I haven’t put up a new post in a very long time. Even as it sit typing this one now, I’m doing it to avoid getting down to business with prepping a sermon for Sunday.
That’s right, 3:29 on Friday and still no sermon. Nothing even started. To every person in every church on every Sunday morning who feels like they don’t want to be there, know this — the man (or woman) up front is often fighting the same battles. We get discouraged too. We get exhausted. We feel we have nothing to say, nothing to share, and nothing to give. We often feel the tension between what we profess and how we live.
But Sunday comes every week and none of the above will suffice for not having something ready to say. And nothing should. One of the best (though not one of the funnest) things about being a pastor is that we are reminded, by necessity, that sometimes the best we can do is simply show up.
I understand not wanting to get up and go to church. I understand staying up too late on a Saturday and just wanting to sleep in, or not wanting to be around a big group of people in the morning. I understand struggling with prayer. I understand being in a place in your life where, sometimes, for long periods of time, you don’t even care, and feeling like no one could ever identify with how bad you feel or how hopeless things seem. Every pastor understands those things. Some might not admit it. Some might prefer to let you think they are super-human, but that just means that they’re one day going to have farther to fall.
Sunday comes every week. And there’s a fine line between being a hypocrite on one hand, and simply acknowledging on the other that with the spiritual life — as with so many things — showing up is more than half the battle. So I’ll sit here right now writing about how hard this is going to be. After I stop writing this post I’ll probably still spend several more hours agonizing over what I’m going to say and how I’ll say it. But I promise you that between now and Sunday, I will write a sermon. And when I get up there Sunday morning, it’s not going to sound like I’m phoning it in — like I just threw some drivel together because I didn’t care. If you come to be encouraged, you might find encouragement. If you come to be challenged, you might be challenged. If you come simply because your husband or wife dragged your sorry butt-end out of bed and you’re not looking for anything at all, well — know that on some days the only difference between us is that getting up there and being prepared is what I get paid for.
But the thing is — that doesn’t for one second mean I don’t mean every word I say, that it’s not full of truth. All it means is that the messenger sometimes struggles not to get lost before the message reaches you. Actually, the message is all the more powerful in contrast to the frailty and weakness of the messenger.
The passage below is adapted from plural to singular.
2 Corinthians 4:7-9; 16-18 (MSG)
7 If you only look at me, you might well miss the brightness. I carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pot of my ordinary life. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with me.
8 As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that I’m not much to look at. I’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but I’m not demoralized (at least not right now!); I’m not sure what to do, 9 but I know that God knows what to do; I’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left my side; I’ve been thrown down, but I haven’t broken.
16 So I’m not giving up. How could I! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on me, on the inside, where God is making new life, [I know that] not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.
17 These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for [all of] us.
18 There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.
That’s a future promise, but this is present reality. Here and now, times are tough. Hearts break, people live without love. Many rarely know joy. We struggle to let others know us and even harder to let them love us. We run out of money, life loses its gloss, and we grind out some of our hours by sheer resolve and force of will. That is part of life in a broken world. Parts of all of our lives, of all of our days, are broken. Even Sundays find themselves among the broken pieces of the world and we can be sure that — on those days too — we will sometimes feel the loneliness and pain, or the apathy, of our brokenness.
Still, Sunday comes every week. We show up not because life is perfect. We show up not because we are not broken or bleeding. We show up not because we are good. No, we show up because life is full of struggle. We often show up broken and bloody. We show up not because we are good, but because we need to be reminded that God is good.
It’s the farthest thing from hypocrisy, my friends. No one knows when you’re at church how much you had to overcome just to get there that day, how many excuses you had to shoot in the head and lay to rest, how much apathy or fear or suspicion you had to wade through. No one knows, that is, except God.
I hope to see you Sunday, to shake your hand, look you in the eye, and exchange a knowing glance with you. If that happens, I’ll know you read this post, and you’ll know that I may have more in common with you than you had ever imagined. Showing up is more than half the battle.
It is now 10:11 pm. The sermon is finished. I am exhausted, having sat here for the past seven hours either procrastinating, writing, or both. But I love what I have here, and am excited about sharing it Sunday. I may be tired, I may not even want to get up Sunday morning, but once I get up there and spread my notes out, I’ll be engaged. No phoning it in. We don’t have to want to do things, but we might as well do well whatever we have chosen to do.