Today, this morning, I received probably the most glowing piece of encouragement I have ever had after preaching a sermon. Reflecting on this I feel I've learnt something really quite valuable that I want to mark down for personal posterity.
I preach often these days, a reality that never ceases to amaze and thrill me; I used to daydream about and long to do the thing I get to do often now. I'm not a little grateful to God. As a regular preacher to a small congregation of around 65 adults I'm not unfamiliar with discouragement. Not the verbal, aggressive and critical kind; more the passive, struggling to stay awake in your seat, silent spectator kind. Add into that that I'm a fairly needy individual - my top 'love language' being words of affirmation; which basically means that I NEED to be told nice things or else I'll die! - it's a struggle sometimes to maintain joy and faith in this setting. Church planting is a monthly cycle of discouragement and encouragement, with there being more 'dis' then 'en'. That's not to say that the church are discouraging, they're wonderful; just church planting you understand.
Back to the point, ah yes preaching. I preach often, as I said, and as a regular communicator I'm familiar with the 'this week is good', 'this week isn't good' cycle of trying to prepare fresh and spiritually vital messages; messages that both compel non-believers to trust Jesus and strengthen and bolster the faith of the already Christians.
Today's sermon had me feeling unsure before preaching it. My focused prep time was cut short by illness, I wasn't convinced I was pitching it right, or that I'd chosen the right text for the day or that I had enough illustrations or jokes or props or... it was one of those Sundays.
But I'll tell you what I did do this week, I prayed. Now, don't misunderstand, I pray each time I preach. I'm not a maverick but this week I prayed differently; I shut my laptop, snuck off to an adjacent room and I tried to pray for the weekend, for my message and for the people. If I'm honest the time of prayer didn't feel fruitful or beneficial and it was cut short by the onset of a migraine. But along with praying I spent some time journaling about the passage I was preaching on in the expectation that the Holy Spirit would speak to me.
Then came Sunday, an ease in preaching and a wonderful encouragement I'll carry with me for a long time. What made the difference this week? It wasn't the preparation of the message it was the preparation of my heart that was different. I didn't take myself too seriously, I didn't tense up and stress out and over analyse and squeeze out a solid performance in the pulpit. No, instead I just tried to make sure I spent a decent amount of time cooking the thing.
Prayer, intimacy with God and a desire to carry a 'burden' for the people (or if not a burden then a 'heart' for the message) is key.
Today's success came as a result of a shift in focus, away from myself and my performance and my preaching and my track record, and instead onto Jesus and the privilege of the gospel. I was the chef, he was the ingredient selector and they were the diners. I simply cooked what he gave me and served it as best I knew how.
Preachers let's not give our people food poisoning any more, let's cook the thing and cooking the thing looks very different from merely preparing it.
It needs cooking.