Someone has written, "We are called to preach. Preaching is our function as Christians. The essence of our calling is not something to do but something to be.'' And so in a real sense every Christian is called to be a preacher. But God also gives special callings. The call to be a pulpit preacher is one of those special callings. What a great privilege it is to be called to be a preacher of the gospel in this grand and awful time. There is nothing mysterious about this calling. God makes His call clear to each one He chooses. The call may be utterly personal and even unique, yet it will be perfectly clear to the one who receives it.
I have seen cheap radios that made reception unintelligible because of incessant static. The problem was not with the transmitting station, but with the receiving instrument. Other radios were picking up clear signals. And so it is with messages from God. He sends clear signals. We must clear all the channels of the soul in order to receive His messages. Let there be no problem of reception. Would that all God's corps of end-time preachers could have settled minds about their call and then get excited about the wonderful privilege of being chosen especially by God Himself from among the world's billions. We need to settle in our minds that we are indeed called, and get on with the work of fulfilling our appointed tasks. Satan may succeed in driving us back from our firm opinions, our theological concepts, and our pet theories. He may discourage us with our own humanity. But we ought to have certain points past which we do not retreat. Our conversion ought to be one of these; our sure call to preach, another. With Paul, let us feel deep in our souls, "Woe is unto me, if I preach not!"
God's call to preach carries with it no options—no alternatives! With Paul, our determination must be "This one thing I do." Pity the poor preacher who still wonders, "Should I go into law or medicine?" I tell young men, "Do not volunteer for the ministry, but if called, do not be turned aside by anyone or anything—least of all by the quest for prestige. To look upon the ministry as unworthy of one's gifts is to insult the Giver of gifts."
Another key attitudinal ingredient that is absolutely essential to our ministry is clear, simple confidence in the message we are called to deliver. With out undulled confidence, our preaching will manifest a tragic lack of conviction, certainty, and power. There is no good preaching without these! Without them we will come across as insipid and irrelevant. Our message will appear unimportant, unworthy of serious consideration—just another "noise" in the heightening cacophony of religious con fusion. And since we represent God in a special way to the people, He will not seem worthy of their first interest and love. The urgency of God's last warning truths will lose their cutting edge.
If our preaching lacks conviction, we will never have to tell anyone so. We will wear our lack of confidence as a garment more glaring than the proudest vestments. We will have emanating from us an aura of uncertainty both in and out of the pulpit. We will appear shallow, empty, ineffective, useless! How can great preaching ever come from such a crippled vessel?
Once in Egypt I had to use interpreters to convey my message to the congregation. I shall never forget what was said to me over and over: "Sir, we listen to your men, but we watch you, and we can tell by looking into your eyes that you really believe all that you say to us."
Truthfully, I would not preach what I do not believe. If I did not believe the message I am called to bear, I would leave the ministry today! I could not possibly be so good at acting that I could convince men of the "truthfulness" of a message that I doubted. I would be frustrated and miserable, and everyone would know it. Besides, gifted men who lack confidence in the truth can find easier and more lucrative ways to make a living. I therefore acknowledge the certainty of the message I preach. As Paul put it, God's Spirit bears witness with my spirit.
Christ must be at the center of our message as the means of salvation. Thus our message will be full of compassion, yet uncompromising. We need not weaken its demands or lower its standards to accommodate the weaknesses of those "upon whom the ends of the world are come." Rather, we must pray to fill our message so with Christ that men can see the "way" by which they may live up to it. I will not bring the standards down! I want to lift Jesus up so that men will not be discouraged by the most holy faith that is to prepare a people for a face-to-face encounter with God. They will see the holy standard of God's will. And they will see grace as the method for reaching the standard.
With Christ at the center of our preaching, there is power, great and wonderful power! And there is excitement and ecstasy abounding as we see lives transformed by the Lord. Spurgeon once said of his preaching: "After I have fired off my shot and delivered all my matter, I have often rammed my soul into the gun and fired my heart at the congregation, and the discharge has under God won the victory." One cannot preach like that with shifting conviction. Duplicity is fatal.
Go back with me to the humble cottage of the Shunammite. Elisha is gripped by the enormous gravity of the moment. He bends over a corpse with superhuman intensity—mouth to mouth, eye to eye, heart to heart—transferring life! He will either warm this child or be chilled by its death. Even so, we are dealing with life or death every time we enter the pulpit. There is no time for frivolity. We are with God's Word and power claiming and reclaiming men from the precincts of death, snatching them from the bloody maw of the dragon. If we do not thoroughly believe our sermons, there will be no fire in them. And no life. The preacher who does not believe the gospel is a consummate fraud playing a most dangerous game. Our sermons must show that we are saved, or they will embarrass us. Our sermons must be erected upon deep personal experience or they will sink in the mire of human contrivance. Coating them with the syrup of erudition will not rescue them. Np candy coating of eloquence will hide their bitter, hopeless heart.
Do you feel frustration with such overmastering necessities? Then praise God! This is providential to shut you off from your own fancied might, your sense of self-sufficiency, to make you feel your need of prayer.
It is in the agony and intensity of prayer that resolution comes. God's Spirit bears witness with our spirit. Bombard heaven with prayer. One biographer wrote that "Luther planted a cannon at heaven's gates to blow them open. . . . Luther cried 'Via,' I have conquered! 'The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.'" Did you ever hear of prayer in language like that? We could actually pray ourselves out of our doubts and fears.
Sermons ought not to come easily every time, regardless of our gifts or time with books. Preachers need to be dis quieted sometimes, restless sometimes, groaning, panting, intense! Sighing and weeping between the porch and the altar. God has no unsolvable problems! He will help us solve ours there in the audience chamber of prayer. The preacher who thus touches God and moves in the sphere of faith will dwell in the realms of wonder. Such ministry and preaching with its assured productivity will be exciting, and all the "siren calls" of other professions will be dimmed by the sheer joy of working with God. Why should this be considered incredible or unattainable or idealistic? Know we not with whom we have to do?
Jeremiah in Judah and Ezekiel in Babylon were both staggered by the austerity and severity of the messages God gave them. Jeremiah wanted to preach smoother things, while Ezekiel intoned imploringly, "Ah Lord God! they say of me, Doth he not speak parables [fables]?" (Eze. 20:49). In both these called men was a tone of remonstrance with God. The nature of their messages was unpopular with the people. Hear poor Ezekiel with his "they say... " They who? The very miserable, enslaved crowd to whom he was sent to proclaim God's solution to their problems. These prophets wanted to be like the popular preachers of their day, who were as sterile and barren as desert mules braying in the wind. Ah, Lord God, this truth is the truth, but it is not in the most acceptable form.
Well, truth in the most acceptable form generally ceases to be the truth; rather, it becomes a mixture of truths mingled with error. Implied in the prophets' tone are petitions to be allowed to adjust the truth, to fix it up and make it more palatable. They were out of sync with the theologians and popular evangelists of their day—out of harmony with their hearers' carnality. But the word was the Lord's, not theirs. The messages were determined in heaven and did not need to be properly adjusted in Judah or Babylon. God called them to preach the message, not invent it.
Never apologize for God's methods or His message. The power is in the truth, and the Holy Spirit attends it, bringing conviction to hungry souls. If you will faithfully, with unceasing prayer, expound what you faithfully believe, you can leave the results with God.
J. F. Newton wrote: "There is but one sermon to preach; no matter what text or title you use, no matter how you alter or apply it, your one sermon is the truth made real in your own heart. No matter how vivid you are in vision, you can tell no other truth triumphantly. Many a congregation is drowsy on Sabbath morning, or indifferent or apathetic or carnal, because the eloquent preacher is not preaching his truth! There is no fire; they will not learn. They will not heed." Error can easily dominate over ignorance, but not over experiential knowledge. Your best evidence of the validity of your message is what it has done for you in your own life. F. L. Peterson used to tell young preachers, "Have an experience and tell it." There is no substitute for this.
John Knox spoke of himself, "God hath revealed unto me secrets unknown to the world. He hath also made my tongue a trumpet to forewarn realms and nations." He had a large concept of the ministry—his ministry! We are watch men called to watch on the wall in this time of greatest danger and darkness. And God is going to require an accounting of us all.
I am touched with awe by the company of human souls who come to hear me preach. What a privilege! Who wouldn't get excited when God gives us the attention of the masses? We must not waste time. A wasted pulpit opportunity is not just 40 minutes of the preacher's time wasted, but those minutes com pounded by the size of the congregation. If there are 10 hearers, he has wasted 400 minutes. If there are 1,000 in the audience, he has wasted 40,000 minutes, or more than 666 hours—that's close to a month lost in one sermon.
Hungry congregations gather about the preacher to be fed a worthy meal, to be led and uplifted. They are seeking a glint of glory in a dreary, common world. They seek to have their faith strengthened, not to have it weakened by the preacher's doubts. They want to learn how to live and how to die, to hope and to love despite the heavy tramp of the oppressive years. Deal gently and wisely with them. Preach the Word, but not with cold austerity. A God who is all power and nothing but power could be a monster. The psalmist says, "Power belongeth unto God. Also unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy." God stoops with motherly grace to help and to heal and to save. Power is in merciful hands and controlled by an infinitely compassionate heart. Omnipotence is impregnated with tender pity and infinite, caring concern.
Preach the Word! Believe the old, old message and preach it! Irresolute preaching breeds contempt for the gospel. Defections to radical cults, schisms, mysticism, and religious fanaticism can be blamed all too often on irresolute preachers.
Preach the Word, for nothing else is sure-based. "For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven," says Psalm 119:89. The value of preaching relates to this. Preach the Word, and preach it not only because God calls you to but because with all your heart you believe it.