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Healing from Pre-occupation on the Words of Others

May 19, 2010
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Zack Eswine, lead pastor of Riverside Church in Saint Louis, MO, followed up his comments about a preacher’s after-sermon blues with this excellent counsel at his blog “Preaching Barefoot“:

If you notice that your mood rises or falls with how people respond to a particular sermon watch out. You are likely to make a mess of the day for those who love you. You will be tempted to place great weight on their words and treat them as if they are like God to you. If they speak praise but without the right glow or admit that they did not get it, you might find yourself creating an argument by blaming them in some way. Or you might use words to excuse weakness or manipulate praise. When this happens (and it does to most of us), take note. Jesus says that after the word is preached we face foul opinions. What do we do now? (Matt. 13:21-22)

What if God gives the after-sermon as a flashlight of His grace by which to see our true condition in Him? In this light, it seems to me that one aspect of the after-sermon attack concerns the condition of our “rootedness.”  When Jesus uses this metaphor in the parable of the sower and the seed, he describes the nature of our identity in Him–are we His or not?  And He describes the degree to which we find our identity in Him. We are his, but now what? Can we live as if His opinions, threats and promises are more authoritative and powerful than what others say about us? (Matthew 13:21-22)

The after-sermon is one of God’s gracious ways of healing us from our pre-occupation and dependence upon our words and the words of others. As we learn this from Him we will sometimes find ourselves on Sundays like a man in a desert with no water. We keep looking to the words and glances of others with our empty cup hoping for refreshing drink. While we shake hands, we are attuned to every glance, every tone of voice, every word left out or spoken. When we do this we rest our justification on the praises or criticisms of human beings. We start asking for people to come through for us in ways that only God can. We start looking to people’s words for what only God’s words can provide. We anxious ourselves and fret about while we smile and talk about God.

We need to remind each other of this helpful fact. Saturday nights, Sunday afternoons and Monday mornings are a desert-classroom for preachers in which God gradually teaches us that no sermon or word about it can save us. The best of sermons, the worst of criticism and the heights of praise fall as dust in a man’s cup. Only Christ is true drink! Sunday by Sunday we find Him more and more and our cups begin to overflow even when our sermons were less or more than we or others hoped.

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