By Jake Belder
Over the past year, I have had the privilege of preaching on a fairly regular basis. I do not hesitate to say that I really love preaching; in many ways, it is my favourite part of this job. When I am in the pulpit, I feel 'at home'. I have a real sense that this is what God has called and equipped me to do, and it is deeply satisfying. And I hope, Lord willing, to be able to do it for the rest of my life.
As a new preacher, regular preaching has taught me a lot of different things. But the in course of this year, there have been two lessons in particular that have really impacted me. The first is recognising that there is a limit to what I can say. Since the goal of a sermon is to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ, there used to come a point when I was writing a sermon where I wanted to convey just how beautiful he is or how amazing his grace is or the wonder of life lived in fellowship with him. Earlier this year, I often found myself tempted to try and find the most powerful way I could think of to proclaim these truths. I would quickly find myself getting frustrated, though, because I was always setting myself up to try and say something more profound and powerful than the previous sermon. As I reflect on it now, I recognise that this was borne out of an unstated but subconscious belief that what Scripture itself said about Jesus was insufficient to stir people's hearts, and for them to see and be changed by these truths, I had to state them in more vivid and powerful language.
I now recognise where I was wrong. Instead of allowing God to speak through me by the power of his Spirit, I had been trying to substitute my own words. I wanted my words to change people. But, by God's grace, the wall I hit trying to say certain things brought about a fresh conviction of the power of Scripture to do the work. My words are only any good when they are his words speaking through me. I am just the messenger.
This leads to the second thing I have learned – that the only way preaching works is when the Spirit works. As a believer, when I read things about Christ in the Bible, I am filled with awe at who he is, what he has done, and what he will do. I do not need them to be stated any more powerfully than they already are. But I know I did not come to this point in an instant. It took time. My adoration of Christ and my desire to submit to his Lordship is a conviction that has been worked in me by the Holy Spirit over time as I have continuously sat under the preaching of the Word of God. Though I know it is true in my own life and I have always confessed it before, as a preacher, the conviction that the Holy Spirit is working in the hearts of those listening is something I have had to re-learn.
This has also meant learning that God works in his own time. Early on, I had this underlying expectation that every sermon would end up radically changing people, especially after I spent a week preparing the sermon and working with a particular text that had thoroughly convicted, challenged, and encouraged me. I started to expect the same result in the hearts of our parishioners every time.
Again, I needed to re-learn something I already confessed – that God works in his own time. And more often than not, a change in someone's heart is a slow process. I am certain now that part of the reason for this is because God needs to teach preachers like myself that we must constantly be confident in his sovereignty in order to continue labouring faithfully week in and week out. More often than not, it is going to take that consistent, long-term, regular work of preaching and teaching in order to see people change and grow.
That is what I have seen in the past year here at our church. As we have faithfully preached God's Word, we have had the blessing of seeing the gospel transform people. People have come to faith, others have renewed their faith, and many people have been strengthened and built up in faith. Deep down, I know now more than ever that preaching does change hearts and minds and lives. And I look forward in hope to seeing what God will do through the preaching of his Word in this next year.