2. Look for any logs in your own eye. Consider:
- What’s your purpose in confrontation—to get something off your chest and feel better, or to genuinely serve and love the person?
- Have you contributed to the problem? Have you dealt with your contribution?
3. Speak to the person alone, unless…
- It’s with a member of the opposite sex and either you or the person is married, in which case you might want to involve a spouse.
- It puts you at physical risk.
4. Generally, speak in person, not by phone or in writing.
5. Generally, use the Bible.
6. Give the person the benefit of the doubt. Specifically...
- Put yourself in the person’s shoes (“Do unto others…”).
- Assume you don’t know all the facts.
- Often, ask questions.
- Often, relate your own experience first. (Remember you’re a sinner confronting a sinner.)
7. Give the person an opportunity to bring unknown sin out of the dark by…
- Asking for concrete details (“How many times would you estimate…”)
- Asking open-ended questions (“Is there anything else…”).
8. Don’t waffle, but speak directly, clearly, and succinctly. If you’re speaking for five minutes, you’re probably speaking too long.
9. Don’t manipulate with threats; control your emotions; and trust the Spirit to convict, not your presentation.
10. Keep praying and loving.
There's an interesting article in The Washington Post today about churches services that were or were not held around the area yesterday.
- 10% of Protestant churches canceled their meetings yesterday. That's lower than I would have guessed.
- A discussion of how presents and time with family have become the focus of Christmas, to the point that some pastors feel guilty for having services that will take away from people's family time.
- A note on how evangelicals consider Christmas Day services to be a Roman Catholic idea.
- Some churches didn't meet but did community service together in order to be "the church in the world".
There are some churches—faithful, Bible-preaching churches—where the after-church conversations are so secular that you could swap them out for the lunch crowd at a local restaurant. And if after-church conversations are this secular, then others are likely to fare little better in terms of spiritual substance.
Why is this? Certainly different cultures will have different thresholds of what is comfortable to talk about, and with whom, and we must make some allowance for that.
Yet far deeper than cultural differences lies a spiritual battle. If Satan can keep Christians’ conversation on topics that don’t foster spiritual progress, even when you’ve stuck dozens or hundreds of them in a room together, then he’s got a pretty good footing from which to choke out their spiritual growth.
In other words, a culture of spiritual conversation in a local church is a powerful force for sanctification. Every pastor, then, should strive to cultivate the kind of culture in which it is utterly normal to confess sin, offer encouragement, share struggles, and apply Scripture to all of the above and more.
How? Here are seven suggestions.
SEVEN WAYS TO BUILD A CULTURE OF SPIRITUAL CONVERSATION
1. Recognize the spiritual battle. Conversation is not incidental. Words reveal the heart (Matt. 12:34). If people’s words are filled with worldly concerns, that’s because their hearts are filled with worldly concerns. Ultimately, only God the Holy Spirit can give the kind of spiritual life and growth which enables this kind of culture. So pray that he would.
This won’t happen by accident. It’s unnatural for us to speak of spiritual things not just because such matters are personal, but because we’re sinners, and sin likes to stay in the darkness (Jn. 3:19-20). So you can’t let your church culture just go with the flow—you have to constantly swim upstream.
2. In your sermons, encourage people to talk about the sermon immediately after the service. As you’re applying God’s Word to your people’s lives, tell them to talk about these things with each other. Suggest a point of application for people to discuss right after church, or on the drive home, or at lunch. Make an encouragement to talk about sermon application one of your points of application. If you talk about talking about the sermon, people will start to talk about the sermon.
Further, it is entirely possible for the Word to fall along the path and for college football to snatch it up and carry it off. So encourage your members to discuss the sermon right after the close of the service.
Of course it’s allowable to discuss football, the weather, and the news after church. But it’s particularly strategic to discuss spiritual matters during the only time in the week when the entire church has come together in the same place and has just spent forty-five minutes listening to a sermon.
So show your people the preciousness of that opportunity. Encourage them to think strategically about how to use the times around the church service to do spiritual good to others. And encourage them not to be sermon critics, but to apply the Scriptures to the stuff of their lives, right then and there. That will set a precedent for the rest of the week.
3. If you have an all-church prayer meeting, have church members pray through the main points of the sermon every week. If your people talk to God together about the sermon, they’ll be more likely to talk to each other about it, and about other spiritual matters.
4. In discipling relationships, use the Bible and Christian books—or whatever it takes—as a third party. Many people who feel uncomfortable about discussing spiritual matters one-on-one will be more open if you add the Bible or a solid Christian book as the third member of your group. So read a chapter in the Bible or a book together and discuss that. Use it as a springboard into more personal matters.
For some men the “third party” might be working on their car or around the house. There are many men who wouldn’t be caught dead having a heart to heart at Starbucks, but who will open right up once they’ve got a hammer in their hand.
5. Constantly give away good books. Reading gives you something to talk about. If you liberally salt your congregation with good books, their conversations will slowly begin to reflect the contents of those books.
6. Lead by example. Consistently model spiritual conversation. Share judiciously about your own struggles, challenges, and areas of growth. Tell others about how you have been applying the Word to those issues through your own daily devotions. Be transparent about your own spiritual life—a see-through leader is a powerful culture-shaping force.
7. Lead by example—through questions. One of the best ways to foster a culture of spiritual conversation in your church is to consistently and subtly force other people to do the talking. Ask questions like:
- “What are you reading in your quiet times?” (“Um…I haven’t been having a quiet time.” “Well, OK, let’s talk about that.”)
- How have you been growing spiritually lately?
- What are some sins you’ve been struggling with lately?
- What has God been teaching you lately?
- How’s your marriage?
Don’t just ask questions like these, but listen hard afterward. If no response is forthcoming, let the silence grow heavy and uncomfortable. Awkward silences can be wonderfully revelatory, both to you and to your church members. At the very least, your people shouldn’t be able to avoid talking about spiritual things with you, their pastor.
KEEP SWIMMING UPSTREAM
So ask spiritually pointed questions. Model godly conversation. Explicitly encourage spiritual conversations after church. Ask God to ignite a culture of godly conversation.
And keep patiently swimming upstream. Before you know it, more and more of your members will be swimming alongside you.
There are a lot of things a church should look for in its next pastor. But as your church considers different pastoral candidates, I want to make sure this is toward the top of your list: a supernatural faith in the power of God’s Word.
AS IMPORTANT ANY OTHER QUALITY
I’m not talking about a man who simply checks the belief box on the “authority” or “sufficiency” or “power” of the Bible.
I’m talking about a man who whose conviction here runs so deep that it profoundly influences the way he works and lives. He plans his weekly schedule based on this conviction. He rests his daily mood upon this conviction. He even picks his clothes in the morning knowing that, it’s not how good he looks that will bring life to the dead, it’s the resurrection power of God’s Word and Spirit.
This is as important as any other quality a pastor could have. It’s as important as swimming is to a lifeguard, throwing is to a quarterback, or adding is to an accountant. It defines the very task of what a pastor does.
THE POWER OF THE WORD
Humans create with hands, shovels, and bulldozers. Not God. God creates with words. He says, “Be,” and it is. He says “Peace” to the riotous wind and waves, and they obey. He says “Come forth” to dead people and their eyes pop open.
Just as astonishing, God tells the light to shine in dark hearts, giving them the ability to see the glory of his Son (2 Cor. 4:6). His Word of power saves (Rom. 10:17). It fundamentally changes people (1 Thess. 1:5-7). It gives the new birth (1 Peter 1:23).
Now get this: God gives his faithful servants the ability to do the same things. “If anyone speaks, she should do it as one speaking the very words of God.” (1 Peter 4:11). This is why Don Carson calls preaching “re-revelation.” A preacher’s primary task is to say again what God has already said. Did you think life comes to the dead through the power of our intelligence or humor or charisma?
Picture Ezekiel standing in a valley of dry bones. He preaches God’s Word, God’s Spirit blows, and the bones come to life. Your church wants a pastor who believes—deep in his bones!—that the same supernatural power is available to him. POW! He doesn’t rely on “the weapons of the world” but on “divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4). KAZAMM!
WHY THIS IS CRITICAL
Why is this critical for who your church should look for in a pastor search?
- It will keep him from manipulating. Paul said he “renounced secret and shameful ways” but instead “set forth the truth plainly” (2 Cor. 4:2). If a man believes that the Word alone is powerful to save, that’s what he’ll do—preach plainly and not try to emotionally manipulate.
- It will keep him from building your church and your spiritual life on his personality. Paul wasn’t a “trained speaker” with an impressive resume, like the “super-apostles.” He just preached Jesus, the Spirit, and the gospel (2 Cor. 11:4-5). Likewise, you want a man who is a good steward of his gifts, doesn’t rely on or trust his gifts to give life. He plants and waters, but relies on God to give the growth (1 Cor. 3:6-7). Men who build on their personalities have churches filled with nominal Christians.
- It will keep him happy. A man who trusts God to save by his Word and Spirit is a man who can sleep at night, because it doesn’t finally depend on him. This is a happy man who probably has a happy wife and children because he spends time with them. He doesn’t carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. This is a man who won’t burn out as easily and will serve your church for years.
- It’s the primary means to your growth and your church’s growth. It’s through the words of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers that God’s people become prepared for works of service “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13).
- It’s your best hope of reaching non-Christian neighbors. “Faith comes from hearing the message,” says Paul (Rom. 10:17). Can the message be proclaimed through special programs and events? Of course. But you want a man who recognizes that it’s the regular, weekly “in season, out of season” work of “great patience and careful instruction” that saves the lost and builds up the saints—you want a man who “does the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:2-5).
HOW CAN YOU TELL?
How do you know if a pastoral candidate has these convictions?
- Consider what he’s excited about. Does he make good but secondary things primary?
- Ask him about his philosophy of preaching.
- Ask him what his last ten sermons were.
- Ask what he could imagine preaching in the first year at your church.
- Ask about his personal evangelism and personal discipleship of Christians. What role does the Word play?
- Look for evidences of patience. A man who believes in the power of God’s Word will be a patient man, not someone who insists on quick, visible results.
This article was originally posted at www.pastorsearchresources.com, and has been reprinted here courtesy of Chris Brauns.
When Christians suffer, they need the indicatives, the facts of the gospel. They need to know the promises of God, the benefits of being in Christ, and the reality of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Those truths are our comfort when we are wounded, slandered, or tempted.
But suffering believers also need the imperatives, the commands. Yes, we need to know the objective truths of the gospel. But we also need to know what to do with our hands and our hearts and our minds in the meantime. And we find in these imperatives sure footing for difficult times, a clear statement of God's will when we don't intuitively know what to do.
- But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44 ESV)
- Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV)
- Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (James 1:2-3 ESV)
- Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. (James 5:13 ESV)
- But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:14-16 ESV)
In your counseling and care, don't neglect the imperatives!
Charles Spurgeon, Repentance Unto Life:
I have never known a man who has thought upon, and taken a view of the cross, who has not found that it begat "repentance," and begat faith. We look at Jesus Christ if we would be saved, and we then say. "Amazing sacrifice! that Jesus thus died to save sinners."
If you want faith, remember he gives it, if you want repentance, he gives it! if you want everlasting life, he gives it liberally. He can force you to feel your great sin, and cause you to repent by the sight of Calvary's cross, and the sound of the greatest, deepest death shriek, "Eloi! Eloi! lama sabachthani?" "My God! my God! why hast thou forsaken me?"
That will beget "repentance;" it will make you weep and say, "Alas! and did my Saviour bleed; and did my Sovereign die for me?" Then beloved, if you would have "repentance," this is my best advice to you—look to Jesus.
I tend to underestimate the power of repetition. Repetition can be a useful rhetorical device in a sermon, I often try to come up with a key phrase that summarizes the point of the sermon and repeat it several times in the course of a message.
But what I am sometimes tempted to neglect is repeating concepts that I have taught in previous sermons. So, for a random example, last week I was preaching on Deuteronomy 18:15 and the promise of a prophet like Moses. In the course of the message we looked at the Transfiguration and the significance it has in showing the fulfillment of the prophecy in Deuteronomy.
Well, in Luke 9:31 we are told that during the Transfiguration Moses spoke to Jesus about his coming departure (Greek: exodos). All commentators agree that it's significant that Luke chose to use that particular word, but I wasn't sure whether it was something I ought to mention in the context of my sermon on Deuteronomy 18:15. But as I deliberated the issue the thought occurred to me, "I don't really need to point this out. After all, I mentioned this when I preached on Luke 9 three years ago."
As an experiment, I asked five people in my church who would have heard that sermon three years ago if they remembered the significance of Luke's word choice there in 9:31. All of them remembered the sermon, but none of them remembered why the word in that verse mattered.
The take-away? I need to be remember to be realistic about what people are retaining from the messages I preach each week. I also need to embrace repetition. Just because I've said it a bunch of times doesn't mean everyone in the congregation has heard it. And that reminds me to keep preaching and repeating the same gospel week in and week out.
In many churches, the elders aren’t really the leaders. But they should be.
ELDERS WHO AREN’T LEADING
Scenario one: The elders are viewed as more of an advisory board. They’re trustees, not teachers. They exercise some responsibility over policies, personnel, and programs, but the only real leader is the senior pastor.
Scenario two: The elders don’t really lead the church because the staff have taken over that role. The staff run all the programs. The staff are most people’s point of contact in the church. If you have a question or problem, you’ll turn to the youth leader or women’s ministry director or discipleship coordinator.
Scenario three: At the other end of the spectrum, these theologically minded elders shy away from anything that remotely resembles administration. Patterning their ministry on the apparent division of labor in Acts 6, the elders devote themselves to the ministry of the Word and prayer and leave everything else to deacons and other church members, from the church budget, to the contents of the worship service, to the selection of books in the bookstore.
In the first two scenarios, the elders need to grow into their role as shepherds (1 Pet. 5:2) and ministers of the Word (1 Tim. 3:2).
The elders in the third scenario are much closer to the mark, but I would suggest that there are some ways in which they’re still failing to truly lead.
ELDERS ARE LEADERS AND OVERSEERS
What does the Bible say about elders’ leadership?
- 1 Timothy 5:17 (NIV) says, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” The Greek term behind “direct the affairs” is proistemi, which has two basic meanings: (i) to exercise leadership, and (ii) to care for someone or something. The first is clearly in view here. The elders exercise leadership over the whole church. In other translations they “rule” or “are leaders.”
- This word also shows up in 1 Timothy 3:4 and 12, where Paul says that both elders and deacons must manage their households well. Managing a household involves comprehensive oversight, including making decisions, teaching, training children, setting a godly example, and competently managing finances. That this kind of leadership is a prerequisite for being an elder suggests that “administration” as such is not beyond the pale of elders’ responsibilities.
- Further, another common term for “elder” in the New Testament is “overseer” (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1-2; Tit. 1:7). This Greek noun (episkopos) and its cognate verb imply the assumption of responsibility and care. Care for what? The church and its affairs.
Therefore, what can look like delegation of administration may in fact be abdication of leadership.
- What about Acts 6? True, the apostles devote themselves to the Word and prayer and refuse to allow administration to usurp those priorities (Acts 6:1-7). But that’s just the point—they don’t allow administration to usurp those priorities. So, they exercise their leadership to come up with a solution that serves the church. They don’t just say, “Distribution of food? That’s not our job!”
Taken together, these New Testament passages clearly teach that the elders have a general responsibility to lead and oversee the affairs of the church. That’s a broad, all-embracing responsibility. Given their primary focus on teaching and attending to the spiritual needs of the flock, elders shouldn’t allow administration to swamp those priorities. Yet on the other hand, they shouldn’t abdicate leadership either.
In general, the extent of their involvement will vary depending on how closely the matter at hand relates to the ministry of the Word and spiritual oversight.
PRACTICAL APPLCATION: TEACHING, WORSHIP, BOOKSTALL, BUDGET
What does this mean practically?
Preaching and teaching: The elders will likely do the majority of it, and they will exercise very close oversight over other teachers who contribute. The elders should also exercise oversight over the content that is taught in every area of the church’s life, from small groups to children’s ministry to evangelistic outreaches. This doesn’t mean the elders need to do all the teaching. But it does mean that the elders as a whole have a special responsibility for everything that is taught.
Corporate worship: The elders are finally responsible for the contents, since corporate worship is a ministry of the Word. A non-elder should not have full and final authority over, for example, what songs the church sings. The elders may decide to delegate much of the work to, for example, a theologically sound and musically gifted deacon, but it should be clear to all involved—including the congregation—that the elders are responsible for the contents of corporate worship.
Bookstall: The elders should have the say over what books are and aren’t included. After all, recommending books is an extension of the ministry of the Word. They may assign one elder or a theologically discerning deacon to manage the store, and perhaps do most of the legwork for selecting titles. But the elders should have veto power over what books are sold.
The church budget: This is trickier territory. On the one hand, the elders should work not to get bogged down in endless details. So it makes good sense to farm out much of the legwork to one or more deacons, or the treasurer, or other godly and trustworthy individuals in the church.
On the other hand, the elders should set the overall direction for the budget, since it reflects and embodies the church’s ministry priorities. So the elders should lead the church in considering how much money to give to missions, how much and what kind of staff should serve the church, what local evangelistic ministries to partner with and to what extent, and so on.
Also, it takes godliness and maturity to ensure that pastors are paid enough (1 Tim. 5:17; Gal. 6:6). Not every budget committee obeys Scripture’s clear command to provide for our pastors’ needs.
Thus, the elders should handle the aspects of budgeting that most directly relate to spiritual oversight and the ministry priorities which flow from the Word. And they should gladly delegate much of the plumbing work to other godly church members, who perhaps work together with a small subset of fiscally wise elders.
Of course this is a difficult balance to strike in practice. But my main point is that it should be the elders, not the deacons, or treasurer, or some political cabal, who are “in charge of” putting together the budget. As every leader knows, delegation is essential to leadership. Leading doesn’t mean doing everything yourself. But the budget should be, and should be seen to be, a matter in which the elders lead and exercise substantial authority.
My basic point in all this is that the elders should lead the church. This leadership flows from teaching the Word, setting a godly example, and attending to the spiritual state of the flock. But it also flows into all kinds of practical matters as those matters intersect with the church’s theological vision.
Dear Mr. Young Expositional Preacher. I am a member of your church. Call me Johnny Average Church Member.
First of all, I am very grateful for your commitment to expositional preaching. Don’t lose the commitment. I know a guy named Leeman who wrote a book on the supernatural power of expositional preaching, which I read, and, on the whole, think I would affirm.
But I need your help. I’m trying really hard to be a better husband, and worker, and citizen, and parent, and to wear all the other hats I have to wear. I need to know how to be a man, how to fight stress, how to have a better prayer life, how to make a difference in my neighborhood. I mean, Greek verb tenses and Old Testament typological structures are sort of interesting to me, at least if it’s one of those Sunday mornings when I’m pepped up on several cups of Joe.
Yet I’m trying to figure out what those things have to do with how I go to work on Monday, and how I speak to my little girl, and what I do with my money. These are the decisions that face me as soon as I walk out of your building. And I have to be honest with you, this is why those big mega-church guys and their topical sermons are appealing to me. They give it to me straight.
Now I know what you’re thinking, because I’ve picked up some of your lingo on The Gospel Coalition website. You’re thinking, “Johnny Average Church Member, it sounds like you’re looking for ‘how-to’ moralism. I preach Christ-centered sermons!”
Yes, thank you, give me Christ-centered sermons. But if Jesus is Lord, shouldn’t that fact affect how I go to work on Monday, and speak to my little girl, and spend my money? What does the gospel have to say to me in all those places? What does the gospel say to me about stress, and retirement, and serving in government, and talking to my friend with a gambling addiction?
It seems to me that your gospel-centered expositional sermons should get to all the stuff that topical preachers preach about, right? Your preaching should be giving people all that and more. I think you call it sermon “application.” Shouldn’t your applications make expositional sermons topical, so to speak? Shouldn’t they, over time, cover all the topics of people’s lives? Shouldn’t the members in your church feel like they’re not missing anything?
Okay, okay, I know there’s still a huge difference between your average topical sermon and your average expositional sermon, which is crucial. The Bible doesn’t exist, and church gatherings don’t happen, and sermons aren’t preached, simply to help people like me do this or that better. And a steady diet of topical preaching can make it seem that way—like the point of the whole church exercise is to improve my daily life. When really, the whole point of gathering and listening to preaching is to behold God, and to hear whatever he wants to say. I know that. I know I need his Word exposed, no matter what it says. I know I need to hear all of it, even the parts that seem obscure and irrelevant.
I’m just saying that I need you to show me how those obscure bits are relevant, even if those Hebrew chiasms are as naturally fascinating to you as they are to my Sunday School teacher who doesn’t get out much. I need you to show me how those chiasms help me to trust more, hope more, love more, and what that faith, hope, and love look like in the different areas of my life. Make sense?
Connect the dots for me. How do I get from justification by faith alone to being a manly man who cares well for his aging parents?
Okay, I admit, I don’t really want you to give up the expositional thing. I just want more from you. I want to have my cake and to eat it, too. Call me biblically greedy. I want you to apply your sermon in my life so that I’m learning all the helpful stuff they’re learning over at Topical Tommy’s church. Okay?
Thanks for listening, Mr. Young Expositional Preacher. For real, I thank God for you, and the fact that you’ve chosen the harder, more faithful path.
The following is a guest post from Brian Croft. Brian serves as the senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. In addition to contributing to the 9Marks blog, Brian writes regularly on his own blog called Practical Shepherding. Brian is married to Cara, and they have four children.
What made my most recent funeral the most difficult I have ever preached?
I have easily done over 100 funerals in the last 10 years, but none quite as burdening and difficult as the funeral I preached on Tuesday. It was the funeral of a dear friend and faithful deacon in our congregation that had been killed in the head on collision on the 2nd St. Bridge last Friday. The funeral was in this man’s hometown about 3 hours from home.
As the funeral approached, nothing I tried lifted the burden. No matter how much I prayed or meditated on Scripture, the weight remained and it was to an intensity I cannot recall ever feeling. As I reflected afterwards, here are the factors that seemed to create this “perfect storm” of struggle that peaked at an unbearable level just a few minutes before the funeral began:
1) The burden to console a young widow and fatherless kids. My friend’s death left a young wife and 2 little kids without a husband and father. It is one thing to lose a dear friend as I did with my pastoral mentor 2 days prior. Yet he, by God’s grace, died with his wife and they had no children. There is a whole other side to grief and sorrow when you watch a wife take her 5 year old daughter to the open casket and watch that little girl say goodbye to her daddy.
2) The burden of souls in my care grieving. As I watched many from our church take the day off work, load up their kids, and drive 3 hours just to attend this service, I was deeply affected by the level of grief most in our church were experiencing. Many of our people came seeking to support this wife, say goodbye to their friend, and anticipate to hear the Word of God in such a way from their pastor that would maybe provide some answers to this tragedy.
3) The burden of souls lost without Christ present. I was prepared that many of the locals that would attend this funeral were not believers in Christ, in fact we learned some were even hostile to the gospel and mad at God for this tragedy. As the chapel at the funeral home began to fill to full standing capacity of lost souls who maybe had never heard the gospel before, I felt the burden grow even more.
4) The burden of expectation to honor my friend. The deceased was not only a dear friend, but had impacted many and the pressure to accurately portray the faithfulness of this man was an honor, but nevertheless also a burden. There is one primary moment when the faithfulness of every man’s life is expected to be vividly described and that is when a hurting, captive group gathers as this one did to remember and celebrate his life.
5) The burden of burying a man my age. I would be lying if I did not acknowledge the burden that existed in burying a man 2 months younger than I am. Most of the funerals I have done have been for the elderly, or at least those in the latter parts of their life. There was a heaviness to burying my friend who was my age and left a daughter behind who is the same age as my youngest daughter.
By the sustaining grace of God, I stood with this great, unshakable burden on my shoulders and preached this man’s funeral. Within seconds of concluding the funeral, the burden was gone. It was like I had preached it out of me. As I look back on my desire for God to lift the burden beforehand, I realized it was this sovereignly appointed burden that God used to force my complete reliance upon Him in that moment. The burden created an edge to my preaching that is not as prevalent when a burden as this is absent.
Although the burden was great and I pleaded for it to be lifted, it was necessary to do what God had appointed for me to do and in the manner it needed to be done. I think it was the closest I have ever felt to Richard Baxter’s exhortation to, “preach as a dying man, preaching to dying men.”
I am a bit closer now than I was to understanding God’s purposes in the thorn that makes Christ’s power perfected in weakness. What has God taught me through this most difficult funeral? Embrace the burden, dear brothers, regardless how great it is for although weak, the power of Christ in it truly makes us strong (2 Cor. 12:9-10).