I need to share with you the fourth worst thing I have ever done – at least by my own reckoning it is the fourth worst. The three worst things I have done (by my reckoning) I will keep between God and me. When I was a sophomore at OVC, I was scheduled to lead the last dorm devo of the year. We had a guy in our dorm who had started to smell funny. It wasn’t because he needed a bath, he was quite fastidious. It wasn’t that he smelled particularly bad – just funny, like a dog after a bath. Somebody told him he needed sheep dip, and we all thought that was hilarious. Someone else went to Southern States and bought him some sheep dip. Others of us used to go “bah” whenever he walked by.
So I planned a devotional around the theme of sheep – of Jesus as good shepherd, of the church as the flock. We sang “Fear Not Little Flock,” “The Lord My Shepherd Is,” and “The Ninety and Nine.” Everyone had a high old time. This was the fourth worst thing I have ever done. It was disrespectful to the Word, blasphemous toward God, and hateful to the brunt of our joke – and it gives you a notion of how bad the other three are.
Shortly after the farcical devotional ended a fellow-student came to me, fighting back tears, and asking for prayers. The Devotional had really touched his heart, he needed to repent, and wanted me to pray with him. I have done worse things, but have never been more ashamed. The moment was about him, though, and so I did pray with him – sincerely and earnestly – all the while knowing I did not deserve to be heard. I don’t know I am a much better man now, but I have never intentionally disrespected the Word since.
I learned something important about the Word that evening – something I will always remember. The Word accomplishes its own work. I had made a joke of it, but it is stronger than any mockery we can level. The light shone through despite me. The Word has its own work. It is living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword, able to divide bone from marrow, and discern between soul and spirit (Hebrews 4.12).
It would be years, though, before I would learn not to interfere with the Word’s own work. As long as I have been preaching folks have come to me, telling me how the sermon spoke directly to them – only to mention a point I had not made at all. I found this very discouraging. Sometimes I blamed my listeners for doing a poor job of listening. Most often I blamed myself for being a poor communicator. Only later, only gradually did I realize that this was just the Word having its own work.
The Word is alive and active. I believe this. Thus I must believe that it has power beyond my feeble attempts at communication. If this is true then someone receiving a comfort or insight from a sermon which I really didn’t intend to give is evidence that the Word is at work. Thus, my job is to present the word simply - without pontificating or persiflage. When the word is shared thus, it will have effects a preacher never imagines. I now believe these unintended consequences are evidence I have done my job.
There is an old preacher’s illustration comparing a stained glass window to an open one. A stained glass window may be breathtakingly beautiful, but an open window lets in the pure light of the sun. We think we have to string together humorous and heartwarming anecdotes on the way to sharing 10 Points to a Better You. That may be entertaining, even inspiring – but it’s all just stained glass. Anyone who stands before the gathered family of God has one task – to open the window and let pure light stream in. When that happens there will be all sorts of unintended and unimagined consequences – at least from our perspective. But God will see things proceeding just as He intends.