The preacher’s new year’s resolutions #5
I will let someone trusted give me some feedback
How is your preaching, Mr Preacher? I don’t just mean content. I mean also style. How does it go down with people in the congregation? I mean, is it the right level? Can people understand? Is it well and appropriately illustrated? Is it engaging? Do you talk too fast? Is your delivery laboured? This is the kind of on-the-spot feedback you need, and you need someone to give it to you. Do not so set yourself above the congregation that you are unable (and the congregation feel unable) to participate. Find a fellow leader, a young person, a new Christian and ask them for some input.
Resolved: I will let someone trusted give me some feedback
The preacher’s new year’s resolutions #4
I will pray after my preaching
How do you feel after your preaching? Job done? Relieved? Tired? All of the above? Me too. So you spend an hour chatting and saying goodbye. You trek home and then there are people for lunch, then it’s the evening meeting. When did you last pray after your sermon? We long for the seed to be sown on good soil, so there is a place for praying against the enemy taking the seed away and praying that the thorns and weeds would not choke the word.
Resolved: I will pray after my preaching
Short term job opportunity
Crystal, our famous office administrator and my PA, is off to have a baby. Her voice will no longer greet you when you ring PT Towers. In the meantime, we need someone to cover her maternity leave, so we're looking for someone who will be able to withstand the joy and delight that is Willcox House (and it is both!). Here's the ad. Is there someone in your church who might be interested? Could you pass it along? Thanks!
The preacher’s new year’s resolutions #3
I will pray over my sermon
We are paid, as someone once put it, to preach and to pray. Read Acts 6 again, Mr Preacher. We are set aside for the ministry of the word and for prayer and it will not surprise you to know that these two are not unconnected. Some people separate out pastoral prayer from praying for preaching, but I find the easiest way to pray for my people is to pray the sermon for them in the week they are on my list. Moreover, my sermon needs to be bathed in prayer. You could take the advice of one experienced preacher and take your manuscript out for a walk, praying and reading as you go. From time to time I’ve physically laid out my sermon before God (Isaiah 37:14). You may think that’s a bit quirky and you may be right, but it focuses my mind on praying for the sermon in particular. Find your own way.
Resolved: I will pray over my sermon.
The preacher’s new year’s resolutions #2
I will have been studying a passage before the week before the sermon
Pity the preacher who wakes up on Monday morning and this is the first time he’s ever looked at the text. I can’t understand that. Not least because every text has a context in which it is sited and that includes what comes before and what comes after. I don’t think what comes after should be particularly shaping the entirety of our sermons, but it must count for something. And how can you hope to present the message from a book faithfully if the whole book has not seeped into your bloodstream?
Different preachers do this different ways. I study a whole book before I preach it, perhaps six months before. That may or may not be your way. But the resolution still stands.
Resolved: I will have been studying a passage before the week before the sermon
The preacher’s new year’s resolutions #1
Seeing as it is new year, here is a short series on some appropriate new year’s resolutions for preachers. All can only be done, of course, in the grace of God. But, that said, may he grant you the will and determination to be approved before him. These are in no particular order.
I will think about the original text
We sometimes forget how good our Bible translations are. We spend too much time, I think, picking little holes in them to the detriment of our preaching and our people’s confidence. Nevertheless, they are not infallible and a preacher should surely prepare his sermon with at least a nod to the original languages.
My language skills are not great, I admit. But I have tried hard to understand at least how languages work so I can give some thought to original languages using some helpful tools. I hope you do the same. As the UCCF basis of faith puts it, we believe in the inerrancy of the Scriptures as originally given and so the faithful preacher will think about Greek and Hebrew.
Resolved: I will think about the original text.
We're closing down the blog for Christmas, and – may I suggest – you should be closing down your blog reading too. Take a break, get a rest, see the family and be refreshed ready for the new year. If you are preaching over Christmas, as many of you will be, then our prayer for you is the same for those of us who are preaching here – that the Spirit of Christ would be at work in faithful exposition to help people see Christ, believe in him and so come to the Father.
From all of us here, we wish you a very peaceful Christmas time.
Just one last thought: make sure you don't miss the greatest lost verse of a carol ever….. Wesley knew his stuff and this is a verse worth including:
Come, Desire of nations, come,
make in us your humble home!
Rise, the woman's conquering Seed,
bruise in us the serpent's head.
Adam's likeness now efface,
stamp your image in its place:
second Adam from above,
Give us life; impart your love.
Hark! The herald angels sing:
Glory to the new-born King!
Those we have lost
The BBC TV sports personality of the year awards interest me less and less. Maybe I'm just getting old and grumpy, but what used to be a celebration of sport now seems more like a worship session at the cult of celebrity. I can't take many more interviews where the opening question is "how did you feel?" As always, the most moving part is where those who have died (or in modern parlance "those we have lost") have their pictures shown. As always, there are some who I remembered had died (Tony Grieg), some whom I had forgotten (Tony Gubba!) and others who sent me scurrying to wikipedia to discover exactly who they were (Jean Pickering, the only British woman to win both track and field golds at a major athletics championship) . Each represents a sad family and friends. Each represents the tragedy that death is in the world and that – without Christ – it has sting and venom. What a wonderful gospel we have to proclaim this Christmas where death is robbed of its power!
Here's the montage. It's a short three minute clip.
Mind the gap
I enjoyed watching the youtube clip of a very young Joan Bakewell interviewing Lloyd-Jones, his only – I believe – television interview (see below). There was much about it that cheered the heart. He was clear, direct and full on gospel.
But I worry that in posting such things, Christians today are not much helped.
"Do not say, 'Why were the old days better than these?' For it is wise not to ask such questions." (Ecc 7:10)
Christian nostalgia can be a killer. It is right to be thankful for the past. It is right to take comfort from it (it is good to know about the revival that broke out in our church church in the latter part of the nineteenth century, for example, with several thousand saved and a prayer meeting of over 1,000 each Saturday night).
But nostalgia itself – wishing we were back in those days, is bad, bad, bad. It's easy to be nostalgic about this particular clip. Easy to be nostalgic for a great leader for those who remember him. Easy to be nostalgic for a leader who is able to say things with this degree of clarity in public. Easy to be nostalgic for a different era of interviewing where the interviewee was allowed to answer and the interviewer was not rude (take note Mr Humphrys).
But nostalgia is a denial of where we are now under the sovereign hand of God. Solomon was right. Don't say it. Watch, by all means. And be encouraged – as I was. But keep your nostalgia at bay, if you please.
Athanasius on singing the psalms
But why do we sing the psalms to music? Athanasius says the reason is not just aesthetic, to please the ear. No, for “Holy Scripture is not designed to tickle the aesthetic palate” (!). He offers two reasons:
- Poetry enables us to express our love for God with all the strength and power we possess
- Chanting the Psalms has a unifying effect upon the singer, because it demands our full concentration: “For to sing the Psalms demands such concentration of a man’s whole being on them that, in doing it, his usual disharmony of mind and corresponding bodily confusion is resolved… and he is thus no longer to be found thinking good and doing evil… And it is in order that the melody may thus express our inner spiritual harmony, just as the words voice our thoughts, that the Lord Himself has ordained that the Psalms be sung and recited to a chant.”
Following on from (2), he says that “the melody of the words springs naturally from the rhythm of the soul and her own union with the Spirit”; this has a correspondingly good effect on the hearers, as did David when he sang to Saul (1 Sam.16). “When, therefore, the Psalms are chanted, it is not from any mere desire for sweet music but as the outward expression of the inward harmony obtaining in the soul, because such harmonious recitation is in itself the index of a peaceful and well-ordered heart.” When a man sings well he “puts his soul in tune, correcting by degrees its faulty rhythm so that at last, being truly natural and integrated, it has fear of nothing, but in peaceful freedom from all vain imaginings may apply itself with greater longing to the good things to come. For a soul rightly ordered by chanting the sacred words forgets its own afflictions and contemplates with joy the things of Christ alone.”
He adds towards the end a word of warning: “No one must allow himself to be persuaded, by any arguments whatsoever, to decorate the Psalms with extraneous matter or make alterations in their order or change the words themselves. They must be sung and chanted in entire simplicity, just as they are written, so that the holy men who gave them to us, recognizing their own words, may pray with us, yes and even more that the Spirit, Who spoke by the saints, recognizing the self-same words that He inspired, may join us in them too.”
He concludes, “And so you too, Marcellinus, pondering the Psalms and reading them intelligently, with the Spirit as your guide, will be able to grasp the meaning of each one, even as you desire. And you will strive also to imitate the lives of those God-fearing saints who spoke them at the first.”