NOT long ago I sat with many others listening to one of our ministers trying to inspire the audience with his message. Although he was a very good man, well liked and highly respected by young and old as a Christian, somehow he did not succeed in communicating very well. The response was meager. He tried very hard, and perhaps that was his difficulty. This may seem strange, for surely we should attempt our best, shouldn't we? Yes, that is true if it is not only our best. His voice was tense, and as a result, high pitched, as though putting across his program depended entirely on his promotional or salesmanship ability and personal drive.
I remember one time while canvassing for a scholarship I attempted to give a canvass like that by imitating my partner's skill. When I had finished, the kind lady, who had been gracious enough not to interrupt, said, "If you had given me a chance to get a word in edgewise I could have saved you that speech." The sales response was negative.
Jesus and Statistical Reports
So in this case, if there was a response to his effort it was only due to sympathy or not wanting to disappoint a well-liked man. He had worked hard, was sincere in what he was doing, but was saturated with the idea that promotion must do the job and bring results. Activity was his criterion of success rather than the results of success. How often we ministers are deceived by this philosophy because we have not learned to rely wholly on God! We are so anxious to have results that we try every human effort to achieve them and have a good re port. If Jesus had had to write a statistical report of His immediate success at the close of His career it would have been a very meager one. But success is not always measured by statistical figures.
By way of contrast, shortly thereafter I heard another good man (and I believe the one was as sincere and godly as the other). He was calm, fortified with Scripture, forceful in his address, and spoke to the heart. His voice was not strained or high pitched, even though essentially their voices normally were perhaps on a par. He recognized that the work and message are the Lord's and that God must do the work on the human heart. He was merely the instrument in God's hand. Thus he spoke with confidence and authority, and people sat listening as though he had been with Jesus and learned of Him. He had come to the place where he recognized that mere human effort, however zealous, can but fail. The reaction was in harmony with the presentation; there was a willing response born out of love and holy desire. And this text came again to mind: "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord."
It Makes a Difference
It makes a difference both to the speaker as well as to the audience whether we preach to the head or to the heart. We can work people into action by high-pressure promotion, and as a result some may eventually find the true motivating force. But it is atensive strain on the preacher, for he feels the success or failure of his program rests upon his ability to exhilarate people into action. How much more satisfying it is to be able to think, I am only an instrument in God's hand, and in complete trust in His power to move men I commit my all to Him, and in calm confidence I rest in His abiding presence and help. Then the voice will be calm, restrained, and not tensed up to a high pitch. How we as ministers need to learn the trusting experience of Isaiah as he wrote of it in the forty-ninth chapter:
He hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me; and said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified. Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain: yet surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God. (Verses 2-4.)
What an encouragement to know, even when it looks as if our work is in vain and our accomplishments almost zero, that if we are a polished shaft in His quiver, ready to go when He pulls the bow, the results of our work are His and our work is with our God! No man has ever won a soul. That is God's work; we are merely His arrows. So while we do our best, we can leave the results with Him. " 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,' " said Jesus to His labor-worn disciples. He will take the burden and bear it if we only yield it to Him.
How About the Singing?
The same is true of singing for God. This contrast I also noticed in the two services: One singer, to those who were able to appreciate it, brought a sense of awe for the splendid performance (perhaps that is why musicians use the term "perform"), the skill, the sustained notes, et cetera, but the other sang to the heart---words were clear, the tone was melodious, full of spiritual expression (not performance expression), and brought tears of repentance.
How do you preach? Is it with a sense of personal dependence on a promotional skill which wears out the preacher and puts him under an overwhelming nervous and mental strain? Or is it with a calm trust in the power of the Word (having, of course, studied it and made thorough preparation both in head and heart upon your knees), and a complete confidence in the aid of the Holy Spirit? Yes, I repeat: No man has ever converted a soul. This is the work of the Holy Spirit; we cannot replace Him by our many words however skilled and however tense. God must do it, but He cannot if we get in the way. Self must be lost in true humility; reliance must be in a calm trust in God and what He will do through us. This will give the preacher confidence, remove the high-pitched strain from his voice, bring true satisfaction to the minister as well as the congregation, and ultimately crown his work with success.