Eric Liddell (1902–1945), the Scottish athlete, rugby union international player, and missionary, was reported to have said: “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” I feel the same way when I preach. (When I run I get cramps.) Most Sundays I am preaching in my own church community or in churches that have invited me to preach. For the longest time, on the Sunday closest to Lunar New Year, I will be preaching in Georgetown Baptist Church (GBC), Penang, the church where I grew up and which I had the privilege to pastor for four years. My friends there knew I would be home for Lunar New Year and some of the pastoral staff would be on holiday around that time so this was a great arrangement. This was the practice for many years. Every Lunar New Year, I looked forward to preaching in my home church in Penang.
A few years ago, the church leadership decided to stop this practice. Among the reasons given was the fact that I was on holiday and should be free of work responsibilities, and the fact that they shouldn’t take advantage of the fact that I was always home at that time and willing to preach. (I could come preach at other times but not on Sundays near the Lunar New Year.) I was disappointed. I hinted that it was no trouble at all. But the church leaders held firm. No more preaching during the Lunar New Year.
So this last Sunday I was at GBC, worshipping. I look forward to worshipping at GBC. There is a healthy combination of Word and Spirit that I have yet to find elsewhere. One of their own pastors gave an excellent sermon. As we worshipped I had a divine ah-ha moment. When I preach at a service, I feel that I am a dispenser of grace. When I am in the congregation worshipping I know that I am someone who needs grace. I consciously present my preaching to the Lord as an act of worship and I know I need His grace in my life and surely in my preaching. I have been around long enough to know that if the Lord doesn’t speak, no amount of preaching experience and gifting will cut it. Yet you understand your need for grace as a member of the worshipping congregation in ways that is hard to experience when you are behind the pulpit speaking for God (1 Peter 4:11).
This is an occupational hazard for all of us who preach and teach the Word on a regular basis. I believe this is a danger that is also shared by others who minister from the platform. I shared my insight with the worship leader after the service and he said that this was also a danger for worship leaders and others in the worship team. So I am grateful to the GBC leaders for not allowing me to preach on Lunar New Year Sundays. It revealed to me afresh my addiction to preaching and how ministry itself can become an idol. Incidentally that was one of the points the speaker made last Sunday.
This year I reach a milestone of sorts. I will be 60. It is a good time to evaluate afresh the various dimensions of my life. I suspect that I may have to preach less and spend more time being reminded of my need for grace, to be reminded more frequently that I am not just a dispenser of grace, I am also a recipient of grace, and to know this in my heart and not just in my head. I need to relearn again that God is more interested in my holiness and my wholeness than in my effectiveness. In the words of that old spiritual:
It’s me, it’s me, O Lord,
Standin’ in the need of prayer;
It’s me, it’s me, O Lord,
Standin’ in the need of prayer.