The Boring Sermon and the Stone Pulpit
The weekly Sunday morning sermons lasted approximately 28 minutes and ended precisely at 11:58 am. The predictability of a noon-time release relieved my boredom. My usual headache was beginning to throb, my stomach growled, and the smell of department store perfume overwhelmed my senses.
On this day, something was stirring within me. I leaned over to my mother and whispered my need to use the restroom. It was my usual excuse for a break. It remained effective if I returned within five minutes. I slipped out of the wooden pew. Rather than walking down the hall to the lavatory, I descended the back stairs to the cobblestone courtyard with the large stone pulpit. The warm day encouraged me to linger a bit longer.
I stepped behind the pulpit. My boredom had subsided. Something new was stirring in my soul. A question encompassed my thoughts, “What would it be like to preach the Sunday sermon?” Surrounded by ivy-laced walls and a few foraging pigeons, I ascended the stone steps and began to speak. No one was around to laugh at my early-teen antics, so I started to address the empty courtyard. My words were few, meaningless, and would have seemed silly to anyone who happened by. Yet, something new was stirring within me. It created a memory, a definable moment, in my life.
I never became the preaching pastor of that church or any other church. So why does that memory still come into my mind? Did that experience have any significant meaning? Did it influence the direction of my life? God stirring my heart remains a pattern in my life.
As you look at your ministry, who is God stirring and for what purpose?
God Stirs the Hearts of People
Every person experiences a stirring heart. God has been stirring hearts since creation and he uses different means to do so. After God created Adam and placed him in the Garden of Eden, He knew Adam needed a helper. God created Eve. The text records Adam’s response after he first saw Eve, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23a, New International Version). The original language indicates that Adam was deeply stirred or overjoyed when He saw Eve for the first time. Eve was God’s provision, who would address his loneliness and join with Adam in fulfilling their service to God.
Early one night, the boy Samuel heard the voice of God. He thought Eli, his priest and mentor, was calling him. Eli wisely instructed Samuel to return to lie down and listen. If Samuel heard the voice again, he was to respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (I Samuel 3:9, NIV). Samuel benefitted from Eli’s discernment and recognized the voice as from God. That night, he received God’s first message, of many, to his people.
A stirring from God may be the result of a divine experience like Isaiah. “I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of His robe filled the temple.” The seraphim were flying above, God-worshipping. Isaiah immediately realized his sinfulness in the presence of absolute holiness. He then experienced atonement and heard the voice of God, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Isaiah was stirred and responded, “Here I am. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:1-8, NIV). Many servants of God have uttered those words in prayer without a dramatic appearance of God.
God can stir anyone’s heart. King Cyrus of Persia experienced God’s stirring that led him to write a proclamation declaring his support for the Israelites to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple of God. God also stirred the hearts of the priests and leaders of Israel to fulfill God’s will (Ezra 1, NIV).
Jesus called many people into service with two words, “Follow me.” He spoke them to Simon and his brother Andrew. Two fishermen whom Jesus told would now fish for people (Matthew 4:18-19, NIV). Jesus told a devout rich man to sell all his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. By doing so, his treasure would be in heaven. Jesus told him, “Then come, follow me.” Not everyone responds positively to Jesus’ calling. That man went away sad, rejecting his call to follow Jesus (Mark 10:17-22, NIV). Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting in a tax booth. Levi was faithfully serving Rome when Jesus spoke the words, “Follow me.” Levi got up and left everything behind to serve God faithfully (Luke 5:27-28, NIV). Jesus did not seem to focus on people with a specific skill-set or profession. He knew their heart and the plan God prepared for them.
The Apostle Paul provides a familiar example of being stirred by Jesus. Saul, who God later renamed Paul, was walking on the Road to Damascus harboring murderous thoughts about those who belonged to the Way, the followers of Jesus. A light from heaven suddenly flashed blinding Saul. “He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’” (Acts 4:4, NIV). It was the voice of Jesus, whom Saul was persecuting by his murderous threats. Paul’s conversion story continues through chapter 4. Jesus posed a direct question to Saul about his persecutory behavior. Jesus knew that Saul’s murderous heart was set against Jesus Himself. Paul repented, believed, and was filled with the Holy Spirit. His murderous heart against Jesus changed into a zealous heart for Jesus, as an apostle for the Gospel of Christ.
God Still Stirs Hearts
God continues to stir the hearts of people today. Many people interrupt their stirrings as God’s call upon their life. Some believe it is the basis to enter vocational ministry. Others see it as a passion for loving and serving others in their homes, workplaces, or neighborhoods. If you serve in a pastoral or teaching ministry role for any length of time, you undoubtedly have been asked, “How can I know God’s will for my life.” The question is not limited to youth.
How does helping people determine God’s will for their life encourage lasting transformation?
What ideas, emotions, or causes is God stirring in your life? When was the last time that you checked in with Him about how He wants to lead you? Whom has God led to your church or ministry? Who is God providing to your ministry to help meet the call that is placed upon your ministry? How do you identify and equip them for service? How can they assimilate into existing ministries or influence new ones?
God calls people to the local church, His community. Christ commissions his followers with Biblical imperatives like the Great Commission or the Great Command. Does he also place a specific call on the church community for their local Jerusalem?
Stirred Hearts Serve
When God stirs a heart, that person wants to act. Stirred hearts that do not respond become cold hearts. Active hearts that pursue stirrings by God become fruitful hearts that build new treasures in heaven. Comparing ministry success to numbers in a pew, or conversions, is seldom an accurate measure of Christ-like growth. Growth and conversions are fantastic indicators but lousy measurement tools. Service for the Lord takes many forms, only a small fraction of which supports formal church programs.
Isaiah 53 is a well-known prophecy about the death and atoning work of Christ. The passage begins with a question, “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? The specific answer to Isaiah’s question has multiple interpretations. Did he have the Jewish nation in mind, the remnant of Israel, Gentiles, or modern-day people? Was Isaiah reflecting God’s desire for many people to believe the Messiah or was God, lamenting that only few would become followers?
The “arm of the Lord” is a personification of the active presence and power of God. Because Christ became a man and offered Himself as the sacrifice for sin, those who believe live in the presence and power of God who actively stirs hearts.
How is God stirring your community to serve?
Service is imperative to Christ-like transformation. One cannot take in all the benefits of Christ and not overflow with obedience to serve. Service comes in many different forms. Service will take on new approaches as society moves further into the age of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics. While these developments may seem irrelevant to the church, they present a unique opportunity to serve God in culturally relevant ways.
Are you open to new ways to serve others?
Change is hard for most people and anyone new to your ministry introduces the opportunity for new ways of service. Will you see these people as a threat to your ministry or an opportunity to expand it? If we are going to embrace how God is stirring people within our ministries, we must be open to being served by them as well. If we resist the stirring of God in others, we may not be seeing the full picture of God’s plan.
I am grateful for the church of my youth. The stone pulpit still resides over the courtyard. It represents the ministries where God placed a persistent burden on my life. At that time, I’d say God was directing me to a lifetime of youth ministry. God continues to lead. Today, vocational youth ministry is a distant memory. God moved me through different careers, places, and diverse communities. My original stirring to communicate truth remains strong and has taken various forms. The more open I am toward God, the more opportunities he provides.
I pray that every local church is a place for Christ-like transformation that results in our love for God and service to others for His kingdom purposes. Pastors and ministry leaders are in a unique role to help each person recognize or affirm God’s stirrings in the lives of others. We need to be intentional about making safe places to explore them.