Despite all the planning and work and communication–the busyness–that characterized my first few months of work here at FAC (which actually started before July), there was an overall sense of momentum, of positive feedback, of, well, adequacy. I was moving along at a steady pace, dotting at least most of my Is and crossing most of my Ts. I was settling rather smugly into my new role here.
Anyone who has taught or preached to Youth knows that there is hardly a tougher crowd to keep engaged. The work of interpreting God’s Word for today to teens is no small endeavor. I often find myself struggling to find that razor thin line between faithfulness to the text of Scripture and contextualization to teens. How do I speak the language of both Scripture and the teenage community? How do I speak the Word of God today in a way that is both accessible and faithful? How do I speak as Jesus would speak if he were here?
A few weeks ago I began a series through the book of Philippians. The sermons actually began with that same sense of momentum, of positive feedback, that same sense of adequacy. This past week was my third week in and I stood up to preach with more confidence and preparedness, more of a sense of adequacy, than any week prior. I’m not so sure if the fall I experienced was a result of the pride that preceded it, but whatever the case my pride came home to roost…like a nest falling out of a tree. Indeed, pride came before the fall. I’m not exactly sure how everything came across to the students, but all I know is that over the next 35 minutes, I spoke with a heavy heart, with a scattered mind, with a sense of absolute inadequacy. It was perhaps the least effective message I have preached in years…but I think it was the one I needed to hear most.
My immediate prayer after the service was that God would work despite me, that God would proclaim his word in the teens’ hearts despite my inability to do so, that…”God’s power would be made perfect in my weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). And that’s when it hit me–this is the prayer God has been desiring me to pray all along. All of my momentum, all of the positive feedback, all of delusions of adequacy had only served to make me self-reliant, independent, even smug. But God humbled this week by showing how woefully inadequate I am to handle his Word, how incredibly arrogant of me it was to presume upon my ability to communicate the Word of the living God who desires only that preachers will trust in Him to speak through their necessarily weak and inadequate attempts.
While I am most certainly grateful for all the wonderful support I’ve received since coming on board here, please don’t ever hesitate to remind me of how inadequate I am, how necessarily inadequate I am. It is human nature for performance to increase with pride, with self-confidence, self-reliance. But for the preacher–perhaps better: for the Christian–it is rather that as pride, as self-confidence, as self-reliance decrease, as human power decreases, God’s power increases. And Lord knows that these teens need not my “eloquent words of wisdom, but the demonstration of the Spirit and power” (1 Cor. 2:4).
It is fitting that this coming Sunday I will be preaching on Philippians 2, on the humility and self-emptying of Christ. May it become true for me as well.
“He must increase; I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30).