Thursday, November 10, 2005

A Confession I Probably Shouldn't Make

I admit it: I love to preach.

And teach.

And write.

I feel as though God made me to be a communicator and when I'm involved in communicating, I have a tremendous feeling of fulfillment.

The reason I have felt reticent about admitting this in the past is that one can love pursuits like these for the wrong reasons.

A person can be a limelight addict, so in love with attention that they hold forth ad infinitum.

It may be because of this penchant among preachers that Rick Warren says in The Purpose-Driven Life that he is unimpressed with preachers who talk about how much they love preaching.

I'm not so deluded as to think that I preach, teach, and write from altogether altruistic motives. I'm a sinner like anybody else. But I also hope (and pray) that by this point in my life--I'll soon be 52--my ego is sufficiently in check to allow my preaching, teaching, and writing do good for someone other than me.

Besides, it isn't the delivery of sermons that I enjoy so much. Or the sharing of the lesson. Or the feedback after the written piece has appeared in the local newspaper or here on the blog. (Although I do, frankly, enjoy those things.)

But what I really enjoy is what precedes those moments.

Take preaching, for example. I began preaching when I was in seminary, which means that I've been doing it now for twenty-five years. But, at the risk of getting wifty on you, I still don't know how a sermon comes into being.

Don't get me wrong. Preaching--any kind of communication--is work. People who think otherwise are really deluded. One of my seminary professors, Merlin Hoops, used to tell us a story he'd heard in Germany about a young pastor who had just preached a sermon and was excited about it. But another pastor who'd heard the effort was unimpressed and told the younger preacher so. "But, pastor," the younger one insisted, "I prayed and prayed about it." "That's fine," the older pastor said, "but did you study and work on it, too?"

Most weeks, I spend from five to fifteen hours studying the Biblical passages that form the bases for my Sunday messages. Then, I pray...a lot! Usually, by Thursday, I'm telling my wife things like, "I have no idea what I will say on Sunday. It's a wonderful passage, but my mind is a blank."

I've learned the truth of what one prolific writer remarked when asked how he had remained so productive through the years. "There's something quite motivating," he said, "about a deadline." For me, knowing that there will be people showing up at a time certain for worship on Sunday morning, people who need and deserve the comfort, hope, camaraderie, and guidance of God in their lives, is motivating.

It's then that I get busy...praying: "God, I have no idea what to say, although I've tried to saturate my mind in this text from Your Word. I think I know what needs saying. But I have no idea how to go about it. Please show me what to say."

It happened again last week. Actually, it was Saturday and I was in a quandary. It wasn't that I hadn't studied or prepared. I had. But I was stumped. I prayed and sat with my notebook and pen, ready to jot down some notes before I hit the computer keyboard. Then, the pieces fell into place and within an hour or so, the sermon was written.

And that is what I love about preaching. And teaching. And writing. I love that mysterious interplay of intellect, information, heart, desperation, and receptivity to God's Spirit and God's power that results in some new creation. It's something so mysterious that I can't explain it. It's like a special visit from God, giving me words and thoughts I would never come up with on my own.

My guess is that anybody who creates knows what that's like.

Michelangelo used to say that his job as a sculptor was simply to chisel away at the stone until the sculpture inside was made visible.

Paul McCartney has said that the songs he composes seem to come to him from someplace out there and he simply ushers them into the world.

C.S. Lewis' stepson, Douglas Gresham, has written that The Chronicles of Narnia began with an image of a fawn holding an umbrella and some packages that had impressed itself on Lewis's imagination when he was sixteen years old; when he began to write about this fawn twenty-four years after it had first come to him, Lewis had no notion of what would turn up on the page.

I certainly won't blame God for any of the deficiencies in my preaching or writing...and there are many! Sometimes, I know, I get in God's way.

But when I do get out of His way, it stuns me. Every time. I know that God makes more of our earnest efforts to be truly receptive to Him. That's why I love to preach!

UPDATE: Pastor Jeff has some interesting additional thoughts on creativity here.


P_J said...


Thanks for sharing these thoughts. I understand exactly what you mean. There can be a pride in preaching, but there can also be a simple joy and confidence in doing what God has fitted you to do.

Personally, I've found that I need more than a week to let the text soak in. I try to spend a little time each week looking ahead to upcoming passages and thinking about them, looking around me for signs of how God wants me to understand and preach them.

Keep up the good work!

Kathi said...

I really enjoyed reading this posting. It made complete sense.
I'm not a pastor, but I feel very led to start sharing the things that God has laid on my heart.

I need some spiritual advisors who will check in on what I'm posting. I would never want to post something that was theological incorrect. Maybe that is all relative, though. Would you mind
reading my blog? Agape! Kathi