Did you hear about the preacher who, mounting the pulpit, declared, “I have here the most amazing sermon on being humble that has ever been prepared and, frankly, I am not sure that you are worthy to hear it!”
“They that know God will be humble,” John Flavel has said, “and they that know themselves cannot be proud.”
It is hard for me to imagine how some things fit together. For one thing, how does sovereign grace dovetail into freedom to choose? I wish I knew. All I do know is that I believe that somewhere in the mind of God, they fit together perfectly. Here is another thing I cannot figure: How can we be at the same time pulpit confident and humble? You and I know that it takes a
certain amount of confidence to be a preacher and stand before an audience and speak for Almighty God. Anybody who says differently is worth watching. The Scriptures have something to say about this: “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2, ESV).
Talk about a fascinating passage! Do you want to be a powerful preacher? Let the fact that God loves you despite your murky past be the source of your pulpit confidence. If He can use people like us, He can use anybody. In that lies the connection between pulpit confidence and personal humility.
Only as God’s indescribable love and the indispensable virtue of personal humility come together can we become true ambassadors for God. ‘”Let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 9:24, NIV).
It used to be that I did not like the story about the young seminarian who was excited about preaching his first sermon in his home church. After nearly three years in seminary, he felt adequately prepared;, and after he was introduced to the congregation, he walked boldly to the pulpit, his head high, radiating self-confidence. He started out well, his voice crisp and clear. Alas, he stumbled before he completed reading the Scriptures. Later, as he expounded the Word, he lost his train of thought. In near panic, he did the safest thing he could do under the circumstances: He found an early stopping place and ended his message with a prayer. He walked dejectedly from the pulpit, his head down, his self-confidence gone. Later, according to the story as I first heard it, a godly saint whispered to him, “Had you gone up to the pulpit the way you came down, you might have come down the way you went up.” One day it suddenly dawned on me why I did not care for that story: it was because I was that young preacher, and the old saint was right. God still resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.
“Let it be your ambition,” Spurgeon told his students, “so to declare God’s word that the people will not say, ‘What a marvelous preacher,’ but ‘Oh how marvelous is his Christ!’” A sainted preacher completed a worldwide preaching tour. Wherever he went, crowds gathered and honors were bestowed on him. Someone remarked, “You must be thrilled to be accorded such honor.” His answer is well worth remembering. He said, “One Sunday a donkey traveled into Jerusalem, and they threw rich garments beneath his feet. He knew full well, however, that none of it belonged to him. It all was for the One who rode on his back.” Lord, help us all to remember that when they cast compliments before us at the church door! It is not so much that we are good but that God’s grace makes us look good for the moment.
The preacher who is not humbled in God’s presence will never be a true mouthpiece for the Savior. That preacher may keep all the great rules of oratory and practice the homiletical disciplines yet never be the preacher God wants. It is true of the pulpit as it is in all of life: The way up is down, and the way down is up. Don’t ever forget that, for God is looking every time we enter our pulpits: “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” His indescribable love fuels our indispensable virtue of humility.


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