Life is often hard. Life is often deeply disappointing. Despite what some may claim, life is not one great victory march of pain-free delight through this fallen world. Living by faith is not a great party free of trouble and hardship. And preaching is a lot like life.
We prepare to the best of our ability and saturate our lives and ministry in prayer. Yet so often it falls short. We get tired and frustrated, saddened by the lack of change in others, or even in ourselves. We give of ourselves to people who then somehow turn and tear out our hearts. We find ourselves seething deep inside at great failure or simply at the persistent polite feedback. And then typically we find ourselves praying stained glass prayers about our next sermon, the kind we feel we’re supposed to pray.
But look to the examples in the Bible of the brutal honesty of God’s men in prayer. Consider Job chapter three, David in numerous psalms, Jeremiah in chapter twenty, or Paul with his thorn in the flesh. They poured out their emotion, their hurt, their anger to God. They didn’t sugar-coat their prayers in sanctified clichés. They were real, and they knew God could take it. Yet when all their energy was spent, when all the feelings were out, when they lay totally wiped out before God . . . there was still a trust in God’s Word, still a burning in the bones, still a faith though weak and smoldering. My grace is sufficient for you. Will you take my hand and press on? Do you trust me?
Real faith is not all about grand and glorious certainty. Often it is found in the midst of total inadequacy, absolute weakness and apparently overwhelming failure and hurt.
We live by faith. Let us also preach by faith. Be brutally honest with God about ministry, about preaching, about the preparation that takes so much out of you, the delivery that leaves you deeply vulnerable, about the sometimes sweet agony of it all . . . and about the feelings of failure, inadequacy, discouraging results, the backhanded slap of polite platitudes with no hint of life change, the deep questions, the temptation to settle for less, or to quit altogether. Pour it out, pour it out until there is nothing left. Then remember that whisper from above, “my grace is sufficient for you.” That hand outstretched to take yours and lead you on. To prepare another sermon, to preach another sermon, to give everything you’ve got to the best of your ability, and to do it all by faith.