September 1, 2009

A Weekly Labor Day

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, arguably the greatest preacher of the 20th century, was once asked, upon completion of a sermon: ‘Doctor, how do you feel?’ Relieved, came the reply. ‘Why relieved?’ Because preaching is the closest a man will ever get to giving birth, was the doctor’s answer. And I hope I know exactly what he means.

Now, let me insert my disclaimer: based on what I have seen, I know the comparison, in many ways, is a bit of a stretch. I’d much rather preach a hundred Sundays than go through what I’ve watched Tobey go through! But there are some ways, at least, in which Lloyd-Jones’s statement, I think, rings true. And the apostle Paul would agree. He wrote like this to the Galatian Christians about his ministry to them: “I am … in labor until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4.19). In other words, ‘Ministry is like giving birth. I feel like I am in labor as God makes you into His children, through my small efforts.’

And so it ought to be for the preacher worth his salt. He ought to be so bound up with the spiritual well-being of his people, so desirous to see them come out healthy, so concerned that “Christ be formed in” them … that every sermon, both in the preparation and in the preaching, feels like just a little sliver of child birth.

He is straining, and pushing, and hoping … and straining, and pushing, and hoping some more that his people will be born, or continue to grow. He is passionate about souls – both those who might be born again and believe through his word, and those who believe, but need to be nourished and molded.

And, not only that, but he is intensely interested in and passionate about his subject matter … God’s word, and God’s Son. He puts his all into the work of study, and writing, and re-writing, and praying, and praying some more, and trying to get it just right, and finally delivering it all, Lord willing, in the power of the Spirit … so much so that, when he finishes, he almost feels, at times, relieved. Not that he is glad it’s over and he doesn’t have to fool with preaching again for a few days. Not at all. But relieved because the experience is more exhausting (and fulfilling) than it looks. It’s an emotional version of labor.

This is often the feel of passionate preaching. It is, in some small way, like labor (though not physically, thank God!). And it all spurs me simply to ask that God would make it so in me. That I would prepare, pray, and preach with every fiber of energy I have to give to it. That I would spend myself in God’s service … and have that glorious feeling, each Sunday afternoon, of having given birth to something for God’s sake. So would you pray for Tobey and I … as we both face, in the days ahead, ‘labor days’ of various kinds?

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