“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’”
(Matthew 11:16–17, NIV)
I have been preaching God’s Word for a long time, over 30 years. I sensed the call to do this when I was 17 (over 40 years ago). Didn’t preach my first official “sermon” until I was 27. Always felt unworthy. Still do. Still am. “Woe is me if I don’t preach the Gospel.”
“If I hold it in it becomes like a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary to let it out.”
Lately, well for some time now, I am disappointed in the attentiveness of those who hear me preach and teach.
“For him who has ears to hear, let him listen.”
I wonder who is actually paying attention. Whose listening? People play on their phones during worship. They get up during the sermon and head for the restroom. Is that necessary, or is it just boredom?
Last night I asked a team of our leaders what and whether they got anything out of the messages I’ve been delivering during the present Covid crisis. (This is what prompts me to write today.) The response was largely silent. So, why? I worked hard and prayed sincerely over those messages. I am imperfect. I am a sinful human being. Am I a failure as a preacher, or is there some other issue?
I’m willing to be reproved by the wise and spiritually discerning. I’m not seeking to justify myself or my gift. I believe God has called me. I’ve spent my life dedicated to preaching and to the Lord’s church. Lately I wonder how much good I’ve done, especially over the past 20 years of devotion to one church. I struggle with disappointment, discouragement. Why isn’t there more enthusiasm? Why don’t we grow? Why don’t more people come to church? Why do so few respond during our invitation to pray and commit at the end of every worship service. Why the bored faces? Why are so few interested in my Wednesday Bible study, and those who do attend are in and out week by week. Are the people tired of listening to me? Who’s paying attention when I preach and teach after all? Am I a failure as a preacher? Is my teaching impractical? Have I not met their needs, or just fallen short of their expectations? Am I too old? Past my prime? Do I not look good enough, sound good enough? Those are human concerns, but I am preaching to human beings, and I do seek to meet their genuine needs.
Really, all I want to know, is whether I’m doing what God has called me to do right now. I seek to remain encouraged. I have hope in God’s promises. If I didn’t I would have given this up for something more lucrative a decade ago. In fact, I keep telling the Lord if He doesn’t want me in ministry any more to call me away. Give me another job. I don’t care as long as I’m doing what He wants. He keeps me here, keeps me preaching and teaching in spite of my flaws. So, is there a lack of faith on the part of the people? A lack of the Holy Spirit’s anointing and filling?
Right now I’m fasting and praying every day.
- I pray for protection for my people, for their health and finances.
I pray for a breakthrough in the pandemic. I’m asking God to do something obvious by Easter Sunday.
- I am denying myself many things in order to deny self altogether. All too often my discouragement leads to self-pity and self-medication in a variety of peccadillos and pleasures, most of which are harmless but could become harmful if they got out of control. Sometimes I just don’t feel appreciated or loved, so even though I believe self-love to be inordinate, I turn to it for comfort. Then I’m convicted and turn to the Holy Spirit. God pours his love into my heart and I receive real comfort. Then I become disappointed over small crowds and limited response and the cycle starts all over again. I am exhausted by my own foolishness, and in the lack of growth I see both spiritually and evangelistically in our church.
- I am fasting and praying for direction for myself and for our church. What needs to change? What more can we do to reach and retain people? How can I encourage personal spiritual growth? We need revival. The world needs awakening.
- I am fasting because I am desperate. I am destitute. I seek change, and that means repentance. I preached on that last Sunday. Not sure many people took it seriously. We have a pandemic staring us down, and folks just go on with life as usual?! Do purported Christians really think Almighty God is not involved in this? God is at work! Don’t they realize the Lord is the one who is protecting them and their finances? Don’t they realize God’s discipline could reverse this in an instant. I believe God is protecting us because I’ve been praying and fasting for it. I refuse and reject this virus completely. I will not let the devil bring it into this church! Do the people give God the credit for their provision and protection, or do they just presume they’re lucky?
Is this us? How about you and the people of your church. Is this something the Lord wants us to learn now that we cannot gather?
“My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. “When all this comes true—and it surely will—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.” (Ezekiel 33:31–33, NIV)
In the end, I’ll do what needs to be done, and change whet needs to change, so long as the Lord is the one leading me to do it. I’m not an entertainer. I’m not funny. Not cool. But I do seek to be God’s man. I’m trying to get back to that. Sadly, I’ve fallen short. “Stir up the gift of God which is within you.” I don’t preach for “10 shekels and a shirt” (for money) but because that’s what God created and called me to do. I don’t make up lessons and sermons like an entertainer seeking to promote myself and my brand. I promote Jesus and His Gospel. I am a preacher. It’s my identity, my gift, and I want to exercise it well. I hope that if you are a believer and read this, you won’t feel sorry for me (or judge me), but identify with me and seek the Lord for your calling (whatever that may be, God has called you to some ministry). And pray for me and my church, please.