The following is an excerpt from Oswald Chambers about preaching from his book Disciples Indeed (1958, 2002; Marshall, Morgan & Scott). His words are penetrating and insightful. “For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bondservants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Corinthians 4:5)
A personal testimony feeds you from hand to mouth; you must have more equipment than that if you are to preach the Gospel.
The preacher must be part of his message, he must be incorporated in it. That is what the baptism of the Holy Ghost did for the disciples. When the Holy Ghost came at Pentecost He made these men living epistles of the teaching of Jesus, not human gramophones recording the facts of His life.
If you stand true as a disciple of Jesus He will make your preaching the kind of message that is incarnate as well as oral.
To preach the Gospel makes you a sacrament; but if the Word of God has not become incorporated into you, your preaching is “a clanging cymbal” (rv); it has never cost you anything, never taken you through repentance and heartbreak.
We have not to explain how a man comes to God, instead of bringing men to God, that hinders; an explanation of the Atonement never drew anyone to God, the exalting of Jesus Christ, and Him crucified does draw men to God (see John 12:32).
Remember, you go among men as a representative of Jesus Christ.
The preacher’s duty is not to convict men of sin, or to make them realize how bad they are, but to bring them into contact with God until it is easy for them to believe in Him.
No man is ever the same after listening to the truth, he may say he pays no attention to it, he may appear to forget all about it, but at any moment the truth may spring up into his consciousness and destroy all his peace of mind.
The great snare in Christian work is this—“Do remember the people you are talking to.” We have to remain true to God and His message, not to a knowledge of the people, and as we rely on the Holy Spirit we will find God works His marvels in His own way.
Live in the reality of the Truth while you preach it.
Most of us prefer to live in a particular phase of the Truth, and that is where we get intolerant and pigheaded, religiously determined that everyone who does not agree with us must be wrong. We preach in the Name of God what He won’t own.
God’s denunciation will fall on us if in our preaching we tell people they must be holy and we ourselves are not holy. If we are not working out in our private life the messages we are handing out, we will deepen the condemnation of our own souls as messengers of God.
Our message acts like a boomerang; it is dangerous if it does not.
A good clear emotional expression contains within it the peril of satisfactory expression while the life is miles away from the preaching. The life of a preacher speaks louder than his words.
There is no use condemning sensuality or worldly-mindedness and compromise in other people if there is the slightest inclination for these in our own soul.
It is all very well to preach, the easiest thing in the world to give people a vision of what God wants; it is another matter to come into the sordid conditions of ordinary life and make the vision real there.
Beware of hypocrisy with God, especially if you are in no danger of hypocrisy among men.
Penetration attracts hearers to God, ingenuity attracts to the preacher. Dexterity is always an indication of shallowness.
A clever exposition is never right because the Spirit of God is not clever. Beware of cleverness, it is the great cause of hypocrisy in a preacher.
Don’t be impatient with yourself, because the longer you are in satisfying yourself with an expression of the Truth the better will you satisfy God.
Impressive preaching is rarely Gospel-preaching: Gospel-preaching is based on the great mystery of belief in the Atonement, which belief is created in others, not by my impressiveness, but by the insistent conviction of the Holy Spirit.
There is far more wrought by the Word of God than we will ever understand, and if I substitute anything for it, fine thinking, eloquent speech, the devil’s victory is enormous, but I am of no more use than a puff of wind.
The determination to be a fool if necessary is the golden rule for a preacher.
We have to preach something which to the wisdom of this world is foolishness. If the wisdom of this world is right, then God is foolish; if God is wise, the wisdom of this world is foolishness (see 1 Corinthians 1:18-25). Where we go wrong is when we apologize for God.
If you are standing for the truth of God you are sure to experience reproach, and if you open your mouth to vindicate yourself you will lose what you were on the point of gaining. Let the ignominy and the shame come, be “weak in Him.”
Never assume anything that has not been made yours by faith and the experience of life; it is presumptuous to do so. On the other hand, be ready to pay the price of “foolishness” in proclaiming to others what is really yours.
People only want the kind of preaching which does not declare the demands of a holy God. “Tell us that God is loving, not that He is holy, and that He demands we should be holy.” The problem is not with the gross sinners, but with the intellectual, cultured, religious-to-the-last-degree people.
All the winsome preaching of the Gospel is an insult to the Cross of Christ. What is needed is the probe of the Spirit of God straight down to a man’s conscience till his whole nature shouts at him, “That is right, and you are wrong.”
It is the preacher’s contact with Reality that enables the Holy Spirit to strip off the sophistries of those who listen, and when He does that, you find it is the best people who go down first under conviction.
A great psychological law too little known is that the line of appeal is conditioned by the line of attraction. If I seek to attract men, that will be the line on which my aggressive work will have to be done.
To whom is our appeal? To none but those God sends you to. You can’t get men to come; nobody could get you to come until you came. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, . . . so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”
Many of the theological terms used nowadays have no grip, we talk glibly about sin, and about salvation; but let the truth be presented along the line of a man’s deep personal need, and at once it is arresting.
Some of us are rushing on at such a headlong pace in Christian work, wanting to vindicate God in a great Revival, but if God gave a revival we would be the first to forget Him and swing off on some false fire.
“ . . . not slothful in business,” i.e., the Lord’s business. Don’t exhaust yourself with other things.
Beware as of the devil of good taste being your standard in presenting the truth of God.
“Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh” (2 Corinthians 5:16); that is the way we do know men—according to our common-sense estimates. The man who knows God has no right to estimate other men according to his common-sense judgment, he has to bring in revelation facts which will make him a great deal more lenient in his judgment. To have a little bit only of God’s point of view makes us immensely bitter in our judgment.
Beware lest your reserve in public has the effect of God Almighty’s decree to the sea—“Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further.” I have no business in God’s service if I have any personal reserve, I am to be broken bread and poured-out wine in His hands.
If you are living a life of reckless trust in God the impression given to your congregation is that of the reserve power of God, while personal reserve leaves the impression that you are condescending to them.
We should give instruction unconsciously; if you give instruction consciously in a dictatorial mood you simply flatter your own spiritual conceit.
Have you never met the person whose religious life is so exact that you are terrified at coming near him? Never have an exercise of religion that blots God clean out.
Remember two things: be natural yourself, and let God be naturally Himself through you. Very few of us have got to the place of being worthily natural, any number of us are un-worthily natural, that is, we reveal the fact that we have never taken the trouble to discipline ourselves.
Don’t be discouraged if you suffer from physical aphasia, the only cure for it is to go ahead, remembering that nervousness overcome is power.
Beware of being disappointed with yourself in delivery; ignore the record of your nerves.
Learn to be vicarious in public prayer. Allow two rivers to come through you: the river of God, and the river of human interests. Beware of the danger of preaching in prayer, of being doctrinal.
When you preach, you speak for God, and from God to the people; in prayer, you talk to God for the people, and your proper place is among the people as one of them. It is to be a vicarious relation, not the flinging of theology at their heads from the pulpit.
Always come from God to men; never be so impertinent as to come from the presence of anyone else.
How do interruptions affect you? If you allot your day and say, “I am going to give so much time to this, and so much to that,” and God’s Providence upsets your time-table, what becomes of your spirituality? Why, it flies out of the window! It is not based on God, there is nothing spiritual about it, it is purely mechanical. The great secret is to learn how to draw on God all the time.
Whenever you are discovered as being exhausted, take a good humiliating dose of John 21:15-17. The whole secret of shepherding is that someone else reaches the Saviour through your heart as a pathway.
Beware of making God’s truth simpler than He has made it Himself.
By the preaching of the Gospel God creates what was never there before, viz., faith in Himself on the ground of the Redemption.
People say, “Do preach the simple Gospel,” if they mean by “the simple Gospel” the thing we have always heard, the thing that keeps us sound asleep, then the sooner God sends a thrust through our stagnant minds the better.
If any man’s preaching does not make me brace myself up and watch my feet and my ways, one of two things is the reason—either the preacher is unreal, or I hate being better.
A joyous, humble belief in your message will compel attention.
Sermons may weary, the Gospel never does.
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.