The Sermon Must Suffer!

Martin Luther once said, ‘Prayer, meditation and temptation make a preacher.’ We have little difficulty with prayer and meditation but the ‘temptation’ part we’d rather escape.

One reason why God allows preachers to suffer is that they might have the opportunity to grow spiritually and therefore to preach better. Even Jesus had to go through suffering to prepare him for his heavenly ministry (Heb 2:14-18), so why should we escape?

For a sermon to be good, the sermoniser must suffer. I wish there was some other way but apparently there isn’t. Trust me, I’ve been looking and I haven’t found one yet.

James 1:2-4 ‘Count it all joy brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.’

Jame’s wisdom is paradoxical and yet profound. I’ve been a first hand witness to this promise of this verse being played out in my own life and ministry and I’m expectant of the fruit to come as a result of the testing of my faith in God.

The true preacher is known as one whom deals out to the people his life passed through the fire of thought. Phillips Brookes once said, ‘Truth through personality is our description of real preaching.’ If the truth of the word bypasses the personality of the preacher, then the sermon may become a lecture, and the preacher may become a hypocrite. If the text isn’t real to you, then you will find it hard to make it real to anyone else.

For the text to become real to you and others it must pass through the fire of a test. Don’t run from your test. Run to it, see it for what it is and embrace the spiritual growth that God wants to squeeze out of it, into you.

The Oracle!

The Goal of Ministry!

Over a decade ago I began the journey of full-time ministry, failing to realise that as a follower of Christ, I was already in full-time ministry. Every single Christian is called to Ministry (Eph 4:11-16), every single Christian is gifted for ministry (1 Cor 12:7) and every single Christian can find enjoyment in their ministry (Ecc 2:24). However, unless you understand the goal and purpose of your ministry, you will never fulfill the point of it.

Colossians 1:24-29 is a key passage that points us to the goal of our ministry. Some of the key themes found within it are:

  1. God uses suffering as a means to advance the goal of ministry (v24)
  2. God’s called you to be a steward of the ministry he’s entrusted to you (v25)
  3. The mystery is fulfilled in Jesus Christ in us, the hope of glory (v26-27)
Paul brings us to verse 28 which is the crescendo of the text and outlines to us the GOAL of Ministry:
“Him, we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone, with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”
The GOAL of ministry is to present everyone mature in Christ. In between justification and glorification, there is this precious labor of love called sanctification. Some pastors and believers are only focused on the justification of the saints or even the glorification of the saints but Paul says, the goal of ministry is presenting everyone mature in Christ. This is discipleship 101.
The problem with some of our current approach to ministry is that we feel so overwhelmed by secularism, that we want to make Jesus look so cool, so badly and be liked by everyone that instead of aiming our ministry at presenting everyone mature in Christ, we get distracted by party tricks to get people in the door and once we get them in the door, we have no idea what we’re going to do with them.
If the goal of ministry is attracting a crowd only and getting a temporary bunch of decisions, then party tricks will work in the short-term but Jesus didn’t say GO and make converts, he said, GO and make disciples… this is the process of maturation in Christ and where there is no maturing in Christ, something is wrong in our approach to ministry.
Paul outlines to us how we are to go about the GOAL of presenting everyone mature in Christ: There are 3 key actions emphasized in this passage:
  1. Our ministry must be Christ-centered – It’s Jesus we proclaim because Jesus is the hero of the story from Genesis to Revelation.
  2. Our ministry must warn people of the consequences of sin – Romans 6:23 reminds us that the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. If our ministry removes the doctrine of sin then what need has anyone to be saved.
  3. Our ministry must teach people to grow in Christ – We must be an example in our teaching and lifestyle of the re-prioritizing of kingdom values instead of worldly values.
I encourage you to not serve up a diet of candy, pizza, coke and cheeseburgers to attract a listening. This won’t truly serve them but instead nourish people’s souls with what will produce the full measure and stature of Christ in their lives.
Grace! 

Joy of Suffering

2 Corinthians 1:8-9 “We do not want you to be ignorant brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. for we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”

One of the key questions I get asked as a pastor is, “Why does a loving God allow suffering?”

Well, the bible teaches us in Genesis 3 that suffering is a result of sin entering into the human heart due to our own rebellion against God. To be alive after Genesis 3 means you and I will suffer in some way. It’s not a question of “IF” but “WHEN”.

Jesus confirmed this when he said in John 16:33, “In this world you will have tribulation but take heart I have overcome the world.” This doesn’t mean that you and I will escape suffering but that we will in fact have Gods grace in the midst of the suffering we endure. Suffering won’t be avoided because you have a lot of faith or neither is it necessarily a punishment for your sin (however, we can suffer for making poor choices in life or willfully living in sin).

It’s important that before we move to a therapy of how to deal with suffering, we develop a biblical theology of suffering.  A theology of suffering precedes and informs the therapy of suffering if we are going to understand and respond appropriately to God’s purposes for us in our suffering.

The key question we need to ask ourselves is whether or not the suffering we endure will be purposeful (something to be accomplished) or purposeless (nothing accomplished)? How we respond to suffering determines whether or not we gain anything from it. Will you suffer in a way that allows God to do something good in you or not? God encourages us to not waste our suffering because suffering can turn out to be for the benefit of God’s work in us and through us, if we respond from a Gospel perspective.

3 Questions to ask yourself when facing suffering:

  1. Will you see your suffering as a God-allowed opportunity to advance the gospel?
  2. Will other believers grow in their faith because of your suffering?
  3. Will unbelievers become believers in Christ because of your suffering?

The biblical response to suffering always comes back to rejoicing in Christ. What the…? Yes, that’s right, REJOICE! The Apostle Paul said, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Phil 1:12-18).

Insight!