I am currently sitting in my office at home sipping on a much needed cup of (extremely) strong coffee. I am unabashedly a coffee enthusiast (addict maybe?), but on this particular morning, a “cup of Joe” feels less like an indulgence and more like a healing balm. It is a critical part of my routine after the past few weeks.
I’m not sure where to pinpoint my exhaustion, but after preaching both services a few Sundays ago, I was genuinely fatigued, both physically and mentally. For full disclosure, there are times when I exit the pulpit with a strong sense that the Holy Spirit accomplished something through the course of the sermon. I don’t mean to suggest that I feel some conceited sense of achievement, as if I were responsible for something. But there are definitely sermons where the Spirit’s triumph is almost palpable. And then there are times when I exit the pulpit with a sense of defeat, as if I failed in the task given to me by the Spirit of God himself.
A few Sundays ago, it was definitely the latter.
I am not sure why that is. I don’t feel like it is a matter of preparation or prayer or anything like that; as though something’s missing in the way in which I prepare for preaching. Again, it’s difficult to pinpoint, but some Sundays I go home with a keen sense that God moved and other Sundays I wonder if I’m cut out for this whole preaching thing altogether. Perhaps this is just my own inadequacies and insecurities rearing their ugly head. I don’t know.
Ironically, though, almost without fail, it’s the sermons after which I feel the most defeated that I am subsequently greeted with the most encouragement. Indeed, as I greeted each of the congregants on this particular Sunday morning, there were many who reiterated how blessed they were by the preaching. This did my heart inexpressible good. That sense of defeat I felt was exposed for what it was: unnecessary self-absorption. And that’s when I was reminded of a particularly prescient truth — namely, that a pastor’s capacity for preaching rests squarely on the shoulders of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit to perform the work, not his own eloquence.
You see, my own ability to preach and expound the words of God in the Scriptures is limited by my own finiteness. I’m human. I’m fallible. I’m constrained by these limitations. There are boundaries that I cannot elude when it comes to the proclamation of God’s holy Word. Try as I might, my expertise is still regulated to the confines of a human brain. The Spirit, though, is not so limited. He is not constrained by weakness. Not even mine. He isn’t limited by my ineloquence. (1 Cor 1:17) No matter how many times I might stumble or fumble my words, the presence and power of God’s Word goes forth through the ministry of the Spirit. (1 Cor 2:12–13)
Yes, to be sure, I am a vessel, a channel of that ministry. (Rom 10:14–15) But the promise of Scripture is that notwithstanding how articulate I am, God’s Word will not return void. “My word that comes from my mouth will not return to me empty,” declares the Lord through his prophet Isaiah, “but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do.” (Is 55:11) A sermon’s sense of accomplishment has less to do with me and more to do with what the Holy Spirit does through hearts that are receptive to him.
This, then, frees me from concerning myself with the results of preaching. I am certainly responsible to study and prepare and ready myself to deliver God’s Word with all care and diligence and faithfulness. But I am not responsible for the results. If I study and prepare a sermon in order to see results, I will most definitely be tempted to alter the message or tweak it in such a way so as to coerce the desired outcome. But the results of any and every sermon I deliver are out of my control. In fact, the repercussions of any message I give are unlikely to be felt immediately. Grace is a long-term investment. Notwithstanding the results, I am commissioned to proclaim its good news. (1 Tm 4:2, 13)
My prayer, then, is that I would be bold enough to faithfully persist in preaching God’s grace, regardless of the outcomes. After all, God holds absolute sovereignty over those.