God spoke to me on Sunday morning. It was clear. It was undeniable. God spoke to me in a moment of need, he brought me a word of comfort, and gave me exactly the message I needed to hear.
Preaching a sermon is one of the most difficult things I do. It is a good kind of difficult, the kind that pushes me into areas I would otherwise avoid. There is even a part of me that loves to preach and I am so grateful that my church allows and even asks me to do it. But even while I believe in preaching and while I believe that I am called to do it on occasion, it doesn’t get a whole lot easier with time.
The process of preparing a sermon is right in my wheelhouse; I love to sit at a desk with an open Bible, with reference books, and with an open word processor. I love the process of studying, understanding, interpreting, writing, editing, sharpening, applying, illustrating and everything else that goes into preparing a sermon. This fits who I am--just one man alone with his books. It is not always a simple or straightforward process, but it is very comfortable.
But delivering a sermon, preaching it, is everything I'm not. The preacher is the guy who stands front and center; my natural tendency is to be in the back corner. The preacher proclaims with a loud voice; I prefer a quieter tone. The preacher has every eye upon him; I am glad to have every eye turned away. Whoever I am at my most comfortable is everything preaching takes away. Preaching is me contorted out of my natural posture, stretched to my most unnatural state.
I was feeling the weight of this on Sunday morning. It was the dawn of a new day and the beginning of a new week, but the previous week had not yet quite cleared my consciousness. It had been a long and distracted few days, one of many responsibilities and difficult discussions. In retrospect I think it was also a week with some spiritual attack meant to frustrate and discourage me. It worked.
I woke before dawn on Sunday morning. I prayed for a while but knew that if I was going to enter the pulpit with any strength at all, I needed help from the Lord. I turned on some music, Indelible Grace, and immediately heard their powerful rendition of Psalm 130. It seems a little bit dramatic in retrospect, but these words jumped out at me:
From the depths of woe I raise to Thee
The voice of lamentation;
Lord, turn a gracious ear to me
And hear my supplication;
Those words became a prayer. As the song came to an end, I opened up my Bible to Psalm 130 and that's just when God spoke to me. He said, "I hear you, I know you, and I am with you" (verses 1 and 2). He reminded me that I do not need to impress him and that my standing before him is not dependent on my feelings or performance, that "your sins are forgiven and you stand before me in righteousness" (verse 4). He said, "you have been redeemed because you are loved with my steadfast, loyal love" (verse 7) and "your weaknesses melt before my strength" (verse 8). He showed me that I was relying too much on my own strength and that he was willing and able to meet me in my need and in my emptiness. In fact, this is just where he wanted me.
There were tears in my eyes as I heard him speak and as I received this gentle and encouraging rebuke, this token of his love and his affection. I heard his voice.