For over twenty years I have had the privilege of speaking in all kinds of churches in the Netherlands. Almost every Sunday morning I am preaching in a church somewhere. I love meeting people and getting to know churches and I am happy that I can be a blessing in this way by encouraging people and helping them in their spiritual growth. For example, last Sunday I spoke in a church in the east of the country. While speaking, something happened to me that I have never experienced before. It was very uncomfortable and annoying and I really doubted whether I should write a blog about it, but maybe it will help me to deal with this annoying situation. I’ll tell you what happened.
‘The Lord is my banner’ . That was the theme I was going to speak about. In preparation I studied Exodus 17:8-16. I find the process from (Bible) text to sermon quite intensive, but very beautiful and valuable to go through. I choose to go through it myself by reflecting the text on my own life, so that the final sermon is lived through. Besides the fact that it helps me in my personal growth and I receive the first blessing of what God wants to say, it is also true that I have the sermon in my head and I do not need paper to deliver my sermon. It has been the case for years that I speak from memory, because it suits me and it gives me freedom in my communication with the municipality. That has been going well for years, until this service.
Based on the battle that Israel had to wage with Amelek, I wanted to tell the congregation something about important points to consider when you are faced with a battle in your life. I thought it would be good in a metaphorical sense to do this on the basis of four questions. I was comfortable with the story and I had completely explained the first three questions. Then I came to the fourth question. The moment when I wanted to take the congregation to the climax and the essence of the sermon. I opened my mouth to say the fourth question, but no sound came out. It was empty in my head. At the same time I saw the people in the room looking at me with questioning eyes, but their question remained unanswered. I blacked out!
The liberating note
All I could say was, “I forgot the fourth question.” Fortunately, I remembered that I ‘coincidentally’ had a piece of paper in my bag with notes on which I had scribbled that fourth question. I explained that and walked off the stage to fish the liberating note from my bag. When I climbed back onto the stage and stood at the pulpit to unfold the note, it was astonishing to me that I no longer knew the question. It suddenly made so much sense again. The fourth question was based on Moses, who, pointing his staff toward heaven, formed a banner for the people to look at while they were making war. The question was:“What do you look at when you are dealing with struggle in your life?” The challenge is not to look at the circumstances, but at Jesus.
I finished the sermon neatly and concluded with a prayer, as I always do. Full of self-reproach I went back to my seat and I had already decided that I wanted to get in the car back home as quickly as possible. After the service, I was intercepted by a woman while walking my escape route outside. She said, “Thank you for forgetting the fourth question.” I didn’t know what I heard so I asked what she meant by that. She explained that at difficult moments in life she is so often busy looking for solutions herself that she forgets to look to Jesus. The fact that I had literally forgotten that fourth point meant that a mirror was held up to her. Probably the Holy Spirit who made it clear to her how inconvenient it is to forget to look at the Lord Jesus in crisis situations.
The Holy Spirit finds its way
I believe in properly preparing a sermon and the benefits of speaking without ‘paper’. I provide training in speaking skills and I think it is important that Biblical principles are explained in a good story based on sound exegesis. However, this event taught me something important. Ultimately it is the Holy Spirit who speaks to the church in his own way. So even a blackout can be used to speak powerfully. It is not the case that I now routinely schedule blackouts during my sermon, but the situation strangely enough gives me more confidence that God will find His way in speaking to His congregation. He is less dependent on me than I thought. I mustn’t forget that.