Words that Belong to Me

Not long ago I was preaching to a group of folks, and the experience was – well, less than what I would have hoped for.

That always bugs me.  I feel like my main contribution to the world is words.  And when that’s not working quite right, it drives me up the wall, and the endless analysis begins: Why did that happen?  Was it the content?  The people?  You?  Were you tired?  Emotionally drained?  Physically spent?  Is your creativity running short? Are you not attending well to the soil of your life?  All the questions…

On this particular occasion, I woke up in the middle of the night and realized exactly what had gone wrong.  I had told Mandi before we went to bed that for some reason I felt disconnected from my words.  Waking up several hours later, it dawned on me that I felt disconnected from my words because I was disconnected, emotionally and spiritually, from my words.

This can happen, in my experience, for a number of reasons.  It can happen because even though we knew we were supposed to emphasize THIS aspect of the text or teaching, out of some strange sense of obligation to bygone seminary professors, we emphasize THIS OTHER aspect, or a WHOLE BUNCH of aspects, leaving us with preaching that is driven by “oughts” rather than by holy fire.  It can also happen when we’re talking through a text and remember what so-and-so said about it and how they delivered it.  For some reason, when the moment came to talk about it, we felt like we were channeling so-and-so, and we feel fraudulent.  Other times it happens because we’re sharing something that AT ONE TIME was a container for holy fire for us–a story, an insight, whatever–and when we come to the moment we think we’ll recapture that moment… but what we wind up giving is an empty container that once held the fire, but no longer does.  And again, we feel fraudulent.

Preaching is a discipline that grows up out of the soil of a total life, and is intimately related to the NOW.  What is God doing in me NOW?  What is he saying to me NOW?  Where am I–ME, with all of my oddities and glories–in the story with God NOW?  What is he doing in this community NOW?  It is a discipline of the moment… of being able to capture a sense of the Qol Adonai, the voice of the Lord, for this moment.  It is NOT the communication of “timeless truths” or a simple exposition of “the meaning of the text”.  It is fresh bread, fresh fire, a fresh word.

As such, we preachers are required (and this would go for the poets and writers, singers and artists, and anyone else who spends their life trying to TELL the world something, trying to open up a window to another world) to live deeply connected to our hearts, for it is the place wherein the Spirit of God dwells to speak a fresh word to the world.  And to do that, to stay connected to our heart and the living voice of God resounding in it, in my experience, requires deep sacrifice.  It COSTS you something to live there.

My preaching is at its best, I think, when it is borne out of the struggle NOW to hear God and stay faithful to him in all of life, when it dwells at the intersection between Scripture, my story, my heart, and this moment with these people.  Preaching like that is costly.  But it is the only way a fresh word is heard.

In any event, after that ugly and disconnected experience, I wrote a little free-verse poetry (which I NEVER do) to summarize the lessons learned.  I share them with you–in particular, those of you who labor each week to see to it that among your people, the “word of the Lord” is not “rare”.

Blessings to you.

I’m old enough now

To know that the promise

“I’ll never do that again”

Has a shelf life.

Nevertheless, the bitter taste

in my mouth serves

As a sign.

You felt off, awkward, out of sorts

Because you WERE off, awkward,

Out of sorts.

More than that,

You committed the cardinal sin

Of your craft–

You spoke words that 

Weren’t yours.

There is a reason that

The bitter taste in your mouth

Tastes like something else you’ve

Known well in your life:

Lying, and well you know that “thou shalt not bear false witness.”

Speak your truth.

Tell the truth.  Be honest.

Forsake the duplicitous way.

And my God, if you can help it–

Don’t ever stand up in front of people

A stranger to your heart,

For you will always feel disconnected

From words that don’t emerge from

The Center that has come to

Dwell in you.

Stay rooted in your voice,

Your story, your history with God,

And all will be well.

He’s not asking you for much–

Loaves, fishes, words.

But at a minimum he is asking

That whatever it is you offer

Be completely and uniquely yours,

The gift acceptable according

To what one HAS, not according to

What one DOESN’T have,

And I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God

Burnt offerings that cost me nothing.

11 thoughts on “Words that Belong to Me

  1. Your words, “trying to open a window into another world,” jumped out at me. As a literature teacher, I have had those moments with students when you know you have made a connection, when eyes have been opened, and then new questions arise due to their seeing things from another viewpoint. But I have had the other moments when you know…it is just not happening. I so appreciate your analysis of this. It really connected some dots for me. I can see the correlation between my struggle after God and the “freshness” of my words. One thing I would like to add is that vulnerability with your audience, whether that be a group of people or one individual, is another product of “hearing the living voice of God.” That vulnerability as a speaker can be used by God to make connections when even our words may fail us.

    BTW – Loved the poem!

  2. Well said brother. The artists are the prophets. The preachers are the poets. There must be some of your blood in every sermon. You’re sounding more and more “mystical” in your old age. Ha!

  3. I commented on my phone earlier bro so please pardon if this eventually duplicates. But, well said. The artists are the prophets, the preachers are the poets. You have to bleed a little into every sermon, poem, line and letter. Love you and miss you guys.

  4. Andrew, thanks so much brotha for this post! I’d never heard this sentiment before, and I’ve felt that same way as you did and couldn’t figure out why. Now I know! I can’t think you enough for sharing this.

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