I have prepared, making every effort to connect with my congregation lest I preach at them rather than to them, fighting against the tendency to let my eyes glaze over and preach to a group rather than individuals. I must not forget that these are living souls! They will one day stand before God, but today they sit before me, listening.