The text came to me on Friday, August 28 of 2020. It was perhaps one of my most surprising and encouraging moments of 2020. It was from a member of our church at He’s Alive. The text was a screenshot of an email I had sent almost eight years earlier on August 23, 2012. My email read, “…the tent has been dismantled and building put up for good. Glory has arrived. Strength made perfect.” The context for my email was giving encouragement because this person’s grandmother had recently passed.
He was also referencing a sermon I had preached on the same subject around that same time in 2012. The biblical text was from 2 Corinthians 5. The content of the sermon was that for believers in Christ, our earthly bodies are nothing more than a temporary tent. This earth is not our home. We are living in a tent. When we pass from death to life, our temporary tents/bodies are dismantled and we receive a new heavenly body in eternity with Jesus, forever. Glory has finally arrived at that moment.
I remembered preaching the sermon, but only vaguely. He remembered those words from that sermon verbatim…eight years later. Let me repeat that. He took those words I said in a sermon eight years ago, held them, memorized them, and repeated them back to me almost eight years later in a text. He had them saved on his email…for eight years.
Honestly, I can’t really take any credit for that. I’m sure it was the Lord speaking directly to Him. And thankfully, on that particular night, I was obedient enough to be a willing vessel through which the Lord spoke. Only God can do that. That is eternal and supernatural. Human beings don’t come up with that. Only God does.
As one who makes a living speaking in front of people, I realize that most of what I say will likely be forgotten over time. I realize that the best sermons are more likely caught than taught when you live them out in your life off the stage, rather than just talk about them from the stage. But I’m also aware of the power of words. More than that, I’m humbly awe-struck by the fact that during a Sunday morning sermon, God will intentionally and miraculously choose to use a human being through which to speak to others. This is why worship matters. This is why gathering together matters. But this is also why I don’t sleep most Saturday nights before Sunday morning services, nor the Sunday night after the service either. It is a profoundly reverential weight that can bring both wonder and holy dread.
You know there will be days where you will be average at best. You know there will be days where you think it was great, but to everyone else, it was just blah. There will be times when you know the Lord spoke directly through you, and others will affirm that. But there will also be times when you feel like what you are saying is hitting the ceiling and bouncing back down and hitting you square in the face with no Heavenly connection whatsoever.
Inevitably, there will also be times where things will fly out of your mouth that you wish you could get back. You must constantly fight the tension between having just enough of your emotions and personal convictions involved, so as not to appear stoic or impersonal. But you must also keep enough of your emotions and convictions out of the way so that you don’t get in the way of the Gospel and exalting the name of Jesus. Some days you will find the balance and people will be encouraged…and more importantly, they will take it to heart and live it out. Other days, you may not find the balance, and people may take offense, denounce their trust and friendship, and even leave the church. Such is the life. It is why I tell people who think they’re called to preach not to do it if they can see themselves doing anything else in life. It is no easy task.
You will be praised, you will be criticized. You will be made to look smarter than you are at times, and you will be made to feel more ignorant than you actually are at times. Strangely and frustratingly, though it shouldn’t be, the power of one negative criticism will carry the same weight as one-hundred positive and affirming words. Though the criticism will be in the minority, it will be louder and bolder than a hundred other affirmations just like it. There will be times when you dream about what it may be like to be free of the weight and the expectations. As good as one Sunday may be, in just six short days, another Sunday is coming, and you must do it all over again.
Though you derive such passion and life from it. The weight of it all will be cumbersome and more than you feel you can carry at times. Then, in His kindness, the Lord supernaturally uses someone to come along and preach to you instead. They send you a text or an email, or reference something from years back. And through the labor of it all, you are reminded why you are called to it and the privilege you have in doing it. You keep their email, develop a file for them all, and when you think you can’t go on anymore, you pull it out, and read it again and again and again, and you thank the Lord.
Words matter, for all of us. Proverbs 18:21 states, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” We’re all preaching sermons every single day with our words and actions. Be that as it may, let’s give people the type of words they’ll want to file and look back on when they need them most…in matters of life and death. An email I sent eight years earlier, came back to me in the middle of a pandemic, just when I needed it most. Words are not just words.