We’ve all experienced it: that freeing, liberating feeling that an honest confession from a friend brings, which causes you to un-tense and say, “… Oh! So I’m not the freak I thought I was? Thank goodness!” It does’t matter as much what the subject is. Call it “misery loves company” or “true confessions”, there is something about that kind of vulnerability from a fellow struggler that brings validity, and also hope, to the listener, in the same way that seeing your opponents’ poker hand across the table brings relief from worry about your own bad hand. And yet – if we all know the hope and camaraderie that comes from such vulnerable confessions in our our everyday experience – why is it that we are so reticent to offer such comfort from the pulpit?
Because – conversely – there is something so crushing and discouraging about seeing someone do something so well which you fail at daily; maybe even hourly. It’s the kid who learns piano quickly while you continue to struggle learning simple scales. It’s the guy who easily gets ripped abs in weeks while you work tirelessly and diet for years with no discernible result. Rather than inspiring, these examples usually only bring about despair.
And yet what baffles me is that – even knowing and experiencing that same discouragement in our own day to day lives – we can still believe that presenting a polished, filtered version of ourselves from the pulpit, will still inspire people to Christ-like character, more than the truth will.
Let me say it plainly: it doesn’t.
How we can do this as preachers is so much easier and deceptive than you’d think. Consider:
– every time you present a real-life illustration where you do “just the right thing” at “just the right moment”;
– every time you do application negatively without including some example of how you too are tempted to do (or actually do) the very same thing yourself;
– every time you do application positively without showing how that same truth has impacted your own life,
Every time you do that (intentionally or not) what you show to people, is an unattainable, crushing picture of reality. And I know this pressure to present a “polished” reality from the pulpit first hand b/c – every time I seek to personally apply a truth from the bible to myself – I wonder, “What will people think of me if I reveal that?”
Yet, as usual, Tim Keller said it so well when he stated, “Christian communicators must show that we remember (or at least understand) very well what it is like not to believe.”
The Christ-exalting/self-depracating choice
In 2 Corinthians 12:9, the apostle Paul reminds us that God’s power is actually shown to be most strong when we are seen to be most weak. He actually says, in the latter part of that verse, that he will even boast about his weaknesses, so that the power of Christ will be seen – even more – as the superior power it is. And, of course, we see Paul doing just that in his recorded ministry; even referring to himself as the least of the apostles b/c of his past (1 Cor. 15:9) and the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Somehow, Paul believed so strongly in what God said to him about the way his own weaknesses showed the superior strength of Christ all the more brightly, that he didn’t shrink back from really showing people those weaknesses. In the end, he was simply living out the words of John the Baptist in John 3:30 .
Showing our hand
In 1 Peter 3:1-3 the apostle Paul exhorts fellow under-shepherds to be “examples to the flock.” The question that needs to be asked at the end of the day is, “examples of what?” Are we to be examples of moral conquest and overcoming of sin alone? Or are we – much more so – to be examples of the reality of an imperfect life lived out before a holy righteous God who has qualified us, by His grace alone, to be a part of His family?
My plea to preachers of God’s word is simple: be examples, first, of how God has changed you; how He continues to impact, inspire, and correct you. This – as I see it it – is what truly helps people see the gospel for the power it is. Not – as Paul says – that we have already attained it, or been made perfect; but that we are striving for it, right alongside the same people we are preaching to about it. Rather than weakening people’s idea of God and His strength, it will place you (rightly) directly alongside the man or woman in the pew, who is presently struggling to believe/apply/hope in what you are proclaiming anyways. That picture of a co-struggler – in the end – is infinitely more hopeful and inspiring to Christ-like character. And isn’t this what we are all are seeking to inspire in our flock anyways?
The only roadblock, then, to showing our hand from the pulpit is: we need to truly believe that it is more inspiring to the people we’re preaching to.
“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Cor. 4:5-7 ESV)