Discerning Church Learning to discern the movement of God's Spirit

Afraid in Preaching

As we enter Holy Week, I am reminded of the importance of preaching the Cross. I am also prompted to preach in a posture of humility as I approach the task. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth,

(1 Corinthians 2:2–5 NIV) For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.

I find myself continually challenged by these words. We live in a world that celebrates hard work, innovative ideas and culturally relevant methods of communication. Please don’t misunderstand me; I strive for all three of these. Every week, I work hard. I labor over each sermon and put the necessary energy into making the content rich and meaningful. I try to mix it up, integrating new methods of communication that grab the hearer’s attention and draw them into the story. But, Paul’s words remind me that this is not enough. We must be filled with the power of the Spirit as we preach each Sunday.

Paul describes himself as trembling. Why is he filled with fear? Scholars debate this. Many suppose that Paul is overcome with the immense responsibility of proclaiming God’s message. He knows that he cannot do this on his own. Therefore, the fear and trembling aids Paul’s reliance on the Spirit. Others suggest that Paul had some sort of physical ailment that may have caused him embarrassment as a public speaker (from epileptic attacks to chronic migraines). It seems to me that Paul’s fear and trembling is a necessary aspect of preaching. We should be afraid of self-promotion, of hearers being more impressed with our skill than experiencing the power of the Spirit.

On Sunday, we have an incredible responsibility to preach Christ crucified and risen. This may be the only Sunday of the year that some will sit in the pew of a church. My prayer is that we would be filled with the Spirit’s power. A clever message may impress. Innovative approaches may engender comments from the dinner table. But only a trembling preacher with a grand message can change hearts. May we be appropriately afraid as we allow the power of God’s Spirit to fill us with His words. This is not an excuse to slack off and come ill-prepared. An adequate understanding of this truth should inspire us to come with all of ourselves depending on God’s power to do His work through us.

Are you afraid?