Vol. 5, No. 10
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Some people work at what they do out of necessity, some out of joy and some because they can't do anything else. Preaching involves all three of these motives. Some preach out of necessity. By that I mean the kind of necessity the apostle Paul felt when he said, "For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:16). Some preach out of the pure joy of doing so. Only a joyful preacher could be a worthy vessel of "glad tidings of good things" (Romans 10:15). Some preach because they cannot do anything else. I don't mean that they lack the ability to learn to do something else. There are always possibilities at Wal-Mart. I mean that they, like Jeremiah of old, do not have the heart to do anything else (Jeremiah 20:7-9). When I was a preacher student at Freed-Hardeman College (now a university) twenty-five years ago, Tom Holland gave us that timeless advice, "Boys, if you can do anything else at all, don't preach."
The real joy of preaching comes when you know that in preaching the Gospel you make a difference in someone's life. It's nice when people compliment your sermons, but the joy doesn't lie there. It's flattering when somebody says that you are his or her "favorite preacher" (every preacher is somebody's favorite preacher). The joy doesn't lie there. The joy comes when someone tells you how you have made a difference for the better in his life, how in your preaching you helped him to make some scriptural and right decision that he might not would have otherwise made.
This is not the kind of joy that creates a big head. The preacher knows (or, should know) that he personally does not make a difference in a person's life. It is the Gospel that changes lives. He is just the glad bearer of the life-changing message that is already inherent in God's Word! God has promised that his Word will not return to him void:
For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the things whereto I sent it (Isaiah 55:9-10).
Sometimes those of us who preach rarely know whether or not we are really getting through to the person in the pew with the Gospel. We sometimes feel that our efforts are futile and therefore fruitless. Yet, in the parable of the sower, Jesus reminds us that the sower who goes forth to sow will find that the seed of God's Word will fall on many different kinds of hearts (Matthew 13:3-9). The yield will be large in some areas and small in others. But, the faithful preacher will keep on preaching because the Gospel is the cure for sin-sick humanity. What a joy it is to do something that can truly make a difference in the lives of people everywhere. I wouldn't trade it for a stint in the Navy!