Preaching the Right Question
As a preacher, you know you are preaching from the shadows when you find yourself asking, “what do I want to say?” Because it’s not about you. And you know this. Though you sometimes forget. Even though you meet God in the midst of the spoken word. You find him there as He is found in all creation. He gifted you for this. He won’t abandon you in it. He’s right there in the middle of it all. In the prep and process and the preaching. At least he should be.
But when you ask, “what do I want to say,” he’s usually not. Not that God can’t show up in answer to that question. Not even that he won’t. Just that he usually doesn’t. Because it’s not about you. Because it’s the wrong question.
A preacher should only ask, “What does God want me to say?” And then listen. Which is hard for us, we who are built for speaking. Even harder would simply be to stay silent until God told you what to preach. I dream about that sometimes. Of having the strength and the integrity to climb the steps into the pulpit, close my notes and say quietly, “I’m sorry, but I haven’t been listening to God lately. I have no idea what He wants me preach. So I really have nothing to say.” Then sit down and let the people stew in silence until it’s time for the next scene in the worship play. Then to keep doing that, week by week, month by month, until I heard the voice of God, until He told me what to say.
I can imagine that all day long. But I can’t imagine actually doing it. Because I’m a preacher. If you’re a preacher, a good one, you are built for speaking. Maybe not one-on-one conversation. But speaking. To a crowd. Live. With your own words. That’s what you are made to do. You’re good at it. You enjoy it, love it even. The push and the pull, the give and take with the crowd, connecting with their energy, giving it back to them. This is what joy feels like.
But the joy of the moment dies with the moment’s end when it’s only your words. That joy won’t sing. Doesn’t last. The applause doesn’t count. The tears seem counterfeit. Because it’s tied up in you. And you know it’s not about you. You know it can’t be about you because you have only words to give. Your words. Not the Word.
And it’s the Word that matters. The Word gives Life and Hope and Mercy and Grace. Your words simply tickle the ears of those who hear. Those who hear the Word find deep and abundant and eternal life.
Shame on you, preacher. Shame on me. “What do I want to say?” Wrong question.
Ask the right question.
Then say it.
What does God want me to say?