Occasionally I have been in a small conversational group when the ineptitude of certain preachers or other workers would be discussed, provoking smiles and laughter. And afterward I have felt condemned, for we should not laugh at weakness. But when God answers by neither Urim nor Thummim, when the Shekinah of His glory does not fill our places of worship, when congregations go away from Sabbath and prayer meeting services unblessed, angels must weep and the hosts of the evil one rejoice.
A verger in St. Mary's Anglican church at Oxford said not long ago to a party of tourists: "I've heard every sermon and every lecture given in this church for the past forty years, and thank God I'm a Christian still." As a cloistered worker in an editorial office, I am not pretending to pose as a mentor of preachers or preaching methods, but I invite you to think with me about one of the great New Testament promises today: "And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work" (2 Cor. 9:8).
There is wide coverage in the text, for it is for preacher and layman alike, for book salesmen and choir directors, for teachers and authors, for office workers and maintenance men. And let us not discount the importance of maintenance men, for how acutely the work of the church custodian is accented on a Sabbath morning when the church is cold and the baptistry isn't ready!
Paul again makes the promise plain when he writes: "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God" (2 Cor. 3:5).
Who Is Assisting Whom?
How we need to stress more and more the availability of God's power in every believer's human life to accomplish its highest aspirations, its noblest ideals, its deepest desires for acceptable service.
A writer of Bible lessons asked this question: "How may we assist the Holy Spirit?" The question seemed to me an amazing misconception of the meaning of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Does the Holy Spirit need assistance? It brings up this whole matter of where the emphasis lies in taking hold of God's sufficiency in our work.
How often we hear believers quoting with great confidence Ephesians 3:20: "Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think." Almost always those who quote the verse have in mind that God will do some great thing for them—will bring about a wonderful solution to their problems, or magnify their efforts.
But the verse offers something much better than that: "Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us." We want the power to work for us, but God wants it to work in us.
And when God's power works in us we don't care who gets the credit for the results attained. We rejoice in having had a part, but we are not lifted up. It is when we get lifted up that we think in terms of assisting the Holy Spirit instead of being a channel through which the Holy Spirit works in us for great spiritual achievements.
Self Never Qualifies
We have seen handicapped, sometimes odd, personalities actually filled "with all the fulness of God" (Eph. 3:19), and doing exploits for God through His Spirit. When God works in us, His sufficiency is working through us and makes us more than we are. This is more glorious than having God do something for us.
It is one kind of experience—a happy experience—to be able to testify "I am glad for what the Lord has done for me." But it is a throne-room experience to be able to testify with Paul: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).
No matter how talented, how intellectual, how gifted, a worker may be, he is never sufficient within himself for his assigned duties.
If a preacher, no matter how thorough his exegesis or how profound his delivery, has the concept that he is doing something for God, and has no consciousness that God is working through him, his message is not likely to shine with the luster of the eternal.
Some years ago in Moody church, Chicago, the late Bishop Taylor-Smith of London was to speak at an anniversary service. The four thousand-capacity church was packed.
Unfortunately, the bishop had been seized with a severe laryngitis. He was reluctant to attempt a sermon, but Dr. Harry Ironside, the pastor, was insistent. As it turned out, the people in the rear of the church could not hear his address. It was before the days of the loud-speaker. Only their courtesy and the extraordinary significance of the occasion kept them from walking out.
At the conclusion of the service a gentleman made his way to the front, sought out the bishop, and said, "Sir, I sat tonight where I could hear not a word of your sermon. But I could not escape the shine on your face. If to believe the gospel means the coming of a light such as I saw in your face, I want to confess Christ as my Saviour."
The evangelism of the lustrous eye and the glowing countenance comes not only from a knowledge of Christ but from identification with Him. When we are aware of our own brilliance, our hearers are not aware of God's presence.
The Sign of Jonah
The chief miracle of the book of Jonah is not the story of how the prophet was swallowed by a great fish and regurgitated three days later on dry land, but it is the story of how one man with a sense of divine commission besieged a walled city of hundreds of thousands of souls and brought them to repentance.
Jesus referred to it in His own day when He rebuked those who were looking for a sign, and He said they would have no greater sign than that of Jonas the prophet, and the sign of God's authority in Jonah's preaching was that the Ninevites repented. Jesus said, "And, behold, a greater than Jonas is here," "and you won't believe." The sign of our authority is not seminary training, invaluable as that is, but that God is with us.
God is invisible and seeks manifestation to the world in and through us whom He made in His image.
The sinless universe speaks of His perfection. The wayside flower reveals something of His beauty. The world's great fields of grain are His mercies spread out. The mountains reflect His majesty, the rainbow His glory.
How wonderful is the thought that in man, and in man alone, God reveals His spiritual personality. And so He made man in the express image of His person that man, you and I, might become the supreme manifestation of His love and character, with Jesus His Son our great Exemplar.
No One Can Steal It!
So unique was that creation that though made like Him, no two of His created beings are alike. Each is a unique potential of communication to the world of what God is like. No one can offer the witness for Him that you can. No one can steal your unique witness for Him.
Philip asked to see the Father. Jesus said, "He that hath seen me bath seen the Father." So in a lesser way Jesus wants to reveal Himself to the world in us. Wouldn't it be wonderful if people could say of us, instead of "There goes one of those queer Advents," "There goes a Christian if I ever saw one."
But if there is any self-sufficiency in us, people may never know Christ, for God cannot shine through our self-sufficiency.
Glory all around us can be no substitute for the heavenly character God would reveal through us. We may surround ourselves with all the methodology of modern evangelism, black light and white Bibles. trained musicians and an electronic file-card system, public-address systems and good public relations—none of these nor all put together can suffice for the one thing needful—God speaking through us.
You understand I am not downgrading the intelligent application of every device that gives impact to our message "Be ye reconciled to God." I am only saying what you very well know—that gadgetry cannot be a substitute for God's promised sufficiency.
What's Your Problem?
Paul says that our sufficiency is of God. Sufficient for what?
Do we as workers have problems? Goals seemingly impossible to meet? Proper houses of worship for the believers under our care? Troublemakers in the congregation? Quarrels in families? Drifters and backsliders on the church roster?
Yes, the list of burdens on our doorstep is a long one.
But what is our greatest problem? Our greatest burden? Our greatest handicap? Our most wearisome struggle? The prime cause of all our other burdens?
Is it not SIN?
With sin in our own hearts and practices, God's sufficiency cannot reach through to heal the problems.
An intellectual Hindu student once asked Dr. Webster White of India what difference it made how one got to the second story of a house, whether to walk up the stairway, take the elevator, or climb an outside ladder to an upstairs window. He was trying to prove that any of the Eastern religions is as good as Christianity.
Dr. White was stumped for a minute. Then the answer flashed upon him. He said: "In getting to the second floor there is only one problem and that is to overcome gravity. And to overcome gravity it takes a power greater than gravity. Gravity is like sin in the life. Everybody is subject to its law. But only in God, the Author of gravity, is found the power to overcome it. God sent His Son into the world that whosoever believed in Him might have the power of the upward life. There are many ways of overcoming gravity, but only one of overcoming sin."
(To be continued)