Adele Richards is an amateur parent of two exceedingly fabulous little girls. Once upon a time, in a galaxy far away...
What power do words really hold? According to statistics 55% of communication is non-verbal, 38% is in the tone and only 7% is communicated by the actual words. Which makes me wonder whether instead of studying theology, most preachers would do better to study mime. “Roll up! Roll up! Come to Bible School and learn how to walk up and down invisible steps, get trapped in an invisible cube and pull on an invisible rope. You’ll love it!”
No-one likes to be on the receiving end of a sales pitch.
The quote “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words” is attributed to Francis of Assisi, a monk who lived at the end of the 12th century. Makes you wonder which famous quotes of our century will stand the test of time. Maybe “I’ll be back!” or “Eat my shorts!”. Or then again…
Clearly there is something about Francis’s comment that resonates through the centuries. Perhaps it is because most people do not like to be preached at. Ironic then that the focus of most church services is ‘the preach’. Most of the sermons you hear are wonderful, I’m sure. It is that didactic ‘preachy’ preach that tells you how you should live and why you are getting it all wrong, that grates. Although I’m not sure if we in the church even notice this any more because we are so used to being ‘preached at’. It is mother’s milk to us.
The more you hang out with those outside the church, the more you see the wariness in their eyes when they sense a ‘preach’ heading their way. You know, that look they get when you say you are a Christian? You can see the defences go up as they prepare themselves for the sales pitch. And they can smell a sales pitch from ten miles away.
Let’s be honest. No-one likes to be on the receiving end of a sales pitch. Whether it’s someone on the phone trying to sell you life insurance, or a second hand car dealer announcing the deal of the century. You can tell when they are only interested in making a sale. You can tell when they don’t care one jot about you. It stinks.
But the Mac Genius at the Mac Bar, who clearly knows his stuff and is happy to lend you his expertise for a few minutes for free. Now that is attractive. Because he loves it, because he wants to help you, and because we are at some level aware of our need for help from an expert. If they aren’t obnoxious, we will listen.
So, I am quite comfortable with Francis’s idea that we can preach the gospel without getting all preachy. But what does Jesus have to say about all this? Jesus quotes Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” The word used for preach in the original Hebrew is ‘piel’ which means:
1) to gladden with good news
2) to bear news
3) to announce (salvation) as good news, preach
That second definition intrigues me. It makes the word ‘preach’, that I often think of as just words, seem like something more tangible. When you bear a child, or you bring a parcel, it’s not just words; there is something to see. And it’s pretty darn exciting.
My plan is to be stupidly in love.
And if you have really good news to share with someone – they can tell before you even open your mouth. It is physically difficult to hold the news in! Your body gives you away. Your eyes are shining! You burst into the room with a whoop! in your step. You bring the good news into the room with you. You can feel good news before it even takes word form. It’s contagious. Who wouldn’t want to know what you’re looking so flipping excited about? Apparently it even makes your feet look nice: “As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10:15).
I have a confession. I’m pretty sure that I don’t often bring this kind of pizzazz into a room. Sometimes pizza, yes, but not good-news-bursting-out pizzazz. But I have a vision for one day, bringing the pizzazz. I have a dream of having more beautiful feet – and it’s not achieved by pedicures. My plan is to be stupidly in love. People who are in love are noticeably radiant. They are full of the joys of Spring, they love everyone and everything because life is good, because they are IN LURVE. Yes, that’s going to be me; shiny-eyed and glossy-coated. I love him, yes. We’re dating at the moment. But one day I’m going to fall for the Bridegroom big time and then, watch out! I shall be a woman in love.
They hung on every word he said.
When Jesus walked into a room he brought the pizzazz. I mean, he BROUGHT it, he DELIVERED it. BOOM. Something amazing was there, in the look in his eye. He only had to invite the disciples to follow him and they left their livelihoods in an instant. Children flocked to him. But Jesus did also use words. He taught and preached and he did tell people, didactically, what to do and not do. But he also told stories. Lots of stories. That most people did not understand. Even the disciples had to ask him what on earth the parable of the sower meant. And yet thousands of people still followed him up mountains, without a picnic lunch. They hung on every word he said, even when it made no sense to their brains at all. Why?
I once heard James Jordan of Fatherheart Ministries explain that when we are listening to an anointed preacher what we are really doing is drinking from their spirit. James is an amazing, anointed preacher himself; his teaching is theologically mind-blowing but that is not the best part. I have listened to him preach all day, day after day. I heard the same words many times over but it was always fresh because he spoke from his spirit; he released his spirit, and that brought the sweetest presence of Father into the room. He delivered.
This is why note-taking during sermons seems a little beside the point. If what the preacher is saying hasn’t gone into your spirit, if you haven’t encountered God as she speaks, and been changed by it, then a notebook full of references is of little lasting use to you.
Your friends who don't know God, know you.
True preaching isn’t about imparting information into someone’s mind. After all “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up”. True preaching is about imparting Love Himself. We encounter him, when the preacher knows how to speak from their heart or spirit. As Jesus says in Matthew 12:34, “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks”. This connection between heart and mouth is vital:
For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. (Romans 10:10)
so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:6)
If our words don’t tally with what is in our hearts they are empty and devoid of power. It is only when they connect with our hearts that they bring the power to change someone else. When preaching with words to those outside the church if the motive in our hearts is manipulative, the listener can hear that. They can see it in the coolness of our eye and they can smell it from a mile off. It stinks.
Words are powerful, but hearts more so. Your friends who don’t know God, know you. They read you. They read your life. They look to see whether you really love them or whether they are just your evangelism project. So if we want to be amazing preachers our hearts need to keep being filled with Love Himself. He smells amazing. So let’s love him, and love others, and fall even more madly in love because that’s a good sermon right there. Oh, and you can use words too. If necessary.
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