A Minister's Prayer - Part 3

"Yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth, that an honest testimony might be borne for Thee."

So reads the next section in the prayer "A Minister's Preaching" in the book Valley of Vision.  

Why do we preach?  Preaching, after all, seems to be considered by some to be suited to a former era.  Today we are to have conversations and tell stories.  One of our members told me that an unsaved friend recently shared that she liked listening to one well-known TV preacher because "He makes me feel better about myself."

In the end, we preach because people need to hear from God.  We, like the writer of the lines above, long that people might be edified with divine truth.  We want to see them grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, to see them mature in their faith, to see them live out the truth of Scripture in their lives. 

But that is not an easy thing.

When I graduated from Bible College I think I expected that people who were interested in spiritual growth would hear the things that God's word said and simply change.  I wish is was that easy.  In point of fact change in our lives takes time, and I've started comparing what we do when we preach to the way layers of newspaper and paste become a paper mache creation.  I can't create the final product, but I can add to the layers each week by God's help.

In the end, whether people feel good about themselves is hardly important.  What is important is that our people grow to be like Christ.  That's what it means to be edified.  There is no more important task.  May God give us a pastor's heart to long that our people be edified.

Monday, Monday - January 28, 2008

Monday is a day many pastors take off, but I'm usually in my office. It's a good day to catch up on "stuff" and do some planning for the week if I haven't been able to do that over the weekend.

I began a series called The Story: From Creation to Christ that I plan to preach through this year. I chose 46 different passages/incidents in the Old Testament and am tracing the storyline of the OT to show how it points to Christ. The process of determining what to leave in and what to leave out was interesting and challenging. But I finally settled on what I would do and have mapped out a year's preaching.

I was curious to see if anyone had done this and committed this to print, but I had very limited success in finding anything other than traditional Bible Survey materials. New Tribes Mission has some great materials, and I looked a a few good Children's Bible Story books as well. One of the best is the Jesus Storybook Bible. I love the subtitle: Every Story Whispers His Name.

I am so glad to see that Purgatorio is back. Nothing like the Divine Vinyl section. I can remember those days . . .

A Minister's Prayer, Part 2

"My Master God, I am desired to preach today, but go weak and needy to my task;"

Long story short. I entered pastoral ministry while in Bible College in 1976. I preached a few times but frankly, it never came easy to me. I felt uncomfortable, and that discomfort grew as time went on. I was the Associate Pastor on a two-man staff, so it was not something that I needed to be doing, so I gradually let it alone.

In 1980 I took a position in a larger multi-staff church. For 23 years I did not preach outside of one Good Friday service. A series of circumstances led to the departure of the Senior Pastor in the winter of 2003. We were by then a three-person staff and it appeared despite my length of service that the church would not be able to sustain three people. I felt I might be the odd man out. I asked our Elders for the opportunity to preach in the interim for several reasons, some for the benefit of the church having a familiar face, but also because I wanted to see if this was something that I could do, and thereby open other opportunities for ministry beyond my previous experience.

As God had it, the interim became permanent, and in a month I am coming up on my fifth anniversary of regular preaching. I have grown to love the opportunity. Preaching can be discouraging (Is anyone growing?) and it can be challenging (How am I supposed to present this passage?). I have days when I wish I could say, "Ok. Let's take a break and let me do this again and hopefully get it right." I also have days when I sense God's hand in a bit of a different way. Preaching is tiring, which is why my Sunday afternoons are given to a good nap. Those of you who preach know the drill.

I resonate with the words of the Puritan brother who wrote the sentence above. I feel that I must preach to be doing what God wants me to do. Yet I am fully conscious of my own weakness and need. I am grateful for each Sunday that God gives me the opportunity to share His Word. I can see how it would be possible to be so comfortable in preaching that doing it is almost second nature and hardly a thought is given to the magnitude of the task or the consequences in the lives of people. But I pray that does not happen.

If you listen to my sermons you won't hear a great orator. What I hope you would hear is someone doing his best to share what a text is saying and how that message relates to the lives of people who, after 28 years, have become dear to me.

Guys are not great at acknowledging weakness or need. And it is very possible for pastors/preachers to think that they are strong enough for the task. But I have come to learn that one of the things that I must keep in mind is that this work is one for which I am weak and needy.

Thank you, Lord, for providing the strength.

A Minister's Prayer, Part 1

I have benefited greatly from the book Valley of Vision over the last two years. I often read an appropriate prayer during our church's observance of the Lord's Table.

I find one particular prayer very moving, and it is one that I posted back in 2006, called A Minister's Preaching. While I prefer to exegete Scripture, I thought I might open this new year and return to blogging as hopefully a personal discipline that will also help some other pastors by sharing some thoughts on this prayer, which I pray each week before I leave my office for our morning worship service.

A Minister’s Preaching

My Master God,
I am desired to preach today,
but go weak and needy to my task;
Yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth,
that an honest testimony might be borne for thee;
Give me assistance in preaching and prayer,
with heart uplifted for grace and unction.
Present to my view things pertaining to my subject,
with fullness of matter and clarity of thought,
proper expressions, fluency, fervency,
a feeling sense of the things I preach,
and grace to apply them to men’s consciences.
Keep me conscious all the while of my defects,
and let me not gloat in pride over my performance.
Help me to offer a testimony for thyself,
and to leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting thy mercy.
Give me freedom to open the sorrows of thy people,
and set before them comforting considerations.
Attend with power the truth preached.
and awaken the attention of my slothful audience.
May thy people be refreshed, melted, convicted, comforted,
and help me to use the strongest arguments
drawn from Christ’s incarnation and sufferings,
that men might be made holy.

I myself need thy support, comfort, strength, holiness,
that I might be a pure channel of thy grace,
and be able to do something for thee;
Give me then refreshment among thy people,
and help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way,
or bear a broken testimony to so worthy a redeemer,
or be harsh in treating of Christ’s death, its design and end,
from lack of warmth and fervency.
And keep me in tune with thee as I do this work.