Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Pride and Preaching

Perhaps the most rewarding thing a pastor receives from the Lord is some sense or evidence that his preaching is bearing fruit with his people. Whether it's the conversion of souls or the edification and help of the saints, the preacher wants his preaching to bear much fruit.

And, of course, we want it to redound to God's glory. After all, it is God's word and God the Holy Spirit that does the work and produces the fruit. We will deflect well-meaning comments that seem to us to attribute to much to the human servant and not enough to God. We'll search for pithy soundbites to use at the doors afterward so that folks will be directed to God.

But, oh! how often the heart craves to hear that good report, that positive appraisal of "our" sermon and preaching. And, oh! how often we want to preach for God's glory and all the while "be known" for preaching for God's glory. Pride is sneaky, and the preacher is as vulnerable to it as everyone else.

Recently, I read two anecdotes from fellow servants who humbly confess their own wrestling with pride and preaching. I share them here because they were instructive for me and exposed what I know lurks in my heart as well. I also share these because I want to commend these books.

Ajith Fernando in The Call to Joy and Pain: Embracing Suffering in Your Ministry:

Recently I gave a two-part series of messages at an international conference. During my first talk there was little confusion about the time allocated to me. While speaking I realized that I had to rush my talk to finish on time. Foolishly, I began to speak fast. The first language of many in the audience was not English, and they found it hard to follow what I was saying. My tense mood also caused me to lose my sense of freedom as I spoke. After I finished, I realized the message had not been well understood. After the talk was over, some friends who were there and were concerned that I had not done a good job gave me advice on how I should give my next talk.

I went to my room devastated. There is nothing I dread in life as much as ministering without the freedom of knowing that I am being carried along by the Spirit's anointing. I clearly had not sensed this that evening. I sent a text message to my wife asking her to call me, and I told her what had happened. I asked her to inform my friends to pray about my next session the next morning. I also asked her to pray for me over the phone. That night I worked hard on cutting short my second message so I would not be rushed. The next morning's session went really well. The same friends who had advised me the night before came and expressed their joy over their feeling that God had used that talk.

As I was thinking about this, I was trying to make sense of what had happened. I realized that during the first few days of the conference many people had come up to me and told me how much they had appreciated my books and talks I had given at various conferences. I realized that I had become proud. I wanted my talks at this conference to be outstanding. But my motivation had shifted from wanting to glorify Christ to wanting people to see my abilities as a speaker and Bible teacher. Such motivation resulted in my ministering out of my own strength, for God will not share his glory with another. If such attitudes grew within me, my ministry would be displeasing to God, and his anointing would leave me.

God graciously permitted me to make a mess of my talk so he could purify my motives. I thanked God for the chastisement and gave myself a mental slap on the cheek, saying, "Thanks, Lord, I needed that!" I asked him to help me, despite the impurity of my motives, to seek only his glory in all I do. (pp. 70-71)

The second comes from Greg Dutcher in You are the Treasure that I Seek: But There's A lot of Cool Stuff Out There, Lord:

Laying his Bible on the dashboard, the pastor starts the ignition and pulls out of the church parking lot. "Your sermon was treat today, honey. Did you get any feedback?" asks his wife.

The minister cocks his head slightly, as if retrieving the answer takes a good deal of effort. After a few moments of "searching" (after all, people's comments were the furthest thing from his mind), he responds, "Yes, I think one or two people said they thought it was helpful. Praise the Lord."

And with that the conversation changes. The pastor looks fully engaged when his wife talks about the new children's coordinator: "She's wonderful." But if she could see what's playing out in his mind, wouldn't she be surprised! The fact is that he received many comments about today's sermon: "funny," "inspiring," "solid," "transforming." And every one of those comments is running through his mind in full Technicolor splendor! He's been in a rut lately, and today he was determined to break free. Looks like he did....

He is a man who knows that Christ is the pearl of great price. He invests his life proclaiming that true contentment and satisfaction are found in no one other than Jesus himself. But why does he seem like a vain woman craving compliments on the drive home from church? Doesn't he know better?

Or ask yourself: Do you know better? Let me answer that while you're giving it some thought. After all, I am the pastor in the story. On another Sunday not too long ago, I preached a message where I boldly stated, "Jesus Christ is our everything, or he isn't anything." I meant every word of it. And even when we finished our service by singing that Christ is our strength in weakness, the treasure that we seek, our all in all, I meant every word of that, too.

And then I found myself a few hours later browsing through a catalog upcoming Macintosh products. It was a calm, casual way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon. And then--rising like Poseidon out of the glossy-page sea--I saw it: the new iPhone. Wow! A phone, an iPod, and a pocket computer! How could I live another day without one of those? Without realizing it, I lost myself for another hour on the Internet reading any article I could find for more information about this life-changing device. I should have just been honest and prayed, "Lord, you are the treasure that I seek... but there's some really cool stuff out there, too." But the disparity between the place Christ should hold in our lives and the place He does hold should give us hope. It tells us that there is a battle to be fought, a battle that God can fight in and through us. (pp. 12-13, 15)

I see bits of myself in both of these author's confessions. How about you?


Anonymous said...

Dear Thabiti:

Thanks for posting these. The story from Ajith was quite timely as I leave tomorrow for the Philippines to preach at a pastors' conference. I will speak in English, which is their second language.

Gratefully in Christ,

Cortez said...

"And, oh! how often we want to preach for God's glory and all the while "be known" for preaching for God's glory," Amen to that.

Hayden said...


I find the pride in my life the most when I am on vacation and am not the one preaching but listening. Too often, to my shame, I become the 'sermon critic' instead of one needing nourishment from the Word of God. Boy pride rears its ugly head when you least expect it!!!

Brance said...

I just went through the same thought processes. I preached for 3 weeks while our pastor was on sabbatical, and dealing with the compliments the first week caused me to crave them the second week. I felt horrible afterward and and that second sermon didn't go nearly as well as the first one. God's way of humbling me.

The third Sunday went better, but I'm still trying to figure out how to deal with the compliments. I don't want them going to my head and heart, and I want to point the persons giving them to Jesus rather than myself.

Steven said...

Good word brother. I find that is is incredibly easy to swing from pride to depression and back to pride. Unlying all depression "I didn't do well" or "I let my people down" is ultimately pride (masquerading as humble-hurt) in my life. Thank you.

Caleb said...

Thanks for being so honest to share this with us. It's so important to always be checking the motives of our hearts to see if they are gravitating towards the glorification of God or self.