Don Wilton, pastor of First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, S.C, has the unique privilege of being the pastor to one of the greatest preachers in the history of Christianity. He is Billy Graham's pastor. Rev. Graham watches the Sunday services of FBC on television and Pastor Wilton visits Billy Graham in North Carolina once a week. They have had many wonderful conversations about God and the things of His world. But Blly's favorite subject is preaching.
While reading about the content of one such conversation, I was delighted to read that the world's leading evangelist and I have at least one thing in common. We both believe preaching is more art than science. Pastor Winton described Mr. Graham's illustration of preaching as "to refine that spiritual art, not in terms of of tapestry or painting, but in terms of a deep and profound sense of God's call and annointing for that moment in time."
Mr. Graham lists prayer before as a priority to preach effectively. He believes prayer is the lifeline to the preached word and that the person who preaches is simply the instrument. Winton said that he has heard Billy remark many times, "no Spirit, no power!" It isn't that Bible study isn't important. It is. However, a poor message delivered by a person full of God's Spirit is immensely more effective than a sermon filled with Bible knowledge delivered ny a person devoid of the Spirit's power.
I had a conversation one day over lunch with another pastor when the subject of preaching arose. We had met to talk about church administration. Out of the blue he said, "I could never preach like you. I don't have that kind of creativity or imagination." I thanked him for the compliment but corrected his statement. "You don't have to preach like me. You just have to preach the way God has intended for you to preach." I think he was selling his ability short. His issue may have been more about letting God direct his preaching instead of his member's expectations. Unlike math or engineering, preaching is molded by the Spirit of God in the preacher's life and may take him to some unfamiliar locations. Sometimes those places are not what the church member was expecting, but often directed toward an unseen need in the life of one, or many, listeners. This happened this past week.
I was led to preach on the life of Jonah, but not in the ordinary way. Instead of looking to a commentary or some of my old notes, I was impressed to talk about trials in the hand of God. I felt like the Lord wanted me to say that our waywardness can be a training ground for our life's purpose. Jonah just thought he was going to Tarshish to escape God's call on his life. In reality, he was about to encounter a trial that would speed up his spiritual maturity so that he could stand before the frightening Ninevites. If he had gone directly to Nineveh he may not have been as prepared. So, what he thought was running away from God in rebellion, was really running into God's purpose.
When the message was through I felt defeated. Why had the Spirit lead me down that road. Why not talk about the pain caused by disobedience? Why not talk about the type of Christ represented in the three days in the belly of the fish and make it more evangelical? Instead I felt myself looking for a place to land the plane at the end of a long and bumpy message. I even talked about the strangeness of the message to a deacon as he followed me to my pastor reception room. Then it happened.
A person came by to ask me if I had heard the sobs of the young man sitting in front of them. Evidently, as I described how God could use our rebeliion for good he began to openly weep. I had not. Then another person came by to say how incredible the message was. It was just what they needed to hear and that they had never heard that application from the story before. And before I knew it, the room was full of people wanting to talk. I was there almost a half hour after the service ended just talking and praying with people. If I would have graded the message I would have given it a strong D. However, the Spirit of God had led me down a path that strayed from my notes just to find myself at a place where He knew people were hurting.
What a great honor is mine. To be led by the Spirit to speak into hurting lives. Even when I think I've gone down some dead end road, I find the Spirit is leading me there because my notes would have led me to a destination God had never intended for me to go.