Who is Upholding Who?: Preaching in the Face of Adversity

Sunday by Sunday, faithful pastors labor to uphold the glory of God in the face of Christ, but such labors can often be overwhelming.  I have garnished much encouragement that this wearying task is not something that only a few experienced.  Rather, any who desire to walk faithfully with Lord will wrestle with sorrow, fatigue, feelings (and realities) of inadequacy, and the like.

David experienced this.  In Psalm 139, he is undergoing some sort of adversarial assault.  Those who surround him are accusing him, attacking him, and/or perhaps questioning his leadership, integrity, or faithfulness.  Maybe some pastors can relate.  What does he do?  He spends eighteen verses recounting the glorious truths of God’s knowledge, presence, and power.  Only then does he ask God for protection and deliverance from these enemies.  In the end, he lets the trial he is facing to be a source of purification.  He once again submits himself to God’s opinion and judgment.  He is a man whose center holds, because he has made God the center of his life.

As I prepared Psalm 139 last week I remembered John Piper’s words to pastors taken from his biography of Charles Spurgeon.  Ten years ago, I was given a cassette tape (remember those) of that Spurgeon message.  I listened to it numerous times, long before I ever was in ministry.  However, the words heard many years ago still resound in my mind and have more relevance and weight to them today then they did then. Pastor, let his words remind you that as you uphold the gospel, God himself upholds you!

Preaching great and glorious truth in an atmosphere that is not great and glorious is an immense difficulty. To be reminded week in and week out that many people regard your preaching of the glory of the grace of God as hypocrisy pushes a preacher not just into the hills of introspection, but sometimes to the precipice of self-extinction.

I don’t mean suicide. I mean something more complex. I mean the deranging inability to know any longer who you are. What begins as a searching introspection for the sake of holiness, and humility gradually becomes, for various reasons, a carnival of mirrors in your soul: you look in one and you’re short and fat; you look in another and you’re tall and skinny; you look in another and you’re upside down. And the horrible feeling begins to break over you that you don’t know who you are any more. The center is not holding. And if the center doesn’t hold—if there is no fixed and solid “I” able to relate to the fixed and solid “Thou,” namely, God, then who will preach next Sunday?

When the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “By the grace of God, I am what I am,” he was saying something utterly essential for the survival of preachers in adversity. If, by grace, the identity of the “I”—the “I” created by Christ and united to Christ, but still a human “I”—if that center doesn’t hold, there will be no more authentic preaching, for there will be no more authentic preacher, but a collection of echoes.

O how fortunate we are, brothers of the pulpit, that we are not the first to face these things! I thank God for the healing history of the power of God in the lives of saints. I urge you for the sake of your own survival: live in other centuries and other saints.

Father, let those who uphold the word tomorrow do so upheld by the power of your Spirit and the promise that your word NEVER EVER returns void (Isa 55:10-11).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

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