As a young preacher, I used to think I would have one great sermon. You probably had the same dream. I would write my own “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” and whenever I would preach that sermon, the world would break out in mourning and repentance. Another Great Awakening would come to our nation, and historians would point to that sermon as the beginning of it all.
That was a long time ago, and I’ve preached a lot of sermons since then. Some of my sermons have been pretty good and others…well, others still need a lot of work. As everyone knows, however, there’s been no new Great Awakening in our nation. It goes without saying then: I haven’t yet preached the sermon to bring that awakening.
When you think about it, it’s easy to despair. Maybe our preaching doesn’t make a difference. Maybe after all these years, we’re just not good preachers. These thoughts come to us—all of us. It’s enough to make us think about doing something else with our lives.
Then I thought about the Grand Canyon. Once you’ve seen the Grand Canyon, you never forget it. Seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time is spectacular. The canyon is 277 miles long, more than 18 miles wide in places and more than a mile deep. Now, here’s what I want you to remember. The Grand Canyon didn’t start out grand at all. In fact, it wasn’t a canyon. It was a ditch. In time, water and wind were funneled through the smallest indentations in the earth to carve a larger and larger hole that became the Grand Canyon.
What does that have to do with preaching? Everything, and here’s why. Let’s face it: Most of us aren’t great preachers. We’re pretty good, but not great. There are only a handful of great preachers. Most of us confuse popular preaching and great preaching. They aren’t the same, but that’s another article; so let me get back to the point. Most of us are pretty good. We can study the passage, find the sermon, and deliver it in a reasonably good manner. In general, people come back to hear us the next week. We’ll preach another sermon and another one after that.
Like water carving out the Grand Canyon, we do our work through weeks, months and years. Our success isn’t found in one great sermon, but hundreds of pretty good ones. Slowly, almost imperceptibly to eyes that haven’t been trained to watch for the work of grace, lives are changed. A child who has grown up under your preaching remembers something you said and finds the courage to make the right choice. A husband and wife talk about your sermon on marriage and begin a conversation about how they want things to be different. A man who attends often, but whose name you can’t remember, invites a lost friend to church. Why? One of your sermons helped him.
In the climactic scene of
This is why we don’t lose heart. This is why we don’t give up. Carving the Grand Canyon took a long time. Carving channels in the lives of our members takes a long time, as well, a little bit this Sunday and a little more next Sunday. Some days, the river breaks through and grace flows to the barren wastelands of our lives.
No, this week’s sermon isn’t great, but it’s pretty good. It’s good enough to cut the channel a little deeper so the river can flow. We’ll be back next Sunday and the Sunday after that, patiently digging the channels a little deeper until nothing holds back the river that flows from the throne of God.