I don’t rate myself as a preacher or teacher. Truth told, I have trouble with the ‘p’ word and the ‘t’ word.
I remember that when we planted The Big Table, we were nearly derailed before we began. I believe that we were called to form a core group and we were certain that God had set apart one of those in the core group for the work of teaching and proclamation. When that person left the core group two weeks in I recall Fiona saying to me, “Um…who’s going to teach now?” While I think I knew the answer, it was through a process of elimination not strength.
At that moment I also remember thinking that if God was going to bless the work that he had invited us into, and the call to plant more churches for His glory, not ours, it would be despite my preaching chops, not because of them.
I’m not oblivious to the gifts of ministry the Holy Spirit has given me to equip followers of Jesus. I’m not diminishing them, they’re there to steward, but teaching is one that I have come to accept with questioning reluctance.
Nothing much has changed in over six years – still questioning, still reluctant, and still trusting in the all-sufficiency of God in the midst of clay pots.
Over time, I’ve changed a little as a communicator but, more significantly, I’ve changed my understanding of my responsibility and the larger part that belongs to God.
I come to the table each week with an understanding that I serve the Hero and a bunch of broken-being-mended folk who follow Him in various stages of a revelation of that following-call.
I’m aware each time I open my mouth that there are a bunch of different ears around the table. Each of those ears listening through filters that are shaped by a bunch of factors. None beyond the re-shaping, purifying and healing of the Holy Spirit, but different ears all the same.
The same truth can be rejected, embraced, transformative, or even condemning based on the ears of the listener.
The week, year or life of another shapes that filter, too. The trials and temptations they’ve faced through the week, the unity of their primary relationships; each shape what they hear or are prepared to hear.
Another thing. Whether you like me personally and what you think of how I live my life (or whoever it us that you’re listening to when you hear God’s Word proclaimed) will shape your willingness to listen and hear.
If you don’t like me, it’s going to take some significant parking of those feelings to hear what God may want to say through my clumsy words. Or to even believe that God might be able to speak to you through me at all.
In Acts 16:14, Paul is speaking to a crowd and a Dockers’ fan, Lydia, is part of the crowd. Luke writes that the Lord opened her heart to response to God’s message.
One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God.
The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.
Verses like this are life-giving for the preacher, aren’t they?! It’s the Lord who opens the heart of Lydia, not Paul’s brilliance.
Jesus utters the phrase after some parables: “Let him who has ears hear what the Spirit says”.
This phrase is spoken by the ultimate, undistorted truth-teller and truth revealer, by Truth Himself. Jesus, in whom there is no falsehood, says, “I am truth, and I am proclaiming the truth, but I pray that your ears may be open to the Kingdom revelation that I’m sharing with you.”
Many won’t, he intimates. Many will find the stumbling blocks of culture, personality, and circumstance too great for the message to change their heart, but while Jesus prays that they will, he’s not crippled by the reality that they may be oblivious to the truth that is proclaimed.
The Holy Spirit ministers to our hearts and Jesus opens our hearts to the truth. Our job – any who proclaim the gospel in public or private places – isn’t to pry open the heart, nor is to ensure that all the pipes transporting the message are unblocked and cleansed. Out job is to be faithful and diligent in ‘handling the word of truth’ (2 Timothy 2:15) as though our proclamations are the very words of God (1 Peter 4:11).
These instructions are sobering enough without wearing the weight of the work of which only Jesus is capable. For while I am an ordinary teacher, of this I am equally convinced: the Holy Spirit is extraordinary.
Sometimes you may be responsible for the ineffectiveness of your message. Apostasy and false teaching will do that. So will a lack of stewardship and diligence. Lousy preparation and the week we’ve had to navigate make that path tough to walk as well. Many more times, though, it’s about praying that the flawed clay pot might declare the all-surpassing power that belongs to God, not us (2 Corinthians 4:7) and then praying like crazy that the Holy Spirit opens hearts to hear the truth that Jesus has set us free to declare.