The church I pastor meets on Sundays at 5 p.m. I thus have most of the day to contemplate preaching. I’ve found the wait to be a blessing and a challenge.
Blow the Whistle Please
Whenever I used to play in a significant soccer game, the match almost always happened at night. The day was spent feeling nervous anticipation come to a boiling point. By the time we lined up on the field the common consensus was, “Just blow the whistle, Ref!” Once the kick-off happened expectation became reality; nerves moved into actions.
Most Lord’s Days are similar. Nervous anticipation has changed to eager anticipation these days, but the wait still builds and builds. The challenge comes when you realize The Worm has an extra twelve hours or so to shoot forth his arrows. His aim and fire are relentless. So, on some weeks the phrase,”Let’s get this show on the road,” is not so much a ready declaration, but an exhausted supplication. I often think, “If only we met in the morning, Satan’s weekly ambush wouldn’t have as much time.”
Hours to Use
I’m not trying to post a pity part here, however. Gathering for worship at 5 p.m. brings numerous advantages. The greatest of which is that I get more time to prepare for preaching. Sunday morning is indeed a battlefield. My counter to The Serpent’s scheming is simple: fight Satan with the Spirit’s filling. Something is odd—and off—if I need to do anything to the sermon itself on Sunday morning. My aim then each Lord’s Day is not to spend time sharpening the sermon, but praying and reading. I’ll read my Bible. Then I’ll go to the study and grab the last volume of some Puritan set. I turn to the index and look at the entries under topics like “Christ,” “ministry,” or “preaching.” Once I’ve settled on a selection, it’s time to feast.
If you haven’t read the Puritans on such topics, you are missing out. For example, yesterday my eyes feel on the works of John Newton. I hadn’t picked them up in some time. After thumbing around a bit in the index, I settled a letter Newton wrote: “to a young minister, on preaching the Gospel with the power and demonstration of the Spirit.” Oh, how it was what I needed!
Listen Here, Young Man
Newton’s letter is one of congratulations to a younger minister on the occasion of his ordination. Never one to let a chance for encouragement to pass, Newton writes, “I wish you, upon your entrance into the ministry, to have a formed and determinate idea, what the phrase, preaching the gospel, properly signifies.” Here are six choice bits from Newton’s counsel. May they encourage you as they did me.
- “Merely to declare the truths of the gospel, is not to preach it.”
- “It is not so easy to account for the presumption of those preachers, who expect, (if they can indeed expect it,) merely by declaiming on gospel subjects, to raise in their hearers those spiritual perceptions of humiliation, desire, love, joy, and peace, of which they have no impression on their own hearts.”
- “One criterion of the gospel ministry, when rightly dispensed, is, that it enters the recesses of the heart. The hearer is amazed to find that the preacher, who perhaps never saw him before, describes him to himself, as though he had lived long in the same house with him, and was acquainted with his conduct, his conversation, and even with his secret thoughts!”
- “If, therefore, you wish to preach the gospel with power, pray for a simple, humble spirit, that you may have no allowed end in view–but to proclaim the glory of the Lord whom you profess to serve, to do his will, and for his sake to be useful to the souls of men. Study the Word of God, and the workings of your own heart, and avoid all those connections, friendships and pursuits, which, experience will tell you, have a tendency to dampen the energy, or to blunt the sensibility of your spirit.”
- “Let your elocution be natural. Despise the little arts by which men of little minds endeavor to set themselves off; they will blast your success, and expose you to contempt. The grand principle of gospel oratory, is simplicity.”
- “Sometimes vociferation seems to be considered as a mark of powerful preaching. But I believe a sermon that is loud and noisy from beginning to end, seldom produces much good effect. Here again, my friend, if you are happily possessed of simplicity, it will be a good guide. It will help you to adjust your voice to the size of the place or congregation, and then to the variations of your subject.”
You can read the whole letter here.