Ch.30 An Incredible Gift
In the face of all these calamities, you might ask: “How did you survive?” The answer is both simple and deep: God !
I would not wish our trials on anyone. I would not wish to re-live them. But I could not wish to have avoided them. Our experience of God through these trials is indeed more precious that any suffering. Our knowledge that God is and that God is faithful makes these seem – well I won't say “light and momentary” as St. Paul does – but the benefits were certainly so much more than worth the cost!
The other thing is that it gave God the opportunity to show that he can provide. Not only provide but provide in advance!
My first example of Gods provision is an incredible spiritual gift which made it possible for me to continue as a minister through the darkest days, a gift He has let me keep.
The story starts some months before the events of the last few posts:
While the revival was on we had been taking in church growth conferences, as well as reading avidly and listening to tapes by successful pastors and teachers we also used holidays as an opportunity to see what other churches were doing..
I had taken a group of men up to a conference in Sydney where Paul Yonggi Cho leader of the then world’s biggest church (Sunday attendance then I think 500,000) was the main speaker. It was a great conference and there were many other speakers from Australian churches (well Australian AOG churches!) talking about the problems of building up from small beginnings …. I remember one was “breaking the 200 barrier” and the organisational changes necessary as growth proceeded.
The “breaking the 200 barrier” speaker was from a church in Brisbane which had grown to an attendance of about 2,000. We were going on holiday the Brisbane, so I contacted him and asked for an opportunity to talk to him about our work at Lang Lang.
Sue and I duly went to see him. But he didn’t want to talk; he wanted to pray for us to have “the gift” (i.e. speaking in tongues – What is it with Pentecostals and tongues!). So he prayed for us. Well, Sue did but I didn’t. I think it was a sign of God’s sense of humour, but it was perplexing at the time.
So holiday over we went home. One day shortly after, I was praying and said to God “So why didn’t I get to speak in tongues” God replied “Why don’t we try English first? Give me your next sermon” My stomach knotted up.
Now as usual God had prepared the ground. I had been finding the actual composing of the sermon harder and harder. Not the background preparation, that is just rote work: Study the set bible reading; possibly translate it myself from the Greek for New Testament passages; consult the commentaries etc. You just sit down and do that part. But as for finding the words to convey something of the results of that research to my particular congregation; that part was becoming increasingly burdensome. I had been starting preparation earlier and earlier. By then I was starting next Sunday’s sermon the Monday before, and still I was drawing a blank late into Saturday night.
So although my stomach knotted at the thought of it I said “OK Lord”. I did the usual background work for all the bible readings. But I made no plans or notes about what to actually say. Yes, I was nervous,
Kooweerup was the earlier service that week (they alternated). The hymn before the sermon was ending. As usual I prayed silently during the hymn. I had no idea what I was going to do. The Hymn ended, I walked out to the lectern. I turned and faced the congregation. God said in my mind “The Epistle: Go!” I started on that theme and out of my mouth came what sounded to me a pretty good sermon on the epistle of the day.
Lang Lang service was next up. I was feeling much more confident this time. I thought I could even tweak some bits. As I faced the congregation to start the sermon God said “The Gospel this time: Go!” Oops! I didn’t have time to think! I was off talking about the Gospel reading set for the day!
It was the most phenomenal gift – actually having God “ghost write” my sermons. It is from my subsequent reading a less common spiritual gift – but tremendous fun!
That is not to say I adjusted easily to the change! I always felt “naked” going to preach, no matter how much background study I had done, without having some words or structure planned.
An early hurdle was a civic service. This was to be held in Lang Lang after a parishioner there became Shire President. All the shire notables were to be there. I was scared! God was very kind, he told me the opening few words. So I knew I had to get up there and say this opening sentence –I just didn’t know what went next! There is a joke about a politician who fires his speech-writer, only to find that for his next speech after a brilliant start when he turns the page all that is written on it are the words “you’re on your own now”. I knew that joke. I went up to the lectern with some residual trepidation!
I shouldn’t have worried. God had it all sorted. It was a really good and appropriate sermon. Better then anything I could have cooked up!
I would like to say that from this time on I simply trusted God with my sermons. But that would be stretching the truth! I still had low grade anxiety for some time when I got up to preach, and sometimes acute fears. But I did get more relaxed as time passed.
One advantage of this arrangement is that I could never be caught by surprise. If anyone said – even at the absolute last minute “can you do the talk / sermon?” it was always “no problem”.
It is to this day a gift I cherish and continually thank God for. It has let him do things using me that no amount of rhetorical skill or training could have accomplished. I will give you two examples.
I was about to enter one of the darkest periods of my life. For months on end I was unable to do even the background study for sermons. For some time I don't think I even had the energy to open my Bible. Mostly by the time I dragged myself into church on Sunday morning I hadn’t even read the scriptures set for the day. Yes, often I just heard them read out in the service then got up and preached on them. Yes, I did listen to my own sermons, and yes they were theologically sound. I was amazed to hear things come out of my mouth that I knew as I heard them were things I had learned in theological college but which I had long forgotten I ever knew.
God’s wonderful gift of preaching kept me functional as a minister through the darkest valley.
Later when things were getting better, I never quite knew who was going to be my audience. Time after time the usual ten or so were seated, then half a dozen or a dozen strangers would walk in! God would craft the sermon, the vocabulary and idiom to suit the actual audience. I heard myself do it time after time, I could tell it was totally appropriate, but I know I could not have thought it out.
It really is an incredible gift.