I was once at a meeting of preachers, and they were discussing the problem of having inadequate time to prepare their sermons. One person said that given all the things he had to do, it was impossible for him to give much time for preparation, and therefore he usually goes to preach without much preparation. I was in a state of shock at what I heard, but I did not say a word. This happened about 9 months ago, and I have suffered much since then. Thoughts have been rolling over and over again in my mind as to what I should have said that day. I have finally decided to put my thoughts on paper.
We represent a great God who is over all and whose majesty is beyond all comparison. The greatest tragedy on earth is that people do not honour this great God. Our great goal in life is to bring honour to God. And we preachers have the opportunity of doing that when we preach. When people come to any meeting under the name of God, they should leave with the sense that God is great. Therefore our preaching, our worship-leading, our singing or whatever else we do in the name of God should always leave people with the impression that God is great.
I experienced this as a youth every Sunday as I sat under the ministry of the Rev. George Good. We participated in glorious services each Sunday, and Sunday became my favourite day of the week. I realised that the ministry was a glorious call and it thrilled me just to think that God may have called me, a shy youth who thought he would not amount to anything, to be a minister of the glorious gospel. I was fired by an ambition to do what I can to reflect the glory and majesty of God.
What if we preach an unprepared sermon that puts people to sleep or leaves them with no sense of the greatness of God? What if they leave a Christian meeting impressed by the lack of preparation and excellence in the programme? I think that is, in ecclesiastical life, a crime akin to what murder is in social life. It has brought dishonour to God who is great and majestic—and that is the greatest tragedy that could happen on earth. It would be better for us to die than to be responsible for doing that!
And I think death is what we may be called to endure! If we are so busy as to find little time to prepare, then we may have to lose some sleep in order to prepare a good sermon that will feed the people and bring honour to God. Doing that continuously may cause us to die ten years earlier than would be normal for us. But it would be better for us to die early having brought honour to God by our ministries than to live to a ripe old age having brought dishonour to God. The great preachers Spurgeon, Moody and Whitefield died before they were 60 years old possibly because of their strenuous ministries. But no one blames them when they realise the amazing good they did, during their lifetime.
If course, there are few things as refreshing in life than preparing for public ministry, especially when that ministry involves time spent in the Word (out of which all ministry springs). During those times with the Word, God feeds us and gives us the thrill of discovering eternal truths and their applications to daily life. As with all forms of dying in Christianity, when we “die” in order to prepare for public ministry, we end up finding new and exciting experiences of life.
Many years ago Franky Schaeffer wrote a book about Christian programming entitled Addicted To Mediocrity. I think that is a problem with many Christians today. I have been to worship services where I have seen the preacher choose his hymns five or ten minutes before the service starts! Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, how could such an abomination take place in the house of God? There is a symphony in worship that makes it flow and pulsate with energy and rhythm so that the soul’s desire to worship God is caught up in meaningful acts of worship. Can you prepare a symphony in ten minutes?
Just look at the great detail that the Old Testament goes into detailing the order of worship, the preparation for worship, the selection and training of those who take a role in the leading of worship. It goes on and on, chapter after chapter, giving details relating to worship. Why? Because worship reflects the glory of God, and therefore it must be done well. Its quality must reflect the greatness of God.
If God’s Word looks at preparation for worship as something so important, how dare we take it to be anything less than a matter of life and death? The great seventeenth century preacher Richard Baxter (1615-1691) was sickly man. He is reputed to have said, “I will preach as if I’ll never preach again: as a dying man to dying men.” And many other preachers have taken that into their lives as an important theme. Some have had those words framed and hung in the vestry of their churches. Every time we represent God in public it is a matter of life and death. We are doing a great, great work.
Just think of it: the great and glorious God has called us to represent him on earth! What an earth shattering privilege, and what an awesome responsibility! What a thrill, and what a scary task!
We must always seek to reflect his glory. But when we represent him in public this becomes all the more serious, for we stand as official representatives of the King of kings and Lord of lords before a gathering of people. May the Lord release us from our addiction to mediocrity and cause us to be ignited with a passion for his glory that causes us to prepare well whatever the cost. If we are going to preach then we must fashion our schedule in order to give us time to prepare. If, for some reason, that becomes impossible, then perhaps we will have to cut down on our sleep in order to prepare adequately to represent God well. And if we die early doing that, we would have died for a great cause!
Let me just add one more point. We must work as hard as we can. But God in his wisdom may permit something to go wrong while we are up before the public. We may make a silly mistake like a slip of the tongue which makes everyone laugh. A disturbance may make it difficult for us to be heard. Another person may make a huge mistake that reflects badly on us because we are the ones before the public. The public address system may suddenly make a huge noise. I have learned to take these as disciplines that the Lord allows us to endure.
When you strive for perfection; when you seek nothing short of the best; when you want to do a great job—the best in the world that someone with your abilities could possibly do—it is possible to let your ambitions shift into becoming ambitions to show your greatness rather than God’s. But God will not share his glory with anyone (Isa 48:11). So if he sees the danger that our striving could become selfish striving, he will discipline us with something humiliating. Then, without flying into a rage and shouting at others who may have caused the problem, we accept the rebuke saying, “Thanks, Lord, I needed that!”
If God wishes to let us make a mistake, we thank him for his wisdom. But woe to us, if we represent God as people addicted to mediocrity. Our God is too great to be thus dishonoured. It would be better for us to die than to do that.