My Voice or the Holy Spirit’s?
I find one of the biggest temptations I have in preaching is substituting the Holy Spirit’s voice for mine. It’s not always a defined line as the Holy Spirit speaks through the delivered words of Bible teachers and preachers and “prophets” (whatever you might mean by this term). However, I think I do know when I’ve crossed that line from delivering the faithful message that God has entrusted for me to deliver as a Bible teacher and into the territory where I’ve let my personal hobby-horses, frustrations, foibles, limitations and ‘subtexts’ become the main voice people hear from the sermon.
So when does this happen? Here are a few meandering reflections:
1. When I am not faithful to the text, context and voice of Scripture.This is the obvious one. I know that young preachers (especially pre-Bible College trained preachers) often just ‘springboard off a text and preach that one idea that grabbed their attention rather than preaching what’s actually there.
2. When I go after my hobby-horses. Everyone has theirs and every preacher is in danger of giving theirs a good flog every so often. It’s okay to have hobby-horses as long as I recognise that when I preach my hobby-horses (or hobby-horse passages), I’m more likely to say what I want to say, not necessarily what God wants to say.
3. When I am frustrated or angry at my hearers. And yes, as a pastor that can happen quite often! Even when it’s for good reasons, I must not let my anger, bitterness or frustrations cloud the voice of their Heavenly Father and mine. This is where I’m most tempted to substitute God’s voice for my own.
4. When I condemn rather than convict and don’t move people to pursue God’s glory and grace. There’s a difference between condemning and convicting. The Holy Spirit does the latter; the enemy does the former. I find myself often doing the enemy’s work out of my frustrations. And here’s the thing: even when I might have admonition for my hearers, I am to have a ‘gospel shape’ to my appeal. It’s to drive people to seek God’s grace and God’s glory. This means I am never to hold out commands in a legalistic way but to urge my hearers to pursue obedience for God’s glory and their joy (which, according to Jonathan Edwards is one and the same).
5. When preaching is not accompanied by humble prayer and is not ultimately an act of worship for me. Tim Keller helpfully distinguishes preaching from lecturing in that preaching is an act of worship aimed at producing genuine worship in God’s hearers. When I no longer rely on the Holy Spirit to move and change people in his way and in his time and evidence this by humble prayer, and when I no longer get into the pulpit as an act of Spirit-led and Spirit-dependent worship, then I am very much in danger of going up there with my own voice to substitute His.
That’s just my list… any other thoughts?