The Tragedy of Good Preaching

It’s that moment, you’ve just finished preaching. Normally you dread this moment because you aren’t sure if that sermon was any good. You struggled to show the big idea of the passage. You are not sure if the connection from the Old Testament to the Cross made any sense.  You had a few jokes that didn’t necessarily get the congregation moving but you did your best. And finally you made something of the application.

But today wasn’t like that. No, you were flowing with the passage and the Spirit was speaking. You prepared well and actually enjoyed the whole process. You could feel Paul speaking through your material. You nailed the talk, you got the message and emotion of the text right. The congregation was feeding from your sermon jubilantly and you could hear it cut through their hearts. A job well done.

But the service ends, you go home and you wonder what difference did it make? Yes it did seem to stir people’s heart and demand a response. And for a moment you saw a small spark of what some call a revival coming. But days go by and you don’t necessarily see any change. Actually people very quickly forget and your effort and good work go to waste. You wonder was it worth it? Is this job worth all the headache and sleep deprivation it causes you. After all, it will all be forgotten and barely appreciated. Such is the tragedy of good sermons. Good work gone down the drain.

But maybe the reason it feels that way sometimes is because sermons are not meant to work the way we want. Because we are not meant to work the way we think. You see like those sermons we are instruments in the hands of another. It’s not how well prepared and specific we are for the job that matters. Although that is very important. But it’s what he’s doing in us and through his Word that day that matters. Who knows what his aim for the day is? Who is he after today? Perhaps our humility is what he’s after. To help us understand it’s him who works and that without him we can do nothing, see John 15:

5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:5.

But better still this understanding helps to remove the weight of transforming wicked sinners from our hands. To remind us we are but undershepherds in the service of the great shepherd and master of our souls. And what a tragedy would it be if those souls were at your mercies and the work you do? Can you even imagine the responsibility that would demand of you? The heartache and the restlessness? Thank God he’s in charge not me. Praise God he’s at work even when we don’t see!

The thing that blows my mind away is that he chooses to use those sermons. Not only the well polished but even the ones you doubt would make a difference. And sometimes long after your sermons you see a fruit here and another there. What a joy that he chooses to use you and the gift he gave you to conform his people to the likeness of his Son. That he draws men from the world to himself through your work of preaching his Gospel. How amazing and humbling that is!

I know it’s disappointing to labour hard and not see results. God knows how much I crave visible results. But perhaps our heartache results from focusing on the wrong fruit. When we misunderstand what we are called to do and what he says he’ll do.

Ours then is to honour him with everything we have. Labour hard not just for visible results but in honour of him and the gift and opportunities he’s given us. What he does with our labor is upto him because the flock belongs to him not us. And so we must continue doing our very best as preachers to honour our great Lord and Saviour but also learn to say with Luke:

10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty. ‘

Luke 17:10

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