Preaching that Prepares People to Suffer
It’s been eight years since my wife and I were told devastating news. Without any warning signs, Julie had stage-3 colon cancer. We both felt like we had been hit by a train—our four children all young, the imminent medical treatments all harsh, and the toll on our spirits weighty. We were pressed downward like never before and humbled far more than I could have imagined.
So, we did the only thing we could do, we clung to the promises of our gracious God. “Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1 Pet 4:19). Then, day after day, and now these many years later, this truth is still the anchor of our treasure.
Pastor, you may never know suffering on such a personal level, but many of your sheep will. Your weekly ministry of the Word, in all its forms, is building into your flock the abiding realities of God’s faithfulness. I did not fully appreciate it at the time, but our church’s commitment to biblical exposition had prepared us to walk through a season of intense suffering. I had been preaching every week, not fully realizing how God was storing up His truth in hearts and lives to be used when the time would come. Suffering is like an audit that reveals what has been stored or treasured in the soul of the believer.
Chasing relevance in preaching will not cultivate a mature people ready to stand under the weight of suffering. So much preaching today is designed to cater to the lowest common denominator of fleshly affections. Some claim such preaching is “relevant” to where the people supposedly are, but the reality is such preaching is basely carnal in nature. I think most pastors have no desire to lead their people down such paths, yet that is what they’re doing when they walk such roads without the lamp of God’s Word. To offer God’s people meatless sermons week after week is to offer a plate of sand to the hungry.
Having been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, pastor Paul Wolfe has walked the valley of cancer too. In his book, My God is True: Lessons Learned Along Cancer’s Dark Road, Wolfe details how careful preaching prepares the people of God to suffer with grace.
With the blessing of the Lord, such preaching prepares Christians for the future as well as arming them for the present. It is sometimes said that the minister must seek in his sermon to meet the people where they are. That is a noble aspiration, of course, but the minister’s job is also to get the people ready for where they will be. No, he cannot know precisely where their roads will take them, but he does know that the truths of Scripture are crucial to prepare them for every circumstance. So let him serve up a steady diet of those truths.
We see this principle drawn out in a little New Testament letter aimed at suffering Christians. Our fellow elder, Peter, carefully measures each word so that the sheep will be ready for whenever a cloudy providence crosses their path:
The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Pet 4:7–11).
Earlier in the letter, Peter exhorted the flock to live in light of the gospel of Christ, which has “caused us to be born again to a living hope” (1:3). Because of this, they can be prepared for what lies ahead.
Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet 1:13–16).
Pastors, your ministry of the Word is to be continually aimed at shepherding the flock in such a way that they will continually cast all their anxieties on Him, because He cares for them as their Chief Shepherd. Though you may not see such fruits each week, you can rest in the fact that God is fortifying His people for sanctification in this life and glory in the next.
Paul Lamey is one of our ten TES campus pastors, having served as pastor of preaching and leadership development at Grace Community Church in Huntsville, AL since 2002.