Last Sunday I had the privilege of preaching via zoom to Sungai Way-Subang Methodist Church in Petaling Jaya. At the end of the sermon I had the chance to chat with a few folks online. One brother shared that in 1998 he was in a seminar I conducted in the church. It was on the preparation and delivery of talks/sermons. He said he never forgot what I had emphasised at the end of the seminar — that the most important thing to bear in mind in preaching/speaking is that we must do it as an expression of our love for God and neighbour.
I recall doing the seminar. It was a very difficult time in my life and I appreciated that my friend Seng Gee had gotten me this gig. But I can’t recall any details of that afternoon and I surely don’t remember emphasising love for God and neighbour at the end of the seminar. But I could have. I was probably concerned that folks didn’t become so focused on the techniques of sermon preparation and delivery that they forgot why they were putting in all the work. I will surely emphasise this if I were teaching a course on homiletics today.
We live in a world so enamoured with technology and technique that a lot of our attention is focused on mastering the latest techniques and technology for our work. As responsible ministers of the Word we should know the latest aids in doing our work. The fact I teach preaching and teaching should tell you that I want to help people know all the necessary tools for their work. I know I am a Luddite who is only now beginning to see the light, but I am concerned that we don’t become so focused on the how and forget the why.
I try to apply the twin-love principle in my own life. Whenever I have to preach/teach, I pray that the Lord will help me do it as an act of worship unto Him. Preaching is not about me: Will I look good? Will it enhance my image and reputation or will I make a fool of myself? Lord use the talk for your purposes and glory. Even if it means I end up looking like a fool. (Remember Ezekiel having to lie on one side for 390 days in Ezekiel 4.) As long as your Name is glorified and your purposes fulfilled. This is not an easy prayer. It means taking up my cross each time I preach.
Then I pray that the Lord will fill my heart with love for those who will be hearing the sermon. I am here for them. They are not there for me. I pray that God will cleanse His unworthy vessel and see fit to use him to be His spokesman. I pray that when the people hear the Word they will encounter the Living God in a life-giving way. Yes, the foundational reality of preaching is that it must be an expression of love for God and people.
There is also the truth that when we preach/teach we don’t really know how we did. People may or may not like the sermon, but we really do not know what happens in the hearts of the listeners. Every sermon is an exercise of faith. When we preach we are sowing, but finally it is God who gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6). I suspect I will know the real impact of the many sermons and talks I have given only when I meet the Master. But, once in a while, you get some encouragement this side of heaven. Like someone remembering and being impacted by something you said in 1998.