I found myself browsing through our Church website sermons page this week reflecting on the hundreds of hours that I have stood before my current congregation and poured out my heart and done everything I can to connect people with the mission of Christ. I’ve reflected on those brothers and sisters who received that word and responded and the joy it has been to see lives change and see people embrace the truth of the Gospel personally and powerfully. Yet again, I realise that if only one person’s life changes as a result of all that teaching then it will have been worth it.
However I have to be honest and say that I have also been pondering how ineffective most of that teaching has been in producing long-term, life-changing responses. I have struggled with the clear fact that only a handful of people hear or read those sermons more than once. Almost nobody take notes in Church anymore. Very few people visit the website and download the messages to study further. Only a handful of people even have a Bible on their laps when I teach from the Word.
I know that even the most intelligent, attentive, disciplined mind is only going to retain 5-10% of what is preached if that is the only exposure they get. So every now and then most preachers wonder it’s worth it. I certainly understand why the Apostle Paul referred to this thing that I do every week as foolishness. To pour my heart and soul into sermons week after week after week – sometimes spending up to 20 hours wrestling with the Lord and His Word to produce just one sermon which I know, without any doubt, could totally change the course of history in my Church and my city if people would actually let the truth settle long enough in their hearts to germinate and take root. To pursue such an exhausting and seemingly fruitless exercise year after year after year must seem like foolishness to any thinking person.
As I browse through the hundred plus sermons I have preached just since arriving in my current Church, it’s like looking into the most intimate part of my own heart. I just have to read one title in one series and immediately all the memories of that time come flooding back. This is true even of sermons I preached 20 years ago. I can feel the conviction that was there when I preached them. I can remember the prayers I prayed and the expectation that was in my heart. “Maybe this time, maybe this series will be the one that pushes us over the edge and releases the hunger and thirst after righteousness that I so long to see in all of you.”
As I reviewed those recent sermons this week I was also reminded that I am just one preacher among many. There are a number of people just like me spread across my small city doing what I am doing every week. Like me they are throwing handfuls of Seed across the landscape of their congregations – hoping and praying that some of those Seeds will find the soft, receptive soil of an open, teachable heart so that their efforts are not in vain. The facts tell us that most of those Seeds fall on hard soil or rocky ground or are choked by weeds soon after they germinate. So I confess there are times when I find myself crying out to God for answers.
Where is the hunger and thirst for righteousness?
Where is the passion and longing in people’s hearts to hear from God?
Where is the ache deep within us for our city which pushes us to do anything in order to gain an edge on the enemy and make a difference in this community?
Where are the people of God who know that they have been bought with a price and have a call on their life to shine as lights in the darkness and that this call of God is the most important thing in their life above their family, their job, their worldly success and even their very lives?
Where are the people who are genuinely sick of ‘playing Church’ and who know there is more to this Christian life than they have experienced?
Where are the people who have made the choice to do whatever it takes to see their lives, their Church fellowship and their city transformed as Jesus Christ reigns as King and Lord?
Where are these people? The Bible calls them disciples. Where are they? Are you one of them? Are there many in our city?
They are the ones who arrive at Church early every week and put everything second to being with the people of God in the presence of God to encounter the Word of God.
They see that time as the most exciting and life-changing activity in their whole week and they can’t wait to be there and they don’t want to leave when it’s over.
They are the people who hang off every word ever preached – they take notes, they have their Bible’s with them when someone is preaching so they can find the passages themselves and reinforce all that God is saying to them.
They are the ones who set aside time during the week to read the sermon manuscripts or watch the video so they can distil every gem of wisdom from God.
They are the ones who weep when they see the needs in our city which face us every day and which only God can fix – if and when His people stop pursuing their own selfish interests and starting focusing on the needs of those they are called to reach.
Where are these people? Where are these committed, determined, focussed, maturing disciples? The ones who actually read the New Testament and take it seriously.
The ones who have more interest in living in the book of Acts than they do in living in the materialistic, self-seeking, flesh-serving, Spirit-quenching world around them.
The ones who have given up talking about themselves and their needs and their achievements and are only interested in the needs of others and the furthering of God’s Kingdom.
The ones who understand the priority of the local Church and the teaching God has given to that group of people for that time.
Where are these people? Are you one of them? I really hope so.
So why do I keep doing what I do? Why do preachers all over the world keep spreading the Seed, regardless of the response? I believe Jeremiah can answer that for us all. In fact, whenever I wonder if I should keep going, the Lord takes me to Jeremiah chapter 20. That’s the point in Jeremiah’s life and ministry when he loses it with God – he really lets it all out. He had embraced God’s call many, many years before and there had been zero positive response. Not one person had responded positively to his preaching in decades! If you look at the opening 8 verses you will see he accuses God of deceiving him and abandoning him. It’s tough to read – especially for a preacher – it’s raw but it’s real.
Then you get to verse 9 and it’s like the power and reality of God’s Word within Jeremiah overpowers his complaining for just a moment. Then in verse 10 he’s moaning again. But no sooner had he spoken about his doom it’s like a switch was turned on in Jeremiah’s heart in verse 11 as he re-connects with his calling and his life’s purpose and starts singing and giving praise to the Lord! This time it lasts for three verses! But then he dives again and curses the day he was born.
Of course we know that the true fruit from Jeremiah’s ministry came later and still to this day through the Scripture, the ministry of Jeremiah continues to bear fruit. Personally speaking, I know that Jeremiah chapter 20 has been used by God on more than one occasion to stop me from stepping out of the pulpit and walking away from full time ministry.
I am sure that if Jeremiah had received some positive feedback from just one person; if he had seen just one life change because of his preaching – that he would never have written the words we find in chapter 20. It’s at this point that I am reminded of the many people whose lives have been changed as God has touched their hearts through something I have preached or written. There are many of them and I try not forget them.
In more recent times there have been a number of people I may never meet – some of them in America or the Philippines who have connect with God through my teaching online and have sent me an email expressing their gratitude for a particular sermon. There are a number of Pastors around the world who have asked if they can use my sermons in their Church.
So the fruit is there, but like every preacher, I know the power of God’s word and its transforming potential in the life and a believer who truly lets the Seed germinate and grow. So I will always be crying out to God to use the ‘foolishness’ of my preaching to change more and more lives.