We all get tired. Somebody once told me the crucial question for ministers was not, "Am I tired in the work?" but, "Am I tired of the work?" I have to admit there've been times when I could answer either query in the weary affirmative.
Even preaching, my first love in the ministry, the thing I truly feel called to do, I've gotten tired in and of. There have been days when I felt I could make more impact throwing beans against the wall (or at the folks in the pews!) than by preaching. There have been days when study time insidiously morphed into e-mail time and sermon preparation sailed dangerously close to sermon rehashing. Even though I try to remain fresh and engaging, the very words I'm required to use Sunday after Sunday — believe, repent, confess, even Jesus — can sometimes lose their flavor. Depending on what's going on in the church — infighting, a scandal, simple doldrums — an imp seems to hover near my eye with brush and jaundice- palette. I'm tempted to cynicism.
Been there? Because we preach as sinners to fellow sinners, we all have. Thankfully, for most of us, such times don't last. Thankfully, God's grace and power somehow waft back to our lives, lifting the sagging sails, refilling our preaching with purpose, clarity, and emotion.
It might be a vacation that does the trick or maybe a conference. The rekindling of power might come with sunshine after weeks of slate-gray skies. Or maybe it comes wrapped in some member's thoughtful, encouraging note.
Once upon a time, when my pulpit power plug hung slightly loose in its socket, a movie stuck it back in. "Don't tell me," you say. "Let me guess. It was A Man Called Peter." No. "The Apostle?" No. "Chariots of Fire, A Man For All Seasons, Demetrius and the Gladiators?" No, as a matter of fact, it wasn't even what you'd call a "religious" movie. It was Galaxy Quest.
In the film, Galaxy Quest is an old TV show featuring the gallant crew of the spaceship Protector. After the show's cancellation, its typecast stars can't find other roles. For years, they've been making a living by appearing at science-fiction conventions, charging big bucks for autographed photos. They're nervous, edgy people on the brink of despair. And then fate enters their lives in the person of aliens from a distant galaxy. Having monitored Galaxy Quest from outer space, the childlike Thermians think it's real. They come to Earth to secure the help of their heroes in their battle against an evil conqueror.
Alexander Dane, who played the noble Dr. Lazarus on Galaxy Quest, is thoroughly disgusted with the turn his life has taken. "I was an actor once," he declares once again to his long-suffering cast mates. "I played Richard the Third! Now look at me, look at me! And I won't do it — I won't say that stupid line again!" The line he finds so distasteful is, "By Grap-thar's hammer, by the sons of Wor-van, you shall be avenged!" It's the words all those chubby, pasty-faced conventioneers, got up in their cheap Galaxy Quest costumes, pant for him to say.
To his chagrin, Dane finds life imitating art aboard the Thermian-constructed Protector. A young alien named Quellek quickly attaches himself to "Dr. Lazarus" as a kind of disciple. Dane tolerates his shadow, but makes it clear he has no desire either to hear or say "that line." Eventually, however, a series of crises transform the inept play-actors into the heroes the Thermians crave. In a poignant scene, Dane cradles wounded Quellek in his arms, looks into his eyes and says, "Quellek . . . by Grap-thar's hammer, by the sons of Wor-van, you shall be . . . avenged." Dr. Lazarus' words send the dying young alien into a state of bliss, even as the stale line of dialogue becomes an old actor's purpose and passion.
Tears still come to my eyes as I watch that scene, not just because it works as drama but also because it reminds me of a vital truth. Though I grow tired and weary, though I'm sometimes tempted to think of myself as an actor mouthing words, I must remember that, to some at least, those words are the very stuff of life.
They come Sunday after Sunday with childlike faith and the deepest trust in the pulpit, not to say the preacher. The God they love, the Christ they want to hear about, is no fantasy but reality. They don't care so much who's doing the preaching as what is being preached. They love to hear the Story, the old, old Story of Jesus and His love.
Forgive me, Father, for forgetting. Thank you, Lord, for sending a science-fiction send-up into my life. It reminds me of my purpose and helps me regain my passion for preaching. Here's a new reason not only to study, pray, and prepare, but to sing as well:
I love to tell the story
for those who know it best;
seem hungering and thirsting
to hear it like the rest.
And when in shades of glory,
I sing the new, new song,
‘twill be the old, old story
that I have loved so long.