The preaching life is a life of temptations and dangers, not the least of which is the temptation to think you’re more important than you really are. None of us is irreplaceable. It’s the message that’s essential, not the messenger. As long as the preacher remains a servant of the Word of God, he’ll be blessed. If, however, his ministry becomes a vehicle for his own self-aggrandizement, he’s got a big problem.
That’s why the preacher needs to remember another preacher (and sometime jailbird) named Paul. As we conclude the letter to the Ephesians, we take one last look at its writer. He’s not tapping out a sermon on Microsoft Word, a cup of good coffee within reach. He’s chained to a Roman guard, a prisoner of the state. Yet Paul is free. They may have chained his wrist, but they haven’t taped his mouth shut. All he wants to do is speak a message clear and bold. He doesn’t ask the people to pray for his release. He doesn’t ask them to pray he’d be treated well. He only asks that they ask God to let him preach Jesus.
Please pray for the Preacher. He has a charge to keep. He has an assignment. His task is not to entertain. It is not to dazzle, wow, and otherwise electrify a crowd. He is not charged to display his cleverness nor his profound knowledge. His assignment is to speak a word from God. He is to do what Paul and every preacher who has made a difference in people’s lives has done: tell, warn, and encourage with clarity, simplicity, and sincerity.
The simplest job description I can give for the preacher is this: He’s a sign. What do signs do? They inform, of course: SPEED LIMIT 55. They warn: HIGH VOLTAGE-KEEP OFF. They also cheer and relieve. Whose heart hasn’t leapt at the mere sight of RESTROOMS?
What don’t signs do? Imagine you’re driving along and you see this: SPEED LIMIT 55-AND DID YOU HEAR THE ONE ABOUT THE MAN WHO WAS FOLLOWING A TRUCKLOAD OF PIGS . . . You’d be doing 55 all right-across the yellow line and smack into an oncoming truck! Signs don’t decorate important messages.
So, why should I tell jokes or stories? Hopefully, they’ll serve to illustrate. They’re like raisins in your oatmeal. The raisins make it tastier, but it’s the oatmeal that has the vitamins. Pray that, if the preacher tells stories, uses illustrations, that they make his message more understandable. It’s the message that has the vitamins. It’s the message that’s important. Pray, then, that the preacher would be clear.
Pray, too, that he would be bold. Paul awaited an audience with Caesar, who held Paul’s life in his hands. I wonder if Paul was afraid. I wonder if Paul was tempted to compromise a bit, highlight the fact that he was guilty of no crime and downplay this strange message he’d proclaimed. What if he were to tell Caesar that Jesus, and not Caesar, was Lord? What if he were to point out the sins and shortcomings of the emperor, the need for repentance. Such talk might tend to have a rather negative effect on the judge’s judgment!