“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:14)
God called me to do ‘my preaching’ through The Salvation Army as an officer. I was fearful of this call for so many reasons but the greatest worry for me was that I was terrified to speak in front of people. (I was so painfully shy that as a child I would skip school on the days when oral reports were to be given.) Nevertheless, with the intent to obey Christ’s command I answered God’s call to officership.
I will never forget the first sermon I ever preached. It was as a cadet during my field training assignment at the Times Square Corps. It was bad enough that I had to stand at a pulpit and preach to a group of people in the chapel, but I also had to contend with the fact that it was broadcast outside. While the message (and the meeting in general) was going on inside, there were cadets outside handing out tracts, talking to people (about the message, etc.), and inviting folks to come inside. This assignment to preach became a powerful turning point for me.
As I stood to read the scripture, I was so scared that I was shaking all over and could barely speak—I could even see out of the corner of my eye that the bow on my bonnet was shaking! I sat down in great fear and near panic. As the next item on the program was taking place, I began imploring God. I prayed this simple prayer: “God you have called me, and I want to be here, but I can’t do this without your help. Please, help me!” At that moment I felt the peace of God envelop me from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. No more shaking, no more fear. The band finished playing and I stood and delivered that sermon with confidence. I even remember the opening line: “Have you ever stood in the midst of a crowd and felt completely alone?” Now I don’t know how effective that sermon was for anyone else (or the grade I received) but it was a game changer for me. God showed me very clearly that He had indeed called me and that He would equip me and help me to do the work and ministry involved in that calling.
“Don’t underestimate the power of God in you, nor yet what you, by working quietly and steadily with Him, may accomplish” (Samuel Logan Brengle) I well learned the truth of that statement that evening in Times Square. I think that sometimes we overestimate our abilities and/or inabilities and forget that God will see us through each and every situation. I recall one particular situation that was way out of my depth. I had been an officer for about nine years and generally felt fairly competent to handle most things regarding my calling. I was in the office on a Saturday trying to catch up on some things when the phone rang. As these were the days before cell phones and caller ID…at least on our Corps Office phone…I answered because I thought it might be my husband. It wasn’t. It was someone who had randomly called the Salvation Army as they sat contemplating suicide. The first thing that hit me was pure unadulterated terror. Then with an SOS prayer to the Lord. I began to converse with the person on the other end of the line and we talked and talked and talked. I don’t know how long I was on the phone I just know that when the call ended, I was exhausted and felt like a limp rag.
I slumped back in my chair and just let the Spirit’s comfort and assurance wash over me. As I thought about bits and pieces of that conversation, I began to realize that the Lord had indeed been using me in spite of my weakness and inabilities. He placed in my mouth the words to say, the tone to use, helped me focus on the individual and pushed my panic aside.
Christians are called to preach the gospel. To preach the reality of it, the possibility of it, the grace of it, the love of it and the Person of it. To tell others that God who does not simply supply us with information about how we are to live but gives us Himself so that in every circumstance we have all that is needed to see us through.
Let me leave you with a quote from one of my favorite authors, Fredrick Buechner. “Let the preacher tell the truth. Let him make audible the silence of the news of the world with the sound turned off so that in the silence we can hear the tragic truth of the Gospel, which is that the world where God is absent is a dark and echoing emptiness; and the comic truth of the Gospel, which is that it is into the depths of his absence that God makes himself present in such unlikely ways and to such unlikely people that old Sarah and Abraham and maybe when the time comes even Pilate and Job and Lear and Henry Ward Beecher and you and I laugh till the tears run down our cheeks. And finally let him preach this overwhelming of tragedy by comedy, of darkness by light, of the ordinary by the extraordinary, as the tale that is too good not to be true because to dismiss it as untrue is to dismiss along with it that catch of the breath, that beat and lifting of the heart near to or even accompanied by tears, which I believe is the deepest intuition of truth that we have.” (Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale)