The Cliffs of Preaching
I wouldn't say I'm afraid of heights. I'd just say that I don't like being up high. This came into full view recently with my first visit to the Grand Canyon. Being in Gods nature has always been good for my soul, and this was no different. The glorious views remind me of Gods goodness, power, and glory.
But when I walked up to the edge the first time, I was torn between my desire to look over the edge and take in the view, and my overwhelming desire for personal safety and to step away from the edge. Sometimes there was a railing, which I made it a little better. I gripped with white knuckles, forcing myself to look out at the view and not look down. Other places there was no rail, just cliffs. I wanted to do it, to see it, to take in the view. We hiked a trail down the side of a cliff, with severe drop offs, and I loved every minute that I wasn't terrified.
Loving it when I'm not terrified also sums up the way I feel about preaching. When I was called to preach at a young age I was enthralled by the grand views, the soaring vistas, and inspiring opportunities. To teach people and preach Gods word still excites me. But as I've grown I've also learned of the weight of pastoring. Every Saturday afternoon (if not before) my heart starts to weigh down with the heaviness of the privilege of preaching the next day. Did I prepare enough? Have I prayed enough? Will this member who has been absent show up? Will the ones I invited come? Every Sunday I go through my routine, go through the service, and as the song ends and I know it's my turn to step up, I feel as if I'm about to jump off the edge of a cliff. Who would dare to stand and speak on behalf of God, to explain God’s word, to expound God’s word, to exhort and encourage and speak of the wonderful mysteries of the gospel?
Paul was an educated man. He had every right to be confident in his words, his application, his exposition. But he tells the church at Corinth that he comes to them with “fear and much trembling.” I imagine this to be the the same kind of fear I felt standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. The danger, the excitement, the soaring vistas and the jagged cliffs all rolled into one. Paul wants the church to know that the word of God has more power than they could ever imagine. And he wants them to know that they should rest in the wisdom of God, and not in the wisdom of men. If Paul trembles, how much more should I!
“And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” I Cor. 2:3-5
I love the grand views of pastoring, seeing God work in miraculous ways. But sometimes I’m afraid of getting to close to the edge for fear I will fall off. Pastoring is exciting and scary all at the same time. If you stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon and don’t feel even a hint of concern, then something is wrong with you. If you stand on the edge and think you could cross it with a running start and a good jump, then you are a fool. Likewise, if you are privileged enough to proclaim God’s word in front of the church and don’t feel the weight of it, then you don’t understand what God has called you to do. This weight makes even the most talented and gifted men shrink back.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones makes this point in his book “Preaching and Preachers.”
"My argument is, therefore, that a man who feels that he is competent, and that he can do this easily, and so rushes to preach without any sense of fear or trembling, or any hesitation whatsoever, is a man who is proclaiming that he has never been ‘called’ to be a preacher. The man who is called by God is a man who realises what he is called to do, and he so realises the awefulness of the task that he shrinks from it. Nothing but this overwhelming sense of being called, and of compulsion, should ever lead anyone to preach."
It is only the call of God that compels a man to go forward and preach. Stand on the edge of the cliff, see the enormity of what you have been called to. You cannot bring men and women to Christ any more than you can jump across the grand canyon. But through the power of God, through the demonstration of the spirit’s power, God can do the impossible. Let your faith, and the faith of the church, rest not in the wisdom of men, but in the wisdom of God.