Archive for September, 2018

The Burden of the Word of the Lord

September 4, 2018


The prophets frequently spoke of the burden of the Lord.  It was a graphic way of describing the message that God had given them.  It was like a burden on their shoulders or a weight upon their spirits.  When God laid a message upon their hearts it was like a load, a burden, that must be delivered.


Recently I have come across a minister, a very nice man, who insists that he can preach only one sermon a week.  In fact he went to that church with that stipulation that he would be expected to preach only once a week.  He does other things in the church, and also has a hobby that takes up quite a bit of time. I do not begrudge him the hobby, by the way.  It is good to have some relaxation.  But he preaches only one sermon a week.


Many ministers preach three or more times a week.  Some preach much more than that.  John Calvin, for example, preached on most days in the week.  John MacArthur says that he preached 35 to 40 times a month as an itinerant preacher, before settling as pastor-teacher at Grace Church in California. Of course, itinerant preaching is very different from preaching to the same congregation week after week.  But it still requires the prayer and energy, and a true servant of God will not just mechanically preach the same message over and over again; he will go over it, pray over it, adjust it, etc.


The late Dr. W. E. Sangster, a noted Methodist preacher, in one of his books on preaching asks and answers the question as to whether a sermon may be repeated.  He answers in his inimitable style, “Yes, if he can glow over it.”  In other words, if it is still a living message on the preacher’s heart.  Many years ago an evangelist told me that George Whitfield said that he did not know a sermon until he had preached it fifty times. I do not know whether that is true, but one can understand the need for that, preaching all over the place in the open air.


But to return to the ‘one sermon a week’ issue, I confess that I am troubled by that.  Why? For several reasons:


First, a man truly called of God to be his messenger, his representative, will feel the messages as an impulse, a burden that must be delivered.  The prophet Jeremiah at one time wanted to hold back, he did not want to deliver the message, but he could not hold it in.  He wrote: ‘Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more in his name.” But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not.’ (Jer. 20:9). The Apostle Paul felt the same pressure. He wrote: “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! (I Cor. 9:16). A true messenger of God, called of God, cannot hold back from preaching the Word.


Second, a preacher called of God must be ready to declare God’s word at any time. The word of the Lord to Timothy was, “Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2).  A true minister of God is to be ready to preach at any time, whether convenient or not.  When Paul and Silas were in prison, and the jailor cried out, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul did not say, “Come to a service next Lord’s Day and I will preach a sermon to you.”  He said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”  They would all be saved if they believed on the Lord Jesus.  But that was only his text.  The narrative continues, “Then they spoke the Word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.”


Thirdly, the Lord Jesus Christ said that if a person believes in him, “out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38).  There will be a constant flow, whether in the form of a brief word of testimony or a more prolonged message.  Now, of course, regular public ministry has to be prepared, but it should be the result, the overflow, of the Spirit’s work within, stemming from the constant study of and meditation in the Scriptures.  Besides, while careful preparation for public ministry is essential, it can actually be overdone.  We can spend so much time crafting phrases and polishing sentences, that the sermon becomes an essay or lecture, rather than the delivery of the burden of the Lord. The Apostle Paul says that he did not come with fancy words, eloquent speeches, but with the message of the cross (I Cor. 2:1).

With over 42 years of pastoral ministry in four churches, behind me, the last church for 27 years, I know the labour involved in preaching three times a week.  But I also know how God provides a continuous supply of messages.


Let me give an example. Only two days ago, my wife and I were reading and discussing Revelation 6:12-17 in our ‘family worship’ (our family flew the nest years ago, but of course we still have family worship).  As we read those verses it came to my mind that this was about the most frightening experience anyone could ever have.

I have heard that children sometimes watch frightening films from behind the sofa.  Some people are terrified of spiders or heights.  But nothing can compare with the sheer terror of seeing that face of God Almighty and experiencing the wrath of the Lamb. Who can stand?  Only those who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, etc. Immediately I realized that here was the basis of a powerful message.


If a person is continually meditating in the Scriptures, and he is called of God to preach, he will have a constant flow of messages.  But if a man is not called, he will not have that blessed experience.  The sad fact is that anyone can preach a sermon, even some unconverted men.  But only those called of God should preach it, and He will provide the substance, the messages.  He who calls also enables.


Besides, we have only to think of schoolteachers, especially Secondary schoolteachers, to realize that there are people in other walks of life who have to produce ‘talks’ regularly, and very much more than one a week.  No, I am troubled by a full time preacher who insists that he can produce only one sermon a week.