A dear senior saint at my church has the gift of encouraging me in some pretty amazing ways. Her name is Agnes—and even with the passing of her husband of 65+ years last year and even with her celebrating her 89th birthday recently, I am amazed at the sparkle in her eyes and the energy she has.
A few weeks ago, Agnes came up to me and said, “Now, I know you can preach!” That was encouraging and humbling all at the same time. You see, that morning I had misplaced my notes in my haste to get myself, my wife and four young children out of the house. So, I held my Bible in my hand and just preached—and God truly blessed in a number of ways. At first, I felt odd about these comments, but them I began to get it: this showed that my sermon was in my heart and spirit, not just on my manuscript! This is crucial for preachers.
What caught Agnes’ attention was that I wasn’t “shuffling” papers (my manuscript is about 4-5 pages long, and I turn those pages and set them aside), thus giving it a lecture type of feel. She apologized later for, as she put it, “trying to tell me how to preach.” But I appreciated the comments and she was spot on!
She also gave me another comment. She mentioned to me that she sometimes has a hard time hearing, so she doesn’t catch every word that I preach. Nevertheless, she told me she liked the fact that I used a lot of gestures when I preach. I tend to be animated (on a scale of 1-10, I am about a 7). She said those mannerisms conveyed a passion that truly ministered in ways that I never imagined.
C.J. Mahaney passed along a quote from D.A. Carson about what his students remembered from his 35+ years of teaching. You may be surprised:
If I have learned anything in 35 or 40 years of teaching, it is that students don’t learn everything I teach them. What they learn is what I am excited about, the kinds of things I emphasize again and again and again and again. That had better be the gospel.
If the gospel—even when you are orthodox—becomes something which you primarily assume, but what you are excited about is what you are doing in some sort of social reconstruction, you will be teaching the people that you influence that the gospel really isn’t all that important. You won’t be saying that—you won’t even mean that—but that’s what you will be teaching. And then you are only half a generation away from losing the gospel.
Make sure that in your own practice and excitement, what you talk about, what you think about, what you pray over, what you exude confidence over, joy over, what you are enthusiastic about is Jesus, the gospel, the cross. And out of that framework, by all means, let the transformed life flow.
So I have been more and more convinced that it’s not just a presentation of information, but a passion and an aim to persuade and influence as the Spirit persuades and influences leaders. So praise God for women like Agnes and for men like C.J. Mahaney and D.A. Carson who remind us to put some passion into our preaching.