He was rushing out of the luncheon meeting with the staff of his church. Often at the end of a weekend conference, I will meet with the paid and volunteer leadership of the church, make a presentation, and answer their questions. It was about 2:30 p.m., and he was in a rush to get going because his sermon for the next day was hanging over his head. He had some errands to do, dinner with his family, and then sometime in the evening he would lock himself in his home office and try to put together his message for the next day. No matter what happened the rest of that day, no matter how much time he was actually able to devote to his sermons, and no matter how well his preparation went, and no matter how prepared he felt to deal with the text before him, he would get up and say something.
I wondered how many pastors were in the same place and had developed the same ministry habits. I wondered how many of them were throwing something together at the last minute; how many sermons were not given the time necessary for them to communicate what needed to be communicated. I wondered how many congregations around the world are plainly and simply being poorly fed by unprepared pastors. I wondered how many sermons end up being boring restatements of favorite commentaries or little more than impersonal, poorly delivered theological lectures.
I don’t need to wonder anymore. Having spoken at hundreds of churches around the world, I have experienced this Saturday afternoon sermon scenario over and over again. It has left me both sad and angry. No wonder people lack excitement with the gospel. No wonder they don’t approach Sunday morning with excitement and anticipation. No wonder they quit believing that the Bible speaks to the drama of their everyday struggle. No wonder they quit thinking their pastor can relate to what their life is like or answer the questions that tend to haunt them. No wonder so many people in so many pews sit there with minds wandering and hearts disengaged. No wonder it’s hard for them to push the last week’s problems or the next day’s duties out of their minds as they sit there on Sunday morning.
I am very concerned about acceptable Sunday morning mediocrity, and I am persuaded that it is not primary a schedule or laziness problem. I am convinced it is a theological problem. The standards you set for yourself and your ministry are directly related to your view of God. If you are feeding your soul every day on the grace and glory of God, if you are in worshipful awe of his wisdom and power, if you are spiritually stunned by his faithfulness and love, and if you are daily motivated by his presence and promises, then you want to do everything you can to capture and display that glory to the people God has placed in your care. It is your job as a pastor to pass this glory down to another generation, and it is impossible for you to do that if you are not being awe-stricken by God’s glory yourself.
The stakes are high. You could argue that every worship service is little more than a glory war. The great question of the gathering is, “Will the hearts of this group of people be captured by the one true glory or by the shadow glories of the created world?” As a pastor I want to do everything I can do to be used of God to capture the hearts of those gathered by the rescuing glory of God’s grace, by the insight-giving glory of God’s wisdom, by the hope-giving glory of his love, by the empowering glory of his presence, by the rest-giving glory of his sovereignty, and by the saving glory of his Son. But I know this is a battle. I am speaking to people whose hearts are fickle and easily distracted. I am talking to people who are seduced by other glories. I am talking to people who live in the light of God’s glory every day and yet are capable of being functionally blind to its splendor.
I am addressing the single lady who has set her heart on the affection of a certain young man she thinks will deliver to her the happiness for which she has been craving. Sitting before me is the teenager who can’t think beyond the glories of Facebook, Twitter, and the Portal 2 video game. In the congregation is the middle-aged man whose heart is captured by the glory of somehow, some way recapturing his youth. The wife is wondering if she will ever experience the glory of the kind of marriage she dreamed about, the kind she knows others have. A man sits in the crowd knowing that he feeds his soul almost daily on the dark and distorted glories of pornography and has become a master at shifting spiritual gears. Some listening are more excited about a new outfit, new home, new car, new shotgun, newly sodded lawn, new restaurant, new vacation site, or that new promotion than they are about the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Some gathered on Sunday morning are distracted by grief, anger, discouragement, loneliness, envy, frustration, despair, or hopelessness, because the glories they have trusted for their meaning, purpose, and inner happiness have failed them once again. They have blown up in their faces or dripped like sand through their fingers. And even when they were wonderful to experience, they didn’t in fact leave their hearts satisfied. The buzz was short and the satisfaction elusive. So they sit there empty, hurt, angry, and confused.
They come into worship in the middle of a war that they probably don’t recognize. It is a war for the allegiance, the worship, of their hearts. In ways they probably don’t understand, they have again and again asked creation to give them what only the Creator can provide. They have looked horizontally for what can only be found vertically. They have asked people, situations, locations, and experiences to be the one thing they will never be: their savior. They have looked to these things to give them life, security, identity, and hope. They have asked these things to heal their broken hearts. They have hoped that these things would make them better people. So a war rages, and wounded soldiers sit before you. It is a glory war: a battle for what glory will rule their hearts, and in so doing, control their choices, words, and behavior.
The Enemy will do anything he can with lies, seduction, distraction, and deceit to keep my heart from focusing on the glory for which I was created to live. So it is a high and holy calling to step into the middle of this glory war with the commission of being one of God’s primary tools to recapture the wandering hearts of battle-scarred and battle-weary soldiers.
For many, following this God of glory has seemed to be anything but glorious. They were expecting joy and blessing, and they got pain, sadness, and trial. It is increasingly hard for them to believe those glorious truths that say God is near—-that he hears, that he cares, that he is faithful, that he is wise, that he exercises his power for the good of his children, that he is loving, kind, gracious, and patient. They feel forsaken. They feel they’re being punished. They are being tempted to conclude that what they were taught isn’t really true after all. They wonder why they have been singled out for suffering. They wonder why they pray and nothing seems to happen. They have quit reading their Bible because it doesn’t seem to help, and they find that the songs on Sunday morning seem to be describing a very different reality from the one they live in. They’ve quit asking for prayer for the same things over and over again in their small group because it just makes them feel like a looser. They feel that the glory before them has eluded them completely, and they don’t know what to do about it. So without being conscious of it, they have begun to offer their hearts to other glories, hoping somehow, some way, satisfaction will be found.
Pastor, has familiarity caused you to settle for a mediocrity that keeps you from putting God’s shining glory before the glory-blind week after week after week? To these beaten-down ones, you have been called as an ambassador of glory. You have been called to rescue those who are awe-discouraged and awe-confused. You are called to represent the One who is glory to people who by means of suffering and disappointment have become glory cynics. You have been called to be God’s voice to woo them back. You are placed in their lives as a divine means of rescue, healing, and restoration. You have been called to speak into the confusion with gospel clarity and authority. You have been called to give glory-bound hope to those who have become hopeless. You are called to speak liberating truths to those who have become deceived. You have been called to plead with disloyal children to once again be reconciled to their heavenly Father. You have been called to give glorious motivation to those who have given up. You have been called to shine the light of the glory of God into hearts that have been made dark by looking for life in all the wrong places. You have been called to offer the filling glories of grace to those who are empty and malnourished. You have been called to represent a glorious king who alone is able to rescue, heal, redeem, transform, forgive, deliver, and satisfy. You have been called.