Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Spirit's help, ministering in the flesh

Today i had one of those awful ministry experiences, you know the ones where you feel completely alone, like you are left completely to your own efforts and they miserably fail!
No i don't intend to depress you, but consider this with me.
There are times when a minister, in whatever capacity tries with all his might to reach his listeners and he seems to lack any authority, to lack any persuasion, to lack any help from the Spirit. It feels like you've been handed a muted microphone, you sweat, you yell, you try with all your might and ......NOTHING!!!, no response whatsoever, things only get worse. Like the Apostle Paul who seems to hold the attention of the crowd, until they start rioting (you think a man that was just beaten and then gets up to preach would be able to command the attention of his hearers Acts 21,22).
In the Jails this happens once in a blue moon, more with juveniles than with the adults. Although i have had "one'' character that like to pose as a Christian but was one of the 'seasoned' criminals, who knew the game in and out and would come to services to talk with people. Well this man was so disruptive once that after that i would confront him more head-on in the beginning of each service, which helped a lot.
These are the worst of times, when a sermon becomes an argument, when you spend all your time trying to quiet down the crowd, the times where time completely runs out before you know it and you then realize that you were unable to say anything of sense. I guess this is why i sometimes break from some preaching 'models' and get right to the point early on. Sure there's to a sense an art of preaching yet it's not entertainment, it's not about building up some great finale, some great suspenseful ending, you can get lost in doing those things, sometimes you have to be unconventional and go for the vitals.
This is not a complete analysis, i realize how much emotions can play in these things, and there are times we 'feel' like we have no strength and yet God is working; i'm more addressing the situations when you really aren't having any effect, when you really are relying upon your own abilities, when you become so frustrated that you can't get back on track.
In these times, i believe there is much to learn; for one this must be the nightmare of every preacher, to minister in the flesh, to minister without any effect, to in a sense minister in vain. We must be convinced that it's God alone who can help or save, that without His working, His moving, His awakening, all will be in vain. I would warn also the preacher who makes pretty sermons, with pretty illustrations, with beautiful quotables, and dramatic expressions, the type of sermon that would without doubt earn great accolades at any seminary yet flys over the heads of his listeners; I suppose such a preacher would read of this experience and think to himself 'what is this guy talking about, i've never considered such a problem' and i would suppose that his problem is that he has no concern whether he reaches his hearers. This preacher is still a seminary student, he is still preaching like he's in a class room being graded by his professor, he's sucked out the life and purpose of preaching and turned it into an act.
I must say that sometimes this failure comes from the neglect of the minister, his lack of preparation. It might be that he has not allowed his message to grab his own heart, he has not studied or meditated over his thoughts. This could also apply to the one who witnesses as well, this more should be able to relate to, rather than 'preparation' of a written or verbal message. There is even more need for preparation of the soul, a prepared attitude, a prepared expectation of God, a prepared humbling and relying up God to make you holy. The careless attitude we can have is pitiful, how quickly we can rush into the day, even into ministry opportunities. I wish i could say that i'm not familiar with such an experience.
Another lesson I would suggest that the Lord would teach His ministers, and surely what He is reminding me of: Is that without Him i can do nothing JN 15. If anything would need to be engraved upon the eyelids of a minister, it is this: 'for without me, you can do nothing'. Yes i do believe that when we are not consciously walking in this truth, that God often brings things to humble us, to prune us, to cause us to grab ahold of Him. We need, I need daily reminders that 'in me there dwells nothing good' that without His strength, without His upholding power i WILL fall.
I am reminded of Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, which i believe he is making it clear that it's all about Christ and His work. 1 Cor 2:1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
In other words, Paul has made it his aim to trust in the working of the Spirit. It's as though Paul was saying 'i could use all these things, i have the ability to speak and entice and persuade, i can be as eloquent as the best orators of the day. Yet if i did this, if this was my method then it would only prove that i really have nothing to say, this message is not mine. This message is not like other messages, this message has power and it's power is not helped by my wisdom. It will be vain if I manipulate you into agreement, because you can't be saved by just agreeing. You must be convinced, you must be given understanding, God alone can do this and my part is simply to tell you what He says." This is seen more clearly in what Paul says next

I Cor 2:10these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 14The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 "For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.

Amen and Amen Paul, this a work of the Spirit alone. Above every other rule of preaching, this is crucial, this is foundational. Without this being a reality to you, try as you may but you'll try in vain. It is out of this reality that you THEN ask yourself, 'ok so it's through the power of God alone, and yet God has chosen to work through men, so God how and what must i say and do?'

What grace the Lord gives us when He humbles us, when He causes us to fail, are there many men who can thrive in successful ministry for long (without such reminders). We need to be protected from pride, we need to be humbled, we need to feel as though we've lost all strength and usefulness so that we get back to the basics, so that we get back to seeking the face of God.

There are those who learn faster than others, there are those who live in a more consistent dependence upon God for strength and i would say that's the norm of those whom God has done much through, and I would argue that's not because of them but because they are modeling daily dependence upon the Lord, they are 'humbling themselves in the sight of the Lord'. While the rest of us hardheaded knuckleheads are 'being humbled'.
1 Peter 5:5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Well i'm beginning to ramble so i'll stop, i'm quite tired!


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