Who Am I?
Charles Spurgeon often stressed the importance of a preacher discerning his calling to ministry. He once said to his ministerial students:
How may a young man know whether he is called or not? That is a weighty inquiry, and I desire to treat it most solemnly. O for divine guidance in so doing! That hundreds have missed their way, and stumbled against a pulpit is sorrowfully evident from the fruitless ministries and decaying churches which surround us. It is a fearful calamity to a man to miss his calling, and to the church upon whom he imposes himself, his mistake involves an affliction of the most grievous kind.
Many young, earnest men rush into pulpits. They are eager to preach. They want to discuss hermeneutics, theology, outlines and propositions. They want more opportunities to teach and lead, entrepreneurial tips, and a growing number of church members. It is a good thing to long for the ministry. It is noble to sharpen your gifts. But these eager men may lack one of the most critical aspects of their calling—a sense of inadequacy.
Ministry is for men who have a low view of themselves and a high view of God. There is a certain weight to being called to preach the Word of God. As he prepares, the preacher should be plagued by the questions: Who am I to represent the King of Heaven? How can my feeble brain and insight and example ever represent the great I AM?
Maybe you graduated from seminary impressed with your theology, language ability, and overall intellect. Or maybe you graduated thoroughly unimpressed with your abilities. Regardless, you will be faced with the temptation of forgetting that, in many ways, you are stepping upon holy ground when you sit down to prepare your sermon. The task of a preacher, after all, is to handle holy Scripture. This is not the task of an unholy and impressed-with-himself man.
Speaking to a room full of aspiring preachers, Charles Spurgeon said, “The best man here knows—if he knows what he is—that he is out of depth in his sacred calling.” Far too few preachers feel out of their depth as they sit down to write their sermon or stand to preach it. But they should.
The Welsh pastor Geoff Thomas wrote:
One of the great perils that face preachers … is the problem of hyper-intellectualism, that is, the constant danger of lapsing into a purely cerebral form of proclamation, which falls exclusively upon the intellect. Men become obsessed with doctrine and end up as brain-oriented preachers. There is consequently a fearful impoverishment in their hearers emotionally, devotionally, and practically. Such pastors are men of books and not men of people; they know the doctrines, but they know nothing of the emotional side of religion. They set up little store upon experience or upon constant fellowship and interaction with almighty God. It is one thing to explain the truth of Christianity to men and women; it is another thing to feel the overwhelming power of the sheer loveliness and enthrallment of Jesus Christ and to communicate that dynamically to the whole person who listens so that there is a change of such dimensions that he loves Him with all his heart and soul and mind and strength.
Throughout Scripture, those who spoke on behalf of God first listened to God speak. They were first humbled in the presence of the Lord. The aspiring preacher must first listen to God speak in the pages of Scripture. He must learn to think God’s thoughts after Him, before he steps into a pulpit to share his own. And he must be humbled in the presence of the Lord in prayer.
This is where the preacher must begin—on his knees, buried in the pages of Scripture. He must learn to feed his own soul with the Word of God. He must cry out with the psalmist, “Strengthen me according to your Word” (Ps 119:28). And his soul must honestly ask, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Rom 7:24).
This isn’t a mere prerequisite to exegesis. As you climb the rungs of this ladder, week after week, this posture needs to follow you every step of the way. You must be infected with a love for Christ and long for His beauty to be known and for His name to be honored.
For we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for the sake of Jesus. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves. (2 Cor. 4:5-7)