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Monday, November 9, 2009

Doing God's Best

My wife Kelly and I were married by one of her two pastor-grandfathers.  I have never forgotten one thing he said in his sermon that day: "And Kelly, when Cory says to you some Sunday, 'How many really good preachers are there in this town?', don't you say, 'One less than you think.' "  (I guess I should have remembered the part addressed to me, eh?)

Last week as I was preparing my message on John 5:1-9a ("The Requirements of Healing"), I didn't get very far.  Not only did I have many obligations pressing in on me, but the Lord impressed me that this message didn't require preparation as much as it required prayer.  I shared this with folks in the church asking them to join me in prayer for the message also.

So then yesterday I preached this rambling sermon, and when the Lord led me on the spur of the moment to invite people forward to be prayed for, five came plus others who came to join me in praying.  After the service ended, we had a little prayer meeting for about 25 minutes, people were committing to walk with God in a fresh way, and the Holy Spirit was clearly present among us.  It was great.

So I get in the car afterwards and enthusiastically say, "Now that was church!"

This is the part where Kelly typically tells me what an awesome preacher I am.  But this time she said, "Yeah, I wasn't really into the message.  I eventually just closed my notebook.  But when you gave the invitation the Spirit started to get me really excited."  (She was mighty in prayer after the service, I might add.)

So at this point, humbled, I was faced with an interesting dilemma.  Do I choose to remain thrilled at the exhibited power of God?  Or do I feel glum at someone not thinking I'm fantastic that particular morning?  Or another way to say it is, if, hypothetically, I could either be nothing special and see God change people's lives or amaze everyone with my oratory and there be no spiritual fruit, which would I choose?

I think that generally God prefers to exert his power through us when in submission to him we try to do things with excellence.  Though it's kind of simplistic, I basically agree with the lyrics of the old Keith Green song: "Do your best, and pray that it's blessed.  He'll take care of the rest."  But what if God's definition of "best" in a given situation doesn't mesh with the world's, and doing one's best his way looks like mediocrity to human eyes?

The apostle Paul faced this situation.  He deliberately chose not to emulate the flashy orators of 1st-century Greece, and so the church at Corinth—people who owed their very souls to Paul, by the way—didn't hesitate to look down on him as a pretty poor preacher.  But Paul was unapologetic about his actions and his rationale:
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come with superior eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony of God.  For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.  And I was with you in weakness and in fear and with much trembling.  My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on the power of God (1 Cor. 2:1-5).
You too might enter a situation in ministry or in your secular employment when doing things in a way that makes you a channel for the Holy Spirit's power means that people won't think you're hot stuff.  Are you willing to take Paul's route, the route shared by John the Baptist, who said, "[Jesus] must become greater, and I must become less"?  At the end of the day, is your service to the Lord about your glory or his?

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