A team of servants from my church recently spent a week serving in Honduras with our sister church in Pena Blanca. In the mornings, we conducted Vacation Bible School for children in the Compassion International ministry. In the evenings, the pastor of my church and I traded off preaching to the congregation and conducting leadership training for the church’s ministry leaders.
I am no novice at international ministry. This trip is my seventh on 4 different continents. Over the years, I have spoken before thousands of people, but there was one element about this trip that set it apart from any other engagement – I was speaking through an interpreter. For some reason, the thought of this was really getting in my head. All day long I found myself obsessing with my delivery, about whether I would be able to relate well in Honduran culture, whether or not I would be able to get into a “flow” through interpreter. By the time the evening arrived, I was pretty nervous about the whole deal. This was out of character for me.
My gift is teaching and I have been told that I am a very good communicator. When I was in seminary, one of my preaching professors made an assessment of my preaching that both challenged and changed me. He said, “Jason I have good news and the bad news for you. The good news is that you are the most naturally gifted preacher I have ever had in class. The bad news is that you are the most naturally gifted preacher I have ever had in class. The danger for you will be to relax and begin to rely on the gift rather than the Giver.” That valuable advice has rung true in my ears and heart ever since. It forever changed the way that I prepared my messages – I write out a complete manuscript to ensure I have thought through the sermon and am not just “winging it.”
But on this night, nothing was reducing my increasing anxiety level. That was until I began to write this journal entry. After only a few sentences, God began to speak to me asking the oh-so-convicting question, “Just on whom are you depending? Have you begun to trust so heavily on your gift to communicate that you have written me out of the script?” This was a wake up call for me! It was as if I had been saying to God, “I’ve got this” to which God was replying, “Really?” He was not finished.
That evening, our team gathered at church along with a few church members. Prior to service, I knelt at the altar in prayer, confessing to God my sinful self-reliance and rededicating myself to dependence on Him. Meanwhile, a fierce tropical storm had picked up and we had become engulfed in a torrential downpour. Then we lost electricity and was plunged into deep darkness. In the midst of my prayer, I began to laugh with God at His sense of humor. It seemed as if God was saying, “If your concern is about who will see you and what you will say, I can take care of that for you.” Because they all walk to church, the storm kept the vast majority of the congregation away from service. The pounding rain on the corrugated steel roof was so loud that no one would have been able to hear a word I said anyway without the sound system which, of course, was dead with no electricity. God fixed it so that the only power in the room was supplied by Him!
We ended up having service by candlelight and experience a powerful, powerful time of praise and worship. I preached with a confidence, born not of my personal ability, but fueled by a renewed dependence upon the One who has both privileged and gifted me to be His herald and communicator of His good news.
But this experience, as freeing as it was, also revealed to me what I suspect to be an unfortunately common dark side of those called to communicate God’s word. At the beginning of our ministries, the awareness that:
… the ink was still wet on our covenant with God,
… like gangly teens we were still trying to grow into our newfound spiritual bodies,
… the fear of looking foolish before an expectant congregation humbled us,
… our license to preach was still only a short distance away from our learner’s permit
drove us to our knees in prayerful dependence on God.
But is that still true of you today?
- Do you still approach the pulpit with the reverent awe of standing on holy ground?
- Do you approach your shepherding responsibilities like young Moses who arrogantly thought his position and abilities entitled and empowered him to fulfill his calling?
- Are you more likely to plan and program than you are to pause and pray?
- Have you slipped into in a comfortable sense of self-reliance?
I challenge you to examine yourself. I know I’ve had to do so.