By Chris Philbeck
When my wife and I had been married for about 20 years, she took a part-time job to help pay for our children’s college. Fortunately for her, an opportunity came along to do something that fit with her artistic talent and interests, and she went to work for a small company that manufactured custom-made windows using a process called Stained Glass Overlay.
Unlike traditional stained glass, she would use multiple materials like glass, multilayered polyester film, bevels, jewels, etc. to form a solid piece of decorative art glass. She absolutely loved her job and came home each day talking about the different pieces she was creating and their unique installations. I especially loved it when she brought home pictures of the finished product.
I remember thinking two things about her job.
First, I was envious of the fact that her job offered a beginning and an end. When she finished a custom-made window, it was complete. You could even say it was perfect. That’s not something we preachers experience in our work. Sometimes we can see the “fruit” of our preaching through responses that lead to a profession of faith, repentance, and baptism, but usually we do not get to see people become mature, “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13), because it’s always a work in progress. We can get “glimpses” of the process, but it’s always a work in progress.
Second, I loved being able to see the love and passion my wife has for art and artistic expression in her work. She loves the color blue, flowers, and creative design, and her love for those things—and so much more—could clearly be seen in her work. As a result, she poured a part of herself into each window she created, treating it like a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. In the end, each window became a blessing to her and the people for whom she created it.
Can They See You in Your Sermon?
I believe there is, or should be, a powerful correlation between my wife’s experience of creating custom-made windows and the experience of writing and preaching sermons. As her love and passion for art and artistic expression could clearly be seen in her work, a preacher’s love and passion for God and the transforming power of his Word should clearly be seen in his work of preaching.
In The Sermon Maker: Tales of a Transformed Preacher, Calvin Miller wrote, “Sermons take their life from the nearness of God.” I shared my own “edited” version of this quote in an earlier column when I wrote, “Great sermons come from the nearness of God.” But no matter how you say it, our passion for God and the everyday experience of his presence and work in our lives are a critical part of creating and delivering a sermon. People want to experience a deeper level of intimacy with God. And when they find a preacher who possesses that deeper level of intimacy, they will listen with hopeful hearts. That’s why one of the greatest potential failures of a preacher is to share the truth with others without being owned by it.
A few years ago, my wife and I moved into a new home. We had lived for 16 years in a two-story home with a full basement. But as empty nesters, we no longer needed that much space and, to be honest, we were tired of walking up and down the stairs. So, we bought a new home that just happened to have one of the windows my wife had created in the master bathroom. Whenever I look at that window, I see her in the painstaking attention she gave to each detail; I see her passion and her joy.
I wonder, can our people see us in the sermons we preach? Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not talking about seeing us in the sense of our position, personality, or skill. And I’m certainly not talking about seeing us instead of Jesus. I’m talking about seeing our personal commitment to sharing God’s Word in a way that gives them hope. That happens when we remember that the impact of our preaching is not a matter of volume or structure, but a matter of connection.
How Can Suffering Improve Your Preaching?
John Piper wrote, “I believe in homiletics. But not much. A thousand sorrows teaches a man to preach.” Those words remind me of Psalm 119:71, where a man named Aleph wrote, “My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees” (New Living Translation).
In December 2011, I was diagnosed with cancer in my right tonsil that had spread to my lymph nodes. I spent the next several weeks going through a series of chemotherapy and radiation treatments that were brutal. I was out of my pulpit for almost five months. My first series back in the pulpit was called, “Count on It (Trusting in the Promises of God).” I poured everything I had experienced through my suffering into those sermons focused on the faithfulness of God. It’s been 10 years since my diagnosis and treatment, but it still shapes the way I preach because it is a part of who I am; my personal experience with God gives weight to my words about God. And that’s not just true for me, it’s true for all of us.