file0001495650393All of us who preach on a regular basis have experienced this:

There are times when a sermon you preach is just perfect. You were calm and focused. You did everything you were taught in homiletics class, good eye contact, appropriate hand movements, etc. The transitions were clear. People laughed at the jokes. The biblical insights were brilliant. And nothing happens. The sermon falls flat. The sermon is stillborn.

Then there are those occasions when the sermon is a disaster. Nothing goes right either in preparation or in delivery. The week was full of pastoral and/or personal emergencies. You hardly had time to do sermon preparation. Or you were down with a bad cold and couldn’t concentrate on your preparation. And when you go up to the pulpit your head is still heavy and you can hardly speak. But after you preach a revival breaks out.

All of us who preach on a regular basis have experienced the above and we also know why. Once in awhile the Lord has to remind us who is the main mover in the sermon. Once in awhile we have to be reminded that no matter how much we huff and we puff, it is all for naught unless the Lord speaks (Psalm 127:1). We are so prone to pride that periodically the Lord has to remind us that:

Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:7 HCSB)

A gracious God chooses to work through fallible human agents. It is a true partnership. We who minister for the Lord are not puppets or robots. Our contribution counts. Preachers need to work hard at their craft. But it is also imperative that we do not forget who is the senior partner in this enterprise. If we forget we will fall to the sin of pride. High profile public ministry is particularly dangerous to the soul. It leads more easily to pride when compared to more “hidden” ministries. Truly, “Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18 HCSB).

A brother told me recently that one of the reasons he was leaving a ministry was that he had achieved many years of success in that ministry. He was now highly respected and much sought after. He decided that the situation was now dangerous for his soul and that was one of the reasons he was now choosing to leave that ministry. I pray that more of us would have his wisdom and courage.

Two Sundays ago I had the privilege of preaching in my own church community. After the service I asked Bernice how the sermon went. She hesitated before answering, never a good sign. She said: “I know you are tired which is why you repeated yourself many times during the sermon.” She said that my points were good but that she was afraid that my constant repetitions would turn people off and that they would tune out. My response: “Augh!” I pride myself at being a good preacher. I want all my sermons to be homiletic gems that engage both heart and mind, sermons that transform lives. It was time to remember again who was the senior partner in preaching.

Interestingly, the passage I was preaching on that morning was 2 Corinthians 12:11-21. One of the things Paul had to do there was to defend his apostolic credentials. One of the “signs of an apostle” was the ability to perform signs, wonders and miracles. And Paul had done all that, but note the way he reports this:

I have become a fool; you forced it on me. I should have been endorsed by you, since I am not in any way inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. The signs of an apostle were performed with great endurance among you — not only signs but also wonders and miracles. ( 2 Corinthians 12:11-12 HCSB)

Note that Paul does not say “I performed signs, wonders and miracles.” He phrases the report in the passive — “The signs of an apostle were performed . . .” Paul is utterly clear that it was God who performed the miracles, not him. Paul may be a co-labourer (1 Corinthians 3:9) with the Lord but he never forgot who was the senior partner. And neither should we.

On the Monday after I preached my “broken record” sermon, I received this SMS.

“Didn’t have a chance to thank you for a most relevant sermon. Spoke to me la.”

Jars of clay. Treasures in jars of clay. All glory to Him.