The first time my preaching class met—last Tuesday—our professor told us this: “I believe preaching must be broken in order to be saved. And by that I mean the preacher must be broken.” This would turn out to be a prophetic word from the Lord, because I was broken on Thursday. It’s difficult for me to remember a time I was so embarrassed.
Our professor pulled out a fishbowl and said, “One of you is going to preach a sermon right now. You have 5-7 minutes.” Of course, I drew the short straw and stumbled my way through a five-minute sermon on Jesus’ interaction with Zacchaeus. It’s a story we all know, but in that moment my mind went completely blank. I said what I could, but just knew that it wasn’t very good. Everybody in the class was very kind and affirming, but I couldn’t stand to make eye contact with anyone. I sat down, wishing more than anything that I could just disappear. My face became warm and tears started forming in my eyes. I was, for the first time in my seminary career, on the verge of tears in class.
And for a while I didn’t understand why I was so upset. I kept working myself up into a frenzy because I was embarrassed, asking myself, “Andrew, why are you doing this? This is nuts. This is not a proportionate response to what just happened.” I couldn’t hear my classmates’ affirmations, or my professor’s kind words. All I could think about was my own failure.
And then God showed me why I was so upset. I wasn’t upset because I hadn’t done the text justice. I wasn’t upset because I didn’t think God had spoken. I was upset because my friends saw me in my weakness. And it became crystal clear to me that my objective in those five minutes wasn’t to give them the word of the Lord for them on that day. What I wanted more than anything was for them to know that I knew what I was doing.
Never before have I understood so clearly what Adam must have felt like in the garden, because in that moment I heard the voice of my professor telling me to get up there, and “I was afraid, and I knew that I was naked.” I wanted to hide. It became clear to me that so much of my career at seminary, and my own ministry in my church, has not been a time of trusting that God would equip me to do the work he has given me to do. I’ve just been running from tree to tree picking up fig leaves, trying to make it on my own.
But God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I know that Paul found himself in my exact situation loads of times in his ministry, and there’s no indication that Paul, on his own, was a phenomenal preacher. In Christ-Centered Preaching, Bryan Chapell calls him a “bookish missionary who was not known for his pulpit expertise.” The difference between Paul and myself last Thursday is that Paul didn’t care how he looked so long as Jesus Christ was magnified. Here’s how he responds to what God said: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
So the lesson I learned on Thursday is that it’s time to start boasting in my weaknesses. I’m not Charles Spurgeon, John Chrysostom, or whoever your favorite preacher is. I’m a young preacher with barely any experience, and Thursday I sat in my chair and fought back tears after not being pleased with my own performance. I also learned that these three and a half years of seminary are not to make me confident in my own abilities. I am here to learn as much as I can, to become a more trustworthy minister of the gospel—but I can’t earn that title. God has made and is making me, and my peers, trustworthy ministers of his gospel through his Son and by the power of his Holy Spirit. By his power. We’re here because he has brought us here.
And if any of you are like me and struggle with being sure of your calling, your motives, or your worthiness, be encouraged as I was by Paul’s words to Timothy: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” It is, of course, important to learn how to handle the word of truth correctly. But we are already approved on the merits of Jesus Christ. We don’t have to be ashamed of our weaknesses and inabilities. God gives us the power to do the work he has given us to do; our role is to want to see the name of Jesus Christ magnified in all the earth.
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.