I saw them from the corner of my eye, three young men waiting to have a word with me. The Sunday worship had just ended. Various other people wanted to talk to me, old friends came by to say hello. There were quite a number of people who wanted to talk to me. The three young men were some distance away. I wondered if they would wait. They did and I finally got to them. All three of them worked in the financial industry. One was a trader, one worked for a government-linked investment company, and the third was a banker. They had waited to tell me how much they had appreciated the sermon, how it had validated their daily work, and indeed how it had inspired them to continue to try to make a difference where God had put them.
I had just preached on “The Salt and Light Mandate” based on Matthew 5:13–16. A key point I had made was that Christian ministry wasn’t restricted to evangelism and church-related work. God had also called us to redeem society by seeking to bring Godly values into all of life. Therefore what we did in the marketplace was also God’s work and had as much spiritual significance as sharing the gospel and making disciples. I further added that by demonstrating the “God difference” in all of life, we helped to flesh out the reality and character of the God we were asking people to follow.
I was deeply touched that the three young men had waited to tell me what the sermon meant to them. It must have been important to them. It was definitely important to me.
Most of us who preach and teach on a regular basis do it because it is what we have been called to do. We do it in obedience to divine instructions. And like Ezekiel, we do it irrespective of whether our listeners get it or not (Ezekiel 2:1–8). But there are moments, like when the three young men gave me their feedback, that fill you with joy and reminds you why you are doing this. I have been preaching for close to three decades and I am still blown away every time the Almighty chooses to use this very earthen vessel to touch a life. It’s special. It is a privilege. It is a gift.
Here is another recent “ah-ha” moment. I had just finished teaching a course on Discipleship and Mentoring when I saw this from one of my students on a thread on Facebook:
One of many valuable learning moments in the course so far:
The most underrated skill in mentoring is LISTENING.
In today’s world every leader wants to teach, counsel and speak into another person’s life. Few leaders value listening and even fewer know how to truly listen.
But people only grow to the extent that they properly process their life events. To help them do that, you have to let them tell their story. And they will only tell you honestly if they feel you value who they are, and care enough to really listen.
Only those who are in my trade will know how special it is when someone “gets it”. It seems to make all the effort worthwhile. Fact is I am still nervous every time I stand up before a group to teach or preach. And this anxiety is doubled when it is a group that I have never spoken to before. Friends find this hard to believe but it’s true. On the whole I think this is a good thing. It keeps me trusting in Him. My usual prayer nowadays: “It’s ok Lord if I fumble and look like a fool. But please speak to Your people, touch their lives.”
“Ah ha” moments don’t come that often. I think the Lord realises that if I encounter them too often, unhealthy pride will quickly arise and poison the soul. Pride is the constant danger for all of us in public ministry. I am therefore grateful that the Lord has His ways to remind us who is the primary mover when good things happen in our preaching/teaching.
I was struggling with a very bad throat infection for most of the six evenings of my Discipleship and Mentoring course. The first two lectures were particularly bad. I was coughing a lot and had lost my voice. I was tired. This was hardly me at my best. Yet the class went well. One of those in the class wrote about his lesson on listening that was posted on Facebook. The lesson here for me — it couldn’t have been me. I was struggling to just get through the lectures. It was God. And there have been times when I thought I was on top of my game, had given a particularly good sermon or lecture, when nothing had happened. We need to do our best but it is God who works.
Knowing that the Lord is the primary mover in ministry is very freeing. It frees you to do your best because you know that it is He who is doing the heavy lifting when we preach and teach. And when good things happen, you know where to direct praise and thanksgiving. But seeing folks get their “ah ha” moments — still priceless.