An interesting thing happened on the way to the pulpit on a recent Sunday. No, I wasn't told about the lack of toilet paper in one of the restrooms, though that has happened. Instead, God changed my mind.
I am a very organized person. I tend to think categorically. I analyze. I prioritize. I outline. And, I plan.
When I was serving as a pastor in the local church, I would begin preparation on my sermons far advance. In fact, I could tell you to the day what I would be preaching on twelve months out.
While that may sound unspiritual to some, God used it on more than one occasion to give me the right text for circumstances never imagined a year earlier. For example, the Sunday following 9/11, I had already planned to preach on Isaiah 46:9-10. That was the perfect text that Sunday to share with a grieving people who were wondering where God was on that fateful Tuesday morning.
Now that I'm not preaching regularly, I obviously can't and don't plan that far out. However, I do work well in advance of a planned speaking engagement and come in well-prepared for the morning's worship. The same was true of my August visit to a local church whose pastor just needed some time off.
As I was driving to the church that Sunday morning, I was thinking through the text and my sermon. At stop lights, I would glance over my notes quickly reminding myself of the salient points. Rather than finding comfort in this mobile refresher, I grew more discontent. I prayed. I begged. I asked for clarity. None came.
In the parking, I looked through my notes again. Again I felt unsettled. I began to second guess myself. Had I missed something? Was I harboring unrepented sin? What was wrong?
As the worship service began, I fidgeted nervously, fingering my notes. I found no comfort in my preparation. Something was amiss.
While the congregation sang one last song, I hung my head. I said my prayer. Then, I mounted the stage and I threw my sermon out the window. God was leading me somewhere else that morning.
When I introduced the text that morning, I told the congregation of my turmoil and begged their prayers as I entered into a sermon on a text that I was very familiar with but had not preached yet - Genesis 15:6, the story of Abraham's coming to saving faith.
The sermon went well. God gave me the words to explain the text that morning as we considered the nature of Abraham's faith and it's relevance for today. Having finished my divine errand, I stepped down at the end of the sermon with much relief.
Immediately upon the close of the sermon, the associate pastor and his wife rushed over with glee in their eyes. They had been praying that morning that God would give me the sermon their church needed to hear. They believed that my change of plans was God's intervention on their behalf. I agree though I didn't know why at the time.
This past Sunday I went back to that church again. The associate pastor is no longer there. He and his wife have stepped out on faith following God's call to places unknown. Maybe this was the reason I was so powerfully led to another text that morning?
After the service, God graced me with the real reason why he had me change my sermon that morning. A sweet member of the congregation came up and said she just had to tell me what happened since the last time I was there.
She reminded me of the sermon scenario. She told me of a dinner party held for her husband's coworker. She recounted her guest's spiritual questions following the meal. She thanked me for the explanation of the gospel and the faith necessary to grasp its gift. She explained how God used that in their conversation with their guest.
Since that fateful morning, when God unexpectedly moved me to preach a different sermon, the dinner guest has accepted Christ as his personal Lord and Savior. Then his wife came to faith. They weren't there that morning. They didn't hear the sermon. They couldn't feel my angst. Yet, God used my willingness to vary to sharpen the spiritual iron of his people and one sweet couple's faithful witness to add two new voices to the heavenly choir.
Praise be to God for knowing what his people need more than us.
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About Peter Beck
Peter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
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