If you’ve ever preached as much as a single sermon, if you’ve ever delivered as much as a single conference address, if you’ve ever led as much as a single Bible study, then I expect you know the temptation. I expect you have longed to make much of Jesus, but have also felt the desire to have people make much of you. I expect you have prayed that God would glorify himself through your words, but have also wished that those listening would glorify you, at least a little bit. This is a familiar, and I dare say universal, temptation for those who teach, lead, and minister.
This is a temptation I have to battle every time I stand before a group of people large or small, familiar or unfamiliar, far from home or in my local church. It is a temptation I battle as I study, as I prepare, as I preach, and as I engage with people after all has been said and done. It is a battle I’ve yet to win and, frankly, doubt I ever will completely.
Yet I have made some headway, I think.
I have made some headway by committing this to prayer, not just on a sermon-by-sermon basis, but in the big picture. I pray for the humility to go unseen, unacknowledged, and unremembered, so long as Christ is seen, acknowledged, and remembered. In fact, I pray that Christ would be so present and so visible that people would fail to think of me at all.
I have made some headway by reminding myself of the goodness and sufficiency of Scripture. If I had to stand before people and bring them some of my own wisdom I might well despair and boast—despair at the difficulty of the task and boast in any success I might have. But I really have nothing of value to bring, nothing that can bless, challenge, or strengthen people except for what God has already said.
I have made some headway by acknowledging the tension that exists—the tension that I may only know that God has used something I’ve said if people tell me. And the tension that such encouragement is a way in which others may wish to bless me.
And I have made some headway by pressing on, knowing that just as I will never preach a perfect sermon or deliver a perfect speech, neither will I ever be a perfect man preaching a sermon or a perfect man delivering a speech. I need to press on even if my heart is not fully pure and my desires fully blameless. Like Peter, I can sometimes only say, “Lord, you know! You know I love you. You know I want to honor you. You know I want you to be the hero.” And then I press on, doing my best, asking God to forgive any shortcomings in my words or my desires, asking him to grant what I desire at my best rather than at my worst.
And then I prepare to fight the same fight and plead the same grace the next time.