Most of us manage to do something unexpectedly well at least once. In Vanuatu on one occasion – and only one – I fixed a tractor at the behest of a principal who was obviously one of those “glass half-full” characters. I did not have the faintest idea what I was doing, but somehow I got the machine working. Fixing it on a regular basis, however, was beyond me, so this one effort, alas, was an unrepeatable performance.
In preaching, the most difficult task is the week-in and week-out proclamation of God’s Word in a way that is both faithful to God and captivating to the congregation. The one-off special occasion sermon is not sufficient. Clearly, we need to know the Word and be able to speak reasonably well, yet there is more to preaching than public speaking. Paul reminded the Thessalonian Christians that “our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess. 1:5). There is something not easily defined about powerful preaching, but it is certainly not just teaching in a loud voice.
God’s Word is described as light (Ps. 119:105), a hammer and fire (Jer. 23:29), seed and milk (1 Pet. 1:23-2:2) and honey and gold (Ps. 19:10). It is therefore meant to teach, convict, inform, nourish, and sustain us. Our hearers ought to know that it is precious to us, and not just a part of our weekly routine.
How can this come about? Martyn Lloyd-Jones was not being unfair when he complained that “present-day preaching does not even annoy men”. Often, truth has been missing, and almost as often, passion is not there. There is to be an interaction and a mutuality between the preacher and his congregation. This cannot be counterfeited; it is something that only the presence of the Holy Spirit can bring about. Presbyters are responsible for preaching faithfully and well, but man cannot control the Holy Spirit.
In the end, preachers need to imbibe what Augustine declared to his people: “I nourish you with what nourishes me; I offer to you what I live on myself.” If that sense is present in the gathering of Christ’s people, we may hope that the Holy Spirit is at work, and will continue to be at work.