I was visiting a pastor friend of mine today (Tim Alexander of Perinton Community Church) when he said “hey, I need to read you something.” SOMETHING is the word. I was unable to identify the original author, but I found it later quoted (as anonymous) by John MacArthur. It is a powerful piece of work. One I hope to meditate upon more often for myself.
CLARIFICATION: When I first posted the material below, I did not adequately frame the piece so the reader understood best HOW to read it. I hope to clear that up here.
The best frame I can put around it is to imagine an old man – and old preacher, well past his active days. Later in life, the bulk of his preaching days behind him, he is reflecting on a question put to him: “What are the things that make for a good and useful preacher?” His response is one that shows many years of deep and thoughtful consideration upon those things which were most useful to him, and pulls no punches in laying out some of the hard but Oh so necessary experiences and conditions needed to make a man as useful and effective as possible in the pulpit ministry.
This is not sour grapes by someone who had been mistreated. It is in fact the furthest thing from it. Far from a compliant, it is a prayer. A prayer for those who come after, that they might be spared from merely trifling in preaching, and not getting to the real task and the real frame of heart and mind needed to serve God and His People well in this capacity. It is meant to shake those who would dare to ascend the sacred desk out of any self-importance or self-reliance, into the stark reality of the massive responsibility and privilege of speaking for God in this way.
It is a compendium of things learned too late or too slightly. And a petition of desire for God to do whatever it takes to make them all they can be under His hand.
How to make a preacher?
Fling him into his office. Tear the “Office” sign from the door and nail on the sign, “Study.” Take him off the mailing list. Lock him up with his books and his typewriter and his Bible. Slam him down on his knees before texts and broken hearts and the flock of lives of a superficial flock and a holy God.
Force him to be the one man in our surfeited communities who knows about God. Throw him into the ring to box with God until he learns how short his arms are. Engage him to wrestle with God all the night through. And let him come out only when he’s bruised and beaten into being a blessing.
Shut his mouth forever spouting remarks, and stop his tongue forever tripping lightly over every nonessential. Require him to have something to say before he dares break the silence. Bend his knees in the lonesome valley.
Burn his eyes with weary study. Wreck his emotional poise with worry for God. And make him exchange his pious stance for a humble walk with God and man. Make him spend and be spent for the glory of God. Rip out his telephone. Burn up his ecclesiastical success sheets.
Put water in his gas tank. Give him a Bible and tie him to the pulpit. And make him preach the Word of the living God!
Test him. Quiz him. Examine him. Humiliate him for his ignorance of things divine. Shame him for his good comprehension of finances, batting averages, and political in-fighting. Laugh at his frustrated effort to play psychiatrist. Form a choir and raise a chant and haunt him with it night and day-“Sir, we would see Jesus.”
When at long last he dares assay the pulpit, ask him if he has a word from God. If he does not, then dismiss him. Tell him you can read the morning paper and digest the television commentaries, and think through the day’s superficial problems, and manage the community’s weary drives, and bless the sordid baked potatoes and green beans, ad infinitum, better than he can.
Command him not to come back until he’s read and reread, written and rewritten, until he can stand up, worn and forlorn, and say, “Thus saith the Lord.”
Break him across the board of his ill-gotten popularity. Smack him hard with his own prestige. Corner him with questions about God. Cover him with demands for celestial wisdom. And give him no escape until he’s back against the wall of the Word.
And sit down before him and listen to the only word he has left-God’s Word. Let him be totally ignorant of the down-street gossip, but give him a chapter and order him to walk around it, camp on it, sup with it, and come at last to speak it backward and forward, until all he says about it rings with the truth of eternity.
And when he’s burned out by the flaming Word, when he’s consumed at last by the fiery grace blazing through him, and when he’s privileged to translate the truth of God to man, finally transferred from earth to heaven, then bear him away gently and blow a muted trumpet and lay him down softly. Place a two-edged sword in his coffin, and raise the tomb triumphant. For he was a brave soldier of the Word. And ere he died, he had become a man of God.
RAF: If I may add – Holy Father, be pleased to do all in me so that I might serve you to the highest degree of which I am capable by the power of your Spirit. Make this prayer – my history.