The pulpit sometimes seems to allow for an unique perspective. The story is told a fledgling pastor who was told that God would give him the words to say. So it was that he arrived at the sanctuary, as yet unprepared. When it was time for the service to begin, he was still uninformed. As the service progressed, he waited expectantly. When message was subsequently incoherent. Embarrassed, he was retreating from the sanctuary, when God exhorted spoke him: “Next time prepare!”
Conversely, I once felt strangely impressed to speak on a passage different from the one selected. Not only did I feel unprepared, but questioned preaching on a text dealing with salvation—since most of the congregation had made a confession of faith. When I hesitantly complied, those who had declined to follow Jesus now relented. Needless to say, there was great rejoicing.
Along a lighter line, I was preaching in a village church. It was during the summer, and the front door to the sanctuary was left open. I was well into my message when a cat made its entrance. Glancing around, it made its way down the aisle toward where I was standing. Two or three persons stirred, as if intending to remove the feline visitor, but thought better of it. Upon reaching the front of the sanctuary, it leaped up onto the front pew. This comforted me with the thought that it would likely settle down and fall asleep. Instead, it reached up with its paws, and peered over the back of the pew—surveying the assembled congregation. At this point, everyone seemed focused on the curious animal. It shortly leaped down from the pew, and headed for the open door. Which appeared to be the most memorable feature of the gathering.
Then there was the time when asked to participate in the ordination service of a youthful Nigerian candidate. At one point, we were asked to lay our hands on his head or shoulders, while offering prayer on his behalf. As I glanced down, there were several small black hands and one larger white hand—my own. I was suddenly overwhelmed with the universal character of the Christian fellowship. It was sometime later that I heard Billy Graham refer to the experience of being a world Christian. So that I was readily able to identify.
Having mentioned the feline intruder earlier, there are other sorts of distractions. One of the elderly women in our congregation made a practice of sitting in the same place. A visitor, unaware of her intent, usurped her place. She was irate, and threatened to beat him with her cane. When alerted, he settled for a place well out of her reach. But not before inviting persons to watch the interchange.
A former pastor employed voluminous notes. Sitting near the front of the sanctuary, I could approximate how much longer he would preach from the size of the pile remaining. On this occasion, a window was left open. Suddenly there was gust of wind that scattered his notes on the floor. Not only that, but they were no longer in sequence. Consequently, he scurried around in an attempt to gather and rearrange his notes. While inviting someone to close the window.
By way of contrast, there was another who refused to use notes. It amazed me that he was able to be so effective without them. Until I visited him and his wife one weekend. I then learned that they engaged in rigorous Bible study throughout the week. Thus his sermons were a product of their diligent study.
I was preaching without notes on one occasion, and alerted the assembly that my sermon consisted of three points—holding up my fingers for emphasis. Not sooner had I done so, than I forgot one of the three points. Whereupon, I addressed the first two points while fashioning a third. I guess that would qualify as multi-tasking.
Moreover, I have sometimes been called upon unexpectedly. Such as when visiting a local church, the pastor unexpectedly invited me to preach. I did so, misgivings notwithstanding. This brought to mind the saying, “One is not prepared to live if not primed to die.” Not that preaching and death are one and the same.
Some years ago, I attended a college chapel service. The speaker was the then president of Wheaton College, V. Raymond (Prexy) Edman. He was alluding to his encounter with royalty as analogous to entering God’s presence. Anticipating the later, he worked his way around the pulpit. Just then he fell forward, and lay prostrate on the stage. Persons rushed forward to assist him, along with a nurse in attendance. Thus he entered into the presence of the Great King.
There follows several pertinent texts in conclusion. Initially, “From that time on (following his temptation) Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’” (Matt. 4:17). Additionally, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel. Where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation” (Rom. 15:20). Finally, “The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, and not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important things that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Phil. 1:17-18).
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