I can’t remember where I heard the saying, but as a preacher, I appreciate the sentiment: “It’s better to have something to say than to have to say something.” That’s the way I felt Sunday–I had a lot more to say than I had time to say it. It was communion Sunday, and it was All Saints Sunday, so that meant time for the sermon was limited (yes, there are those who wish time for the sermon was limited every week–but, that’s another blog!). I’m currently preaching a sermon series entitled Crossings: Facing the Challenge of Change, and Sunday’s message was “Overcoming Obstacles,” from Joshua 6. I really felt like I didn’t have enough time to do the passage or the story justice. To use another old cliche, I felt like I left too much meat on the bone.
Of course, I shouldn’t be too bummed about it, though. One of my old preaching professors taught us not to use all our material in one sermon. We will have to preach again someday. I don’t know if others find this to be the case, but it’s harder for me to write a short sermon than it is to write a longer one. And, I never know if I’m leaving out the right stuff or including the wrong stuff in the sermon when I shorten it. I suppose that’s why the Holy Spirit is so important in preaching, huh?
I also believe the power of the Holy Spirit makes it impossible to preach the same sermon twice. Yes, I might use the same manuscript, but something has changed. I notice it every Sunday morning. We have three worship hours at FUMC, MONROE every Sunday morning, and the same manuscript doesn’t preach the same way at any of the three. There are three participants in every sermon: The Holy Spirit, the preacher and the audience. If the preacher has prepared appropriately, the Holy Spirit has been active throughout the process, and He is certainly active in the moment of the preaching. I can preach the same manuscript, but the work of the Holy Spirit determines what the congregation hears, what they respond to, what touches their heart, and I’ve discovered every group will respond to different parts of the message. I just find that fact interesting, and I just laugh when I hear a preacher say they never preach the same sermon twice. I’m of the considered opinion that if a sermon was good once, it can only get better with use. But, I ramble…
So? What did I leave out? I’m glad you asked! Click on the link “Overcoming Obstacles” above to hear the sermon, so I won’t rehash it here, but I left out (at least for me) one major point: Obstacles in life present an opportunity to learn patience. I know patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit, but this is one area where the Spirit continues to challenge and convict me. I’ve often said I’ve quit praying for patience because the Lord doesn’t give me patience. He gives me opportunities to learn patience, and that becomes very frustrating.
I can’t imagine how frustrating it must have been for the nation of Israel to march around the city of Jericho every day. Day one–walk around the city, and wait. Day two–walk around the city, and wait. Day three–well, you get the picture. The city was only 8 – 12 acres (depending on the commentator consulted), so it couldn’t have taken more than an hour to walk around it. Suffice it to say, there was a whole lot more sitting and waiting than there was marching. I’m thinking that got old after the first couple of days, but this was more about doing God’s work God’s way than it was about the conquest itself. Sometimes, there are days we have to wait for God’s plan to unfold. As frustrating as it can be for us in our digital, get-it-now world, waiting (ergo, patience) is a spiritual discipline–and one we desperately need to practice these days.
I’ve learned I need to count to three when the traffic light in front of me changes from red to green. If I don’t, I’m likely to get run over. It’s because fewer people pay attention to red lights anymore. I was sitting at an intersection near the church I serve last week. I was stopped because my light was red. My light changed to green. I counted to three. As I started to move, this lady in her nice SUV turned in front of me, either oblivious to the fact she just ran a red light, or not caring that she ran a red light. I would like to pass it off to inattentiveness on her part, but I’ve witnessed too many people, not hastening through caution lights, but blatantly running red lights. A person can get killed these days!
What’s the lesson, you ask? Beyond “Don’t run red lights,” you mean? Try this:
I think too many of us see red lights as obstacles that keep us from where we want to go, where we NEED to be (as though where we need to be is any more important than where anyone else needs to be, but that, too, is another blog). Rather than seeing red lights as obstacles, why not view them as opportunities to learn patience, to use red lights as a spiritual discipline? Why not use the time sitting at red lights to give thanks to God for my vehicle? Why not use the time sitting at red lights to pray for my family, or my co-workers, or friends? Why not use the time sitting at red lights to pray for the person in the car next to me? Why can’t I see that red light as an opportunity to be patient? Honestly, it generally takes more than one prayer to see the hand of God move. Every circuit around the city of Jericho was an opportunity to pray for the hand of God to move through the nation of Israel. Every red light can be an opportunity to pray for the hand of God to move in our lives, or the lives of someone else.
God’s timing is always right. Sometimes, we have to do some marching around to see what God can do. Now, here’s my confession…I blew my horn at the lady in the SUV! Whew! I feel better now.
Until next time, keep looking up…