A few months ago for our anniversary my wife and I enjoyed a couples retreat. During this retreat we also enjoyed a couples massage. It was weird. Incredibly weird. But that is a story for a different time. I think our massage lasted for an hour. Though as awkward as the spelling of awkward, it was quite glorious. When our hour was up I wanted to plead for another fifteen minutes.
Compare this with my trip to the doctor awhile back whenever he had to “work me over” a little. Something was out of whack and he had to contort me like a pretzel, punch me in the kidney, and make me cry like I did when Bambi’s mom got shot. The whole ordeal couldn’t have lasted more than 5-10 minutes but it felt like three hours. When I was finished I couldn’t believe that this meanie pants received money for putting me through such misery.
Preaching and Pain
As I reflected on these two different trips I thought to myself, I sure hope that whenever I preach people have an experience like a massage. I want people to “feel like it lasted about 15 minutes” and leave them begging for more. I never want people to leave on a Sunday morning feeling like they’ve been readjusted by a cruel doctor that has the gentleness of a porcupine.
Or do I…
As I thought a little more about this, I realized that the doctor visit was just as necessary as that massage. (Yes, that massage was necessary as my muscles were tied in a wicked knot). I did not like the doctor’s visit but that does not mean that it was not helpful and necessary. After all if we’re going to have a place for things like lament and deep repentance in the church that means that at times we might leave sore from getting whacked around a little.
It does not mean that I have not faithfully proclaimed Jesus is somebody leaves the service still smarting. It might mean that. But it does not have to. Occasionally the grace of Jesus is uncomfortable. At times the Spirit of God convicts and tears and rips us to shreds. On occasion even the good news of the gospel aches a little—this is the affliction of the gospel.
The Preacher’s Job
As an ambassador of God’s Word it is not my task to determine whether the sermon is a “work over” or a “balm”. (Honestly, it is probably a mixture of the two most of the time). My task is to preach the tone of the text. Before preaching, I always pray that the Lord would heal those that need healed and break those that need broken. That means that I do not get to decide whether I’m a masseuse or a pain-inducing doctor. I am called to be in awe of God and to preach as an overflow of that awe. I am called to stand before people and say, “Thus says the Lord…” Some will be comforted and others will be afflicted. Who belongs to what category is not my job.
Bryan Chapell is correct when he says:
Whether people depart alone or in the Savior’s hand will mark the difference between futility and faith, legalism and true obedience, dogoodism and real godliness.
Preachers are to proclaim Christ and leave hearers in the gracious hands of the Savior. But that is no sure promise that His gracious hands will not use our preaching as a means to chisel and painfully wreck our idols. My prayer is that people would be left in the hands of Jesus—because He knows far better than I whether His sheep need a massage or “worked over”.