Yesterday I received a timely and powerful reminder of just who is in charge.
After a very long and, frankly, difficult week I preached from Daniel 2 at our two morning services. Although I had prayed quite a bit over the preparation I think the sermon was, well, not my best. And my delivery was weak. I felt it. I was tongue-tied and stumbling, not especially persuasive and definitely not eloquent. Afterwards the first one I wanted to slink into the associate pastor's office and hide.
Yesterday it was abundantly obvious afterwards that a large number of people at church thought that it was the most powerful sermon they have heard me preach in 15 years. God was doing serious business with them. Even as I was hiding in the office one of our other leaders came to me to encourage me with the spiritual conversations that he had been having with people in the coffee bar. Praise God!
What am I to make of this? I think probably it was simply 1 Corinthians 2. Paul says "I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God...I came to you in weakness and fear and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on man's wisdom but on God's power."
That ought to bring me - and any preacher who prepares words carefully to persuade - up very sharp. It did yesterday. The effectiveness of the message was patently outside of my control. It showed me that while I can teach and preach, I cannot produce the necessary outcome in people's hearts by my words. Where it leaves me is thinking that in my sermon prep my praying and pleading with God for mercy is more spiritually significant than my crafting. And in the preaching training that I deliver I want to help preachers think about how to cast themselves on the Lord more than about the technicalities of communication. Because he is the one who does it, not our technical communication skills.
Note well - faith rests on God's power, not man's wisdom. Persuasive words that are not attended by the power of the Holy Spirit are not good biblical preaching.