Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Minimize fear (and pride) in the pulpit this week.

Like most preachers, I spend some time in prayer every Sunday morning. I pray for the obvious things. I pray for the service that's about to happen. I pray that the people in the service will come face to face with God. If I'm honest, I mostly pray for my own part in that process. This week, thanks to a tweet by a fellow pastor, I added something to my prayers. I began praying for other ministers in town and their sermons.

Now, I realize that many of you have probably been doing this for ages, but I'm a little slow on the uptake.  It's not that I've never prayed for other churches or their ministers, I have, but not on Sunday mornings. Sunday morning is crunch time. When the pressure is on, I admit, my prayers become a little bit more me-focused than they are on other occasions. Which feels normal. I am, after all, about to go lay my week's efforts (not to mention my soul) in front of a few hundred people. Preaching always feels dangerous to me.  When I find myself in a dangerous place, I have no problem admitting that my instinct is to pray for myself. God, help me. God, save me. God, don't let me look like an idiot up there.

But doing what feels natural isn't always the best course of action. Just ask the armadillo. His natural instinct when threatened is to jump straight up into air (sometimes up to four feet!) before sprinting away. That might work well when facing a bobcat. It doesn't work well when facing a Ford F150 on the highway.  So this week, I did something unnatural. I took time out of my Sunday morning routine to pray for other preachers in town. I called them by name. Some of these guys I really like. Others not so much. Either way, I asked God to speak through them and to bless their sermons.  

Something remarkable happened as I prayed for others, I found myself sensing God's presence in a new way. Praying for other preachers connected me to the larger community of faith and reminded me that my part, which can feel so big on Sunday mornings, isn't as big as I think. Don't get me wrong, I still think my part is important. It's just not the most important part. It's not the decisive part. Yes, I need to be prepared. Yes, I need to be faithful. The most important part, however, is that God is faithful.  

These prayers for others exposed some unflattering truths about me. Most of my prayers are rooted in either fear or pride. The two go together. When I think about preaching, I often get caught up in how I'm doing. Am I preaching well? If I think I am, well, I'm usually pretty proud of that fact. But what if I'm not? I begin to worry about what people will think of me then? Enter fear. Both sentiments (pride and fear) come from focusing primarily on my own efforts.

When I pray for others, I instinctively believe that God is the decisive part in their ministries, not their own efforts. After all, I'd hate to give those guys too much credit! Which helps me realize, I don't need to give myself too much credit either. Praying for other preacher's sermons brings me back to the truth that the decisive part in my own sermon will be nothing less than the gracious activity of God.

Obviously, I've only done this for one Sunday, but it really did make a difference in my outlook. So, thanks to @markbatterson for praying for other preachers in your city and tweeting about it. I think I'll make praying for other pastors a regular part of my Sunday morning routine, as well.

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