Celebrating Understanding..."Boring Preaching Part 2"
After writing the blog "Boring Preaching", a good friend sent me a response with a verse that followed that passage. It's so cool what happens when a preacher/prophet handles the Word with considerable care, making it clear and giving it meaning. Check this out...
Ne 8:12 - "Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them. ..."
I heard someone say one time, you shouldn't leave church fed, you should leave church hungrier. That is so say, if you've truly been fed, it should result in hunger pangs, not a post-Thanksgiving-meal-nap-inducing sedative. I remember another person saying, "I know when I've encountered God in a message when I can't remember the message, but I want to get home and read the Word." I've never forgotten these comments for some reason. I think it's because it flies in the face of what usually occurs.
People take notes and remember points. They fill in the blanks as thee follow linear thought. They crack open their Bibles and nonchalantly follow along to humor the pastor. Or they just read the lyrics off the screen that are miraculously provided for them by a computer somewhere in the back. When asked what the message was about, their 9 hour short term memory kicks in and they rattle off a couple tips or techniques they learned like: The greatest commandment is #1. Love the Lord Your God. #2. Love your neighbor as yourself. There, I did it, I remembered something, I answered your questions. Or--and this is most common--people don't remember a lick about the Word, they just remember the illustrations and stories that were shared to support the text being explained. When asked what the illustration was trying to drive home, they stand there trying to make the connection to no avail. The story becomes the end-all, instead of the means to the end.
But after these people heard the word spoken in their vernacular with meaning and clarity, they "celebrated with great joy". They threw a party, eating and drinking, sending food to other people in need, dancing and carrying on like Italians at a wedding reception! It was a festive occasion filled with mirth and merriment! Why? Because they understood the Word of God. They took the time to throw a party over probably one of the most overlooked wonders of modern time. God's mind can be known. God's heart is accessible to the common man. God's dreams aren't lofty and ineffable, they can be touched with the tactile hands of an uneducated peasant.
People were starving to know the Word of God and the God of the Word. But there was one copy of the Scriptures and a select few with the education and authority to interpret them. They were tethered to the personality and passion, the imagination and illumination, the mind and the mouth of the middleman, the preacher. Their experience of the Word could be dry and didactic, or wet and weighty.
I just heard the other day that when people pray to God for potatoes, He typically give them a hoe. Why? Because we have to work for them. He doesn't just give us what we want. No, he puts the hoe in someone's hands and says, "Cultivate, work the ground, fertilize, weed, nurture and gather." He sends the rain, He provides the light, but we are responsible for the work.
Preaching is work. Hard work. You work the ground until you're buckling in a sweaty faint. And rightly so, you're unpacking the heart of God so that people can understand what's crowding God's head on any given day.
And make no mistake, 'understanding" has to remain the crowned jewel, the shining achievement of the preacher. We cannot take joy in clever tricks of the trade or polished storytelling or silver-tongued articulation or theological theatrics...no, we must gauge success on the basis of people's understanding leading to party-throwing celebrations. What kind of party is thrown, even if it's inside the heart of the hearer, when the gospel is spoken. Are people going home excited because they've been invited into "knowing" and "understanding" God more personally, more palpably? Or do they just know more stuff.
I long to share the Word in a way that people come salivating and leave celebrating. That they come hungry and leave hungrier. I realize that I can only bring human illustration and God brings holy illumination, so this is and always will be a tandem effort. But I can't shirk my responsibility to unleash clarity and meaning leading to understanding. Then, and only then, will people go home to eat and drink and celebrate understanding God...maybe for the first time!
Some more thoughts on Preaching with Power.