The early church gives us a great model to pursue and to pray for. I am reminded of the episode in Acts 4, where the apostles had been threatened by the local authorities, “So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 4:19,20) Their response expressed an intense, inner compulsion of soul to make Jesus known, “But Peter and John replied, "Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard." It could be a family gathering, or any number of settings. There is often an unexpressed wish among many towards the Spirit-filled Christian. “Shhh, don’t encourage him” or he’ll start preaching; he’ll start in on his religion kick, and there will be no shutting him up. So, don’t get him started, OK? You see, the early apostles’ hearts were filled with awe for Jesus and His work for them; thus, there was no way they could be silent.
Up against this is the “great Encourager” or the “great Comforter,” the Holy Spirit of God. I was going into morning prayer meeting and one of the brothers was leaving at the same time. After greeting one another he said to me sincerely, “Pastor, I just want you to know that your sermons do make a difference.” He then proceeded to mention a specific message that I had preached sometime previously. Well, that’s “music” to a preacher’s ears, not because of ego, but due to discouragement. One of the constant battles that a pastor faces is the question, “Am I making a difference?”....“Are my sermons genuinely impacting people and instigating spiritual change”...“In the end, does it really matter?” These are all the inner wrestlings that a man with the sacred charge to “Preach the Word” goes through.
One of the verses that captures for me the essence of preaching ministry is (Job 4:4)TM, “Your words have put stumbling people on their feet, put fresh hope in people about to collapse.” Wow! Whether it is preaching in our public worship services, various blog postings, or Twitter, they have one single aim to them (2Cor.4:2;5) “We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s Word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God... For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” This dimension is what added intensity and urgency to Paul’s prayer in (2Thess.3:1)TM, “One more thing, friends: Pray for us. Pray that the Master’s Word will simply take off and race through the country to a groundswell of response, just as it did among you.”
I’ve pondered a lot of the so-called “innovation” today. I am no stranger to or opponent of change or new things. I believe, however, that behind a lot of the new things today lies a faltering confidence that the Word works! If the Word doesn’t work, then what are we doing? I take refuge in the Apostle’s decision in Acts. 6. They were forced to make a priority decision. There were lots of needs, and some of them were going unmet. Prolonged or unaddressed needs can lead to dissatisfaction, which, in turn can create disorder or the discordant note of disharmony. The apostles learned the art of delegation, but it was their reasoning that was significant. (Acts 6:3,4) “Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.” This wasn’t a move to get out of doing work, but the adage to work smarter, not harder. Their priority mission and their passion would be prayer and the ministry of the Word. This is where their confidence lay.
There was this little delegation that went to see the preacher. “Pastor,” the chairman said, “You need to know the congregation is not very happy with you.” The pastor said, “I’m sorry. But why are you telling me this?” The chairman said, “I would think it would matter to you.” The pastor said, “It does; but not much.” The delegation was dumbfounded. A woman on the committee said, “Well, if you ask me, when the congregation is unhappy, the pastor is failing.” The pastor responded, “No ma’am. That’s based on a false assumption that a lot of churches have. You see, the Lord does not send the pastor to make the church happy. God sends the pastor to make the church healthy–and to make HIM happy. Big, big difference.” “You have strengthened tottering knees; your words have stood men on their feet.” For a preacher or a writer, the power to use words (God’s) and make a lasting difference in someone’s life is the best gift in the world. Occasionally, someone who hears a sermon, or reads this blog will send a note, “That was precisely what I needed to hear today.” Well, that makes my day! It overpowers those who would say, “Shhh, don’t encourage him!”
In Oral Robert’s book “The Call” he described what I’m trying to convey. “As they sang it was like heaven’s choir had joined the singing. I remember that I looked straight up to the top of the tent. I would not have been surprised if a shaft of light from Heaven had shone all the way from glory into this earthly place. I started to preach, and as I did, it seemed that they reached out with their hands and pulled me into their hearts. Every word that I said was received by them. The place roared with amen’s and hallelujah’s. I began to gather speed as they said amen. When I had preached for about an hour, I felt I was losing my voice, for, as they got louder, I got louder. Soon I stopped and said, ‘People, if you don’t stop saying amen to me, I will preach myself to death.’ They laughed and just kept saying amen. The sermon just rolled out of me that night like rivers of living water. When I gave the invitation, 300 came to be saved, and more than a thousand came to be healed.” Embellished? Oh, I’m sure (editor’s do that). But, I also know there’s nothing quite like when the wind of the Holy Spirit fills the sail of the preacher delivering God’s Word!
All of this highlights the important reality of the miracle or mystery of influence. I’m talking about that wonderful working of the Holy Spirit through God’s Word to touch people’s lives. This is one of the blessed streams of encouragement God uses to reinforce His servants. Please, believe me when I say, I’m not elevating the preacher/pastor to idolatrous levels, but one of the descriptive phrases of the fruit of our Savior’s redeeming sacrifice is “He shall see the labor of his soul and be satisfied.” We don’t always get to see directly this influence, but there are little glimpses along the way that fuel our tanks! It serves as an incentive to want do our best with the calling, opportunities, and gifts God has entrusted us with. I feel the “weight” of this sacred charge!
You never know where influence starts and stop, do you? I am known all over the California State prison system. Yes, from Pelican Bay to Chino Prison to Folsom to Centinela state prison (refer to it as gladiator school since most of the inmates are under 40), to Corcoran, to Soledad state prison etc. This is because Chaplain Bob Mecado is a supervisory chaplain for the L.A. Sheriff’s Department, giving him access to minister in all of these prison facilities and others. He brings the Gospel of Jesus Christ inside the walls of these prisons. He also has widely distributed preaching tapes from our church, so that prisoners there “know” and quote from Pastor Warner’s sermons! Is that awesome or what? Our tape room or web site has a two-year moratorium on my tapes, as far as outside and widespread distribution. The reason is that when I go and preach in some other churches in other places and countries, the tapes have not already preceded me, leaving me with nothing new or fresh to preach. In prison, there’s a different set of rules! They have free access to all of the tapes since I don’t have to be really concerned about prisoners or chaplains using my material, and then I have nothing to preach. I’ve blogged before how incredibly humbling it is that prisoners in these institutions are praying for me and other church needs! Influence, but shhh, don’t encourage him!
This all was sparked with a phone call from one of the sisters in our church. As a manager, one of her responsibilities is the mentoring and observing of new managers. One was sent to her office for a day’s worth of training. When it came time to go to lunch, he offered to drive. When he started up the car, she heard a “preaching” tape. She listened a moment and then exclaimed, “That’s Pastor Warner! That’s my pastor!” He told her that he really enjoyed listening, and that being raised in another religion, he’d never heard the Gospel like that. It turns out that another employee was working and bringing him preaching tapes. He was looking forward to the messages. This opened the door for her to discuss the Gospel with him and God’s salvation in Christ. He has been in our church ever since. All the time, I was completely unaware to the mystery of influence that had been going on. Influence, but shhh, don’t encourage him!
(Isaiah 55:10,11)NLT paints a vivid picture and gives us a wonderful promise. "The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.” Our joy is to share the Word of God as best we can, and to leave the results with God. It’s not going to be our personality, our persuasive ability, or the power of our eloquence or intellect. The power and influence lies in the Scripture itself. Just like refreshing raindrops or snowflakes, the Word has power to refresh and revive a parched desert. God will revive His people and convert the lost, and even if we don’t see all the results, we need to remain confident and faithful to proclaim God’s Word. Martin Luther explained, “I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word...otherwise I did nothing...the Word did it all!” But, shhh, don’t encourage him!
One of the marks of the Spirit-filled individual and church is that they can’t stop talking about Jesus. I love the newly saved, and delivered Gadarene (Mk.5:18-20). “And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him. However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you." And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled.” This ten city region that before had wanted nothing to do with Jesus, later recognized and welcomed him (Mark 7:31) Why the change in response? I believe, in part, this was the result of the testimony and influence of this one converted man.J. Ray Klingsmith wrote, “People are starving for the Word of God, and they don’t even know it; but when they hear it, believed, and get a taste of it, it feeds their soul like nothing else can.” There’s no greater privilege than to teach, and preach, and to understand God’s wonderful Word, But, shhh, you don’t want to encourage him.
This influence extends to all kinds of places and people, you just never know. I received a note from one of our congregants. “Pastor Warner, First of all I want to share what my son was asking for on his birthday. My son’s birthday is coming up ____ and he approached my wife and made this statement, “Mom, all I want for my birthday is my family to be together (Abuela, Tata, Tios and Tias and cousins – he named each by name) but he did not stop there. He said he wanted all of us to be together over dinner and for Pastor Warner to preach a sermon to us. You know, he could have asked for an iPad (I would not have given to him), but could have asked for Star Wars/Lego figurines, he could have asked for a party at the bowling alley or trip to Disneyland, but my boy sees the important people in his life and wanted us (including you) to come together for a dinner and a sermon. I thought this was an awesome request...” I couldn’t agree with him more, but, shhh, you don’t want to encourage him! Oh, but you see, I already am, thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ!