Q. Will we pray ourselves into a glad submission to God?
A. Our preaching will never satisfy us. It isn’t meant to. Let’s give our hearts to God.
Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.
1 Chronicles 29:11
When we close the Lord’s Prayer, we give honor to God, recognizing his kingdom, power, and glory. We do that, but the best Greek manuscripts that make up our Bibles don’t actually contain the familiar ending of the prayer. There is no harm in praying that way, of course. That is essentially the same declaration as Psalm 103:19 and 1 Chronicles 29:11, that God really is the King enthroned in glory and might. He is the great reality for all of our praying, as well as our preaching. We must learn to declare to heaven that we submit our hearts to God’s greatness in Jesus. We must learn to declare the same to our hearts. When our hearts bow joyfully to the King, then, and only then, will our preaching have any integrity and impact.
He’s beautiful. Every page of Scripture tells us of a God who is holy and righteous. Ever page of gospel promise urges us to believe that this holy, righteous God gives himself entirely to us in the offer of the gospel. “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Ezek. 37:27) is the language of encounter, of love, and of experience, if it is anything. God loves us with a holy love. He wants us to know his love and to respond with the same to him.
Sometimes we preachers miss this. We lose hold of this love, the burning center of our commission to preach. And when we do, a tragedy starts to play out in our hearts. The tragedy is that we see God as a Master only. He is the Boss, while we are busily engaged (and often exhausted) in his work. We lose sight of the liberating truth that he is also lover, friend, encourager, comforter. This Master calls us to know him, and to share not just the work of the gospel but also the rest and the fellowship the gospel opens to us. What could be more tragic in the preacher’s life but that he would wear himself away to skin and bone, starving himself of the very grace he seeks to proclaim to others?
Love only the work, and the work will crush us. Of course it will; the needs of a struggling church and a broken world are completely overwhelming. And while we effectively forget who God is in his gospel love, we will think that he achieves some satisfaction (some glory, even) in our being overworked and beaten down. But our fretful Saturdays, overwhelming Sundays, and washed-out Mondays might be less a symptom of zealous gospel faith and labor, and more a sign that we are anxiously slaving for God and man with little confidence and pleasure in God’s sheer goodness.
We are wrong, dangerously wrong. He is not that sort of God. Ministry is not that sort of work. Preaching is the declaration of the God we know. Preaching is one broken sinner saying to others with exactly the same struggles, “This is the grace I’m discovering, which I long for you to know with me.” And if the preacher and his preaching are captivated by this grace, then the life of the preacher will be one of humble, praise-filled joy.
What our people need most is our contentment. Listeners need to know that the preacher is contented in his God and rejoicing in his Savior. When our lives as preachers are filled with a sense of amazement about the grace that is ours in Christ, others start asking questions about that grace and seeking it for themselves. We may speak many words about God; but if our hearts are cold, how is the church to know if we believe our own words or not? The church needs to know that her teachers are men of praise and thanksgiving. Our own personal contentment in God’s grace declares the power of the gospel to the church as well as the world, and shows the integrity of our hearts to God. God is looking for those who worship him in Spirit and in truth. Does he have such a worshiper in you?
Be careful of this word “contentment.” It might sound to us like just a quiet little experience, self-contained and tucked in the corner, like a nervous Brit transplanted into a noisy American Fourth of July celebration. While contentment is often quiet, it also has a surprisingly loud voice, and it’s the voice of praise. You can see and you can hear when people are contented. The church can see and hear when those in the pulpit are delighting in Christ and satisfied in him. True contentment is as powerful as it is visible.
One day we will open our mouths to God in the presence of his glory. Will we argue, complain, rage, or question? Of course not. We will confess that he is the Lord, and we will bow down in worship. Our eyes will see him. We will be satisfied, and delighted, as we lay ourselves before him and hear his voice.
Heaven is the home of all our lasting happiness.
And so we dare to pursue contentment in God. We dare believe that there is such a place of settled joy and peace in Jesus. We really can make him our treasure when life and ministry are painful, as much as when they are exciting. We can, and we must. To him be the glory, forever.
Content taken from The Preacher’s Catechism by Lewis Allen, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.