I may never be the pastor of a church again, but if I was, I think I would make changes to the way I used to begin Sunday Worship. Somewhere very near the start of service I think I would have some sort of aid to focus people on why we come together in the Name of Jesus Christ. My guided devotions include saying this declaration of faith in the morning:
“Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life
and we have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ,
King of endless glory.
I just love saying these words in the morning. Just the saying of them seems to make me aware of the presence of a stream of life and strength that is not my own: The Lord Jesus Christ crucified for me, risen and present with me and in me by the Holy Spirit. I need Him every day, but especially now that I am more aware of my weakness and fragility in many ways than I was a few short years ago. Sometimes throughout the day, I lose the awareness of the presence of Christ; I lose focus. Within some hours though I have got the focus back, for the next morning if I have a will to so do, I can say again: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Imagine if each Sunday, preacher and people joined together saying these astonishing words above with reverence and humility… we might be mightily blessed… we might even stumble upon what preaching and a church gathering are really for and not misuse the time, or the pulpit, or the bible , or the gathering together of God’s people for other reasons and visions, save the impartation and the receiving of the life of Christ by His Word and Spirit and though the Sacraments and one another’s fellowship.
Very early on in my ministry, I visited a young couple in the parish to which I had been newly inducted. After pleasantries, I was asked a question that was like an open door to me to share Jesus Christ. The lady of the couple became a Christian. Her husband threatened to kill me he was so angry! In fact come to think of it a few husbands have threatened to kill me over the years – please take that in the right way! Come to think of it a wee bit more, some people have said some things over the years that have seemed more than/less than human, including an individual phoning me up and saying, “We will drive you out of here any way we can. How many more of us have you been sent here to destroy?” Does that sound familiar from somewhere? Though the anger of the husband of the couple I mentioned above abated in time he never came to faith in Christ, or at least not during my time in that particular parish, though writing about him has made me shoot up an arrow prayer for him even in the midst of blogging. On my last day in that parish, he came to say a personal face to face “goodbye” and it seemed warm and genuine. As I say, that visit was one of my earliest evangelistic ventures in a pastoral setting in a new parish as a new minister, but in the course of my whole ministry over all the decades since, no one has ever said anything more wonderful than the lady of the couple when describing the aftermath of our conversation. She said, “When you left, all I could think about was Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. I wanted Jesus. I needed Jesus. In fact I just walked about the house, crying out, “Jesus, Jesus Jesus!”
I am reminded of an “iron fist in a velvet glove” question that Henri Nouwen asked a friend in a letter, which I mentioned in a blog a few days ago: “Could you not be more Christ centred in your thinking?”
I am sure that what that woman expressed was not always sadly the effect of either my visiting or pastoring… I wish it had been so more often.
As well as a declaration of faith at the beginning of “service,” may it be the prayerful aim and true longing of all those called to preach and teach that people will go away and not be able to stop thinking about Jesus. I hope that our visions for church and mission have not become so exciting and grand and cutting edge that we have become cynical of hoping and praying that after a Sunday Service, someone may say, “I heard the voice of Jesus say, come unto me and rest…stoop down and drink and live… and I came to Jesus and I drank of that life-giving stream! My thirst was quenched, my soul revived, and now I live in Him… I came to Jesus as I was, weary and worn and sad. I found in Him a resting place, and He has made me glad! I looked to Jesus and I found in Him, my star, my sun; and in that Light of life I’ll walk, till travelling days are done!”
I shudder to think that all some people may remember from my sermons will be a funny story I told, or something I shared about myself, or the odd outrageous sentence or two – which can come rather easily to a Charismatic Glaswegian Christian preacher! I tremble at the thought. I know it is possible. Many ministers had an influence on me for good or ill! Even from my earliest years as a Christian, then through my training and throughout all the time since, I have met many who have left me thinking about Jesus and left me longing to know Him more. From others, I can only remember skill and jokes…though of course, humour has its place as does skill, so long as we do not rely on these things in the wrong “Christ-hiding-myself-exalting” way.
Can a joke lead to Christ? I am sure it can. Sadly often the jokes were just jokes: the idea of “coming to Jesus” seemed for some ministers to be the biggest joke around, deserving only of their witty and cynical and scholarly mockery. I even heard the idea of coming to Jesus dismissed in condescending fashion as the “S.U.” experience; sadly that mockery was common in some ministerial and academic gatherings in my experience, though most certainly not in all such gatherings; other ministerial gatherings were marked by heartfelt love for Christ and prayerful longing that people would come to know Jesus throughout the parishes and communities of Scotland and beyond.
It is a horrific thought: how many “ministers” may have left their congregations to cry out one day in anguish that as a flock the Shepherd they called to “pastor their souls” who had preached such interesting sermons and visited so faithfuly and was so well liked by all had not encouraged them towards the “S.U.” experience too: “Minister, Rev, Dr. Rev, Right Rev, Very Rev, Rev Professor, vicar, Bishop, Pastor, why did you not tell me I needed to come to Jesus? Oh, you made me think it was all about me being a good person and I tried to be that down through the years; you made me think it was all about having wise insights into life or the way the world is. ‘Wise? Good? Insightful?’ Minister, you blinded me with a lie that such was the company you and I should aspire to; you even used to talk about meetings you went to with ‘the wise and the good of the land’…why did you not tell me I needed a Saviour who was wounded for my transgressions and bruised for my iniquities; that the original Jesus, who you told us we could never really get to behind the layers of the bible narrative, was numbered among the transgressors? Why did you play theology with my eternal soul? I can hear a countless throng at a distance singing a never ending song to ‘Him who sits upon the throne and to the lamb’; to the lamb ‘who has loved them and washed them from sin!’ They sing not just about how He created them and all things, but of how He redeemd them, ransomed them, cleaned them, of how His blood has set them free! Listen to what they are singing, minister! The things you mocked have won the day at the last! They are singing to Jesus who ‘in white robes arrayed us, kings and priests made us.’ They sound as though they could sing that song for eternity and never tire of it or lose their joy! If only I had one more day to come to Jesus and join them; if only I could embrace what I had been taught by you, by you minister, to mock; if only I could start again….
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This last paragraph is so profound and moving. The uncommon sound of truth. May God use it to convict and rescue even one.
Amen. I was brought up to believe in God and trusted Jesus as a child. I’m ashamed to say I was fifty before I realised there is so much more. I went to a conference and looking back see my arrogance in wondering what interesting thing the preacher would say. Jim Graham spoke of Jesus in such a way that I longed to know him, spend time with him and feel his presence.
For your encouragement, Kenny, two years ago in Glasgow City Hall you told us we were the pearl of great price Jesus came to find. I and others I know will never forget it. I gave a recording to my old dad who is almost 88. He was so moved, he said it had ‘warmed him’ and he has listened to the sermon again. On many mornings I pray,
“The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning, It’s time to sing your song again,
Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the evening comes.
Bless the Lord O my soul….”
Thankyou. As often, very glad to have just read this.