Fiery Preaching

Earlier this week my oldest daughter, Ellie, emerged from the basement in that semi-conscious state that says, “I’m up and dressed, don’t expect much more.” It was about 6am and polite conversation was not yet awake. She looked at me and mumbled, “It’s cold downstairs.” Without any coffee in my system to blunt my response, I was short and to the point, “It’s winter, and you’re in a basement. It’s supposed to be cold.” I shrugged it off and went about my morning routine. Making lunches for the girls, brewing coffee, and grabbing a bite to eat. I quickly forgot about the cold basement… until I needed a shirt out of the dryer.

I saw Ellie off to the bus and went downstairs and discovered the basement was cold, and then it dawned on me. Typically, one of my last duties before retiring to bed in the evening is making sure I put some wood in the wood stove to keep the basement warm through the night. I had neglected to do that the previous night, resulting in a basement that was colder than usual.

I went to the wood stove and opened it up to discover a cold pile of ashes; evidence of the previous day’s fire. As I lit some kindling, (“lighter’d” to those of you in rural Virginia) and stoked a new fire to life I couldn’t help but be reminded of one of my favorite Bible verses. “Your word in my heart has become a consuming fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in. Indeed I cannot.” (Jeremiah 20:9)

That cold pile of ashes was the perfect description for how I feel on Mondays. After a day filled with preaching and teaching, I am worn out, consumed and burned up. Preaching takes a lot of energy. For thirty minutes every Sunday morning I place myself as a mouthpiece for God. My feet are held to the fire to see if I correctly handle the word. My mind is aflame with an awareness that I will be held to a higher standard. My heart is consumed with a desire to see people as passionate for God as I am. For thirty minutes I enter a crucible in which I open myself up, not only to public scrutiny, but to God’s scrutiny. People critique the message itself, God questions whether my message and my life correspond to each other. This is followed by an hour of Bible teaching on Sunday nights. It’s not as intense, but it’s still hot (going from the fire into the pan, so to speak).

This means on Monday, all that is left is a cold pile of ashes. Mentally, I’m exhausted and physically I am drained. But God’s Word still calls to me; beckons me and invites me. By Tuesday I’m ready to crack it open and allow the fire to warm me, even though I know I will be consumed again on Sunday.

People ask me why I preach. I could say all sorts of things that are true.

I love God.
It is my Gift.
I want others to love God.

But the truest answer is this: I preach because I must. If I don’t, the fire will consume me. As the apostle Paul once said, “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.” (I Cor. 9:16)

“Is not My word like a fire?” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer which shatters a rock?”
Jeremiah 23:29

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