Word Magazine September 1961 Page 7-8
WHEN THE PREACHER LOSES GOD
By Howard W. King
An Invitation to Soul-Searching
To mediate God to folk is the lofty privilege of the minister of Christ. It is a challenging and rewarding service, and to perform it the preacher keeps in touch with God and men.
Peter Ainslie, who served one church in Baltimore for more than forty years, wrote in Working with God, “As the physician goes on his rounds, believing that he has the cure for most of the ills of the human body, I go on my rounds with no less confidence, believing that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the one cure for all the ills of the soul, . . . and bearing to all the consciousness of God.”
The preacher is deeply interested in guiding men, women and youth into the knowledge of God; but there are times when it seems that God fades out of our consciousness. We may become less and less aware of His infinite nearness. We may not even realize that the glory of the Lord has departed from us. If we lose God, how can we help others to find Him?
In That the Ministry Be Not Blamed, John A. Hutton declared, “The whole Bible is the record of man’s agony to find God, and having found Him, not to lose Him.” Since there is the possibility of losing Him, what are some of the experiences that indicate such loss is imminent?
WE MAY LOSE GOD WHEN WE ARE OBSESSED WITH OUR BUSYNESS. The preacher is so busy responding to the ever increasing calls for his help that he may be uncertain as to what he shall put first on his schedule, and what he shall leave undone until another day. But every day becomes hectic, and it seems that he is never able to do many things he had planned to do.
We may neglect thorough systematic study of the Bible. We may postpone a course of reading which we had hoped to pursue. We may fail to take the necessary time for private devotions; or, we may hurry through them and thus rob them of their potential salutary effect on our ministry as a whole. The preacher must decide what are the most urgent matters to which he will give himself.
Thomas Chalmers, the noted Scotch theologian, believed that most failures in the ministry are due, not to lack of study or visiting or church activities, but to lack of prayer.
What James S. Stewart suggested in Heralds of God is a wise and profitable procedure, namely, “. . . whether your congregation be large or small a great part of your task on its behalf lies in the realm of intercession . . . I mean praying for every family, each separate soul, by name.” He advocated praying for about three families a day. Visualize their circumstances, think of their work, difficulties, temptations. This consumes time, but the effect on the people and the minister himself would be most helpful.
Are we too busy to think about the members of our flock daily, and to pray for them according to their several needs?
WE MAY LOSE GOD WHEN WE ARE OBSESSED WITH BEING A VIP. The preacher’s self-importance seems justified by his busyness. Why is he so popular? Why are his services sought by so many? Why is so much praise lavished upon him? The inference is that he is a very important person. But the preacher’s seeming greatness may dim his vision of God and dull his sensitiveness to God’s presence. As Stewart affirmed, “Nowhere surely are pride and self-importance more incongruous and unpardonable than in the servant of the cross.”
The humble man thanks God that he is being used to help others, and thinks of himself as Roy Pearson put it in The Ministry of Preaching, “He is more interested in becoming an instrument than an idol. He is more eager to be used to the glory of God than to use the glory of God as the means of his own adulation.”
WE MAY LOSE GOD WHEN WE ARE OBSESSED WITH THE PRAISE OF MEN. An overweening desire for complimentary remarks indicates that we may love the praise of men more than the praise of God. We may be more interested in expressions of commendation from the hearers than in discerning the manifestation of God’s power, and thinking, “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”
Inordinate desire for praise makes manifest that the preacher thinks more highly of himself than he ought to think. He may forget God’s part in the work of preaching and magnify himself instead of the Lord.
David Smith has reminded us in The Art of Preaching that the Greek rhetoricians were so desirous of praise that they would ask for it after the deliverance of their orations, saying, “What was your opinion of me?” Another would boast that his audience was becoming larger. A friend would agree, stating that there were about five hundred the last time. Whereupon the man would counter that there were at least a thousand.
Christian preachers of that era imitated the Greek rhetoricians, even going beyond them in their eagerness for praise. Chrysostom stated that if they won the praise of the assemblage they were as happy as if they had gotten a kingdom; but if their discourse ended in silence their despondency was unbearable. Some went so far as to have hirelings in the audience to begin the applause!
To us this seems disgusting, profane. Yet it may be that we are often “greedy of popularity” without making it so plain to others.
The words of Wilfred T. Grenfell in his little book, What Life Means to Me, set forth the ideal toward which we might strive, “Amidst such shifting scenes the highest reward of life to me would be to be like Jesus.”
WE MAY LOSE GOD WHEN WE ARE OBSESSED WITH SERMON MAKING. It is possible that we may be so fascinated with the task of preparing sermons that they become an end instead of a means to an end. We may overlook the fact that we are only instruments in the hands of God. “We are laborers together with God.”
It is profoundly significant that many of those who have written books on the sublime but difficult art of preaching have stressed the supreme importance of nourishing the preacher’s inner life.
“I have seen so many men lose God in sermon making, as the scientist loses Him in his search of nature,” avowed Ainslie, “that from my earliest preaching I have sought to guard myself and made preparing my heart more important than preparing my mind.”
James Black advised in The Mystery of Preaching, “Preach what you believe. It is the one type of preaching . . . with magic in it . . . Only what is real to you can be real to anybody else. The one sure note of power is sincerity . . . Without the grace of God and a passion for others, the most finished discourse is a tinkling cymbal!”
“The minister’s own religious experience is the incomparable source of preaching” averred Halford E. Luccock in In the Minister’s Workshop. “The minister’s first equipment for preaching, beside which all else is trivial, is replenished resources in his own life, and fresh first-hand experience of the riches of the grace of God.”
When we are burdened with busyness and fail to renew our spiritual resources, we are losing God. When we are afflicted with a serious case of “swellheadedness,” thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think, we are losing God. When we are so enamored of praise that we long for it as a hungry man longs for food, we are losing God. When the thrill of sermon making supplants the joy of fellowship with the Eternal, we are losing God.
But we can find Him again if we heed the voice of the Lord, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me,” the yoke of humility, the yoke of obedience, the yoke of self-denial.
The self protrudes so persistently that the view of the Son of God is obstructed. We should get out of the way and let the people see the Christ.