Have you ever spent 20-30 hours preparing to deliver a message and had a clear sense that God wanted you to say something totally different? What if God came to you on Sunday morning and gave you a totally different subject and message to speak on? How would you feel? Shouldn’t God have the right? Jesus is after all, the head of the church (Colossians 1:18)
I will never forget the first time this happened. Seven years of Bible College and Seminary had taught me well how to craft an amazing 3 point message with attention grabbing stories, illustrations, memorable points. Tell them what you are going to say, say it, and then tell them what you said. Give them simple practical action steps and “poof”, you have a great sermon.
This was my first night at a new church. I’d left the staff of a large, fast growing, contemporary church to help plant a multi-racial inner-city church. Let me just say that this was not the crowd I was used to. Little did I know that I had just stepped into a preaching competition with 10 African American Preachers, and this skinny little white preacher was batting clean up.
I didn’t know what “Watch Night Service” meant. Sure most of these were laymen but they had been salivating over this opportunity all year. They’d stolen sermons from their favorite preachers, tv preachers, famous preachers and more. And here I was with my homiletically perfect Sunday Sermon that wasn’t even in the same league.
I immediately began to pray for the rapture. I’m the new guy and I’m about to put everyone to sleep. Please Jesus, take me home.
I had grown up and been seminary trained to believe that God only spoke to us through the written word. Over the previous months I had begun to learn how to hear God’s voice and was still fairly uncertain about my newfound intimacy and ability to hear God.
What happened next convinced me that I had been listening to the devil. I heard a voice say, “Don’t preach what you prepared, let Me fill your mouth.” If I was nervous before, now all the spit and ounce of moisture in my entire body was gone.
Ever been there?
This entire story and the amazing details can be found in my book “Jesus Training Manual.” But let me just say here that when I obeyed God I received my first standing ovation at the end of a 15 minute message at around 2 o’clock in the morning at the end of a preaching competition. In that moment I learned that it is brilliant to listen to God’s voice and do what He says. Since then I’ve had hundreds of such opportunities. I can’t say that it doesn’t still illicit some anxiety when God tells me to speak on something I don’t feel prepared for, but I can also tell you that most of the times those are the most memorable and life transforming messages I’ve ever given, and they always end up being preached again and become part of my life repertoire of messages.
Nothing has improved my preaching as much as learning to hear God’s Voice.
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