The other week, Ι was sick. I woke up Sunday morning, having not been A-1 the night before, and felt even worse. What is one to do when they are due to preach? Nobody can step in and prepare anything within the hour you might let them know and, who knows, I might feel better with some liquid and something to eat. Alas, I did not.
Nevertheless, I went to church anyway. I thought if I could just get into the pulpit I might be able to make it through. But I was feeling increasingly poor and time was not doing anything to make it better. My fellow elder made sure I knew I had permission to step out and, whatever they would do, the Lord would understand and the church would be fine. Despite being determined to serve the people as best I could, I decided just before we began to cry off.
This post isn’t really about any of that. It is the context for what I wanted to say. It can be dispiriting to be ill. It can feel like we have let down God’s people. But I wanted to mention a few things that really encouraged me in the midst of feeling sick and not being able to preach the Word.
I really love preaching the Word and serving our people
If being really sick yet dragging myself in to preach says anything, it is that I love preaching the Word. I suppose it could speak to an unhealthy sense of fear about what people would think if I didn’t. But I really didn’t feel that. Our people are lovely and gracious and would fully understand. But I really do love preaching and love our people. I really wanted to serve them and to share the Word with them. I wasn’t really up to it, but I really wanted to do it. I was disappointed that I couldn’t (though by no means dispirited). We can sometimes wonder what motivation is going on in us to do these things, but I love preaching the Word – I daresay I’m alright at it – and I love serving our people in particular. Despite not being able to preach, maybe the Lord was helping to encourage me in this different way to remind me that I really do love what he has given me to do.
I thank God for plural eldership and equipped workers
It was my fellow elder leading the meeting that morning. It was he who made sure there was no compulsion on me to continue. He was good enough to know what would be a concern and made clear he had something – albeit shorter and based on memory from a while back – that would be perfectly adequate to stand in. I knew he was more than capable of saying something, even extempore, that would be biblical, faithful and helpful. There were no worries that things would get on just fine without me.
For some, that is no encouragement at all. But I can’t help but think those who are discouraged by that thought place far too high a value on their own ministry. Not that it isn’t necessarily good, but that they have perhaps placed a high value on their gifts rather than their main calling to make disciples who make disciples and grow them to maturity in Christ. If you are about that latter business, you should be equipping people in the church to do all the work in the church. The church should be full of disciples who make disciples who are (or have) grown to maturity in Christ. It should mean, if you got hit by a bus, the church would continue without you and not just limp along, but thrive. It was encouraging to me that there was no danger of everything crumbling just because I wasn’t there. Christ continues to build his church, and this should surprise nobody, he has not built it exclusively around me.
The Lord has matters covered
I was due to preach on Matthew 6. As it happened, my fellow elder had something he had previously delivered on the Lord’s Prayer. Whilst it wasn’t a full exposition of Matthew 6, his sermon was nevertheless within the same passage we were due to consider.
On top of that, I was able to watch the live stream back home and follow most of it from my sick bed. The message was not just 10-minutes of filler. It was faithful and helpful. It might have been shorter, but it packed in a lot of helpful stuff in a short time.
It is hard not to see the Lord behind this. An on point sermon on broadly the right passage was able to be delivered and serve God’s people even though it was effectively extempore from memory. Sometimes the Lord lines these things up, presumably because he wanted his people to hear something else that morning, and he served them through these things. I was encouraged to think – and remind myself – the Lord has these things covered.
Our people care and they pray
It was lovely, despite the occasion for it, to have one of the deacons conduct an impromptu prayer meeting with some others when I first turned up to church asking the Lord to strengthen me and help me preach that morning. When the Lord decided not to answer in that way, it was encouraging to hear people praying for me on the live stream during the time of open prayer. It was similarly encouraging to have messages from people later in the day asking after me and seeing how I was doing. I was encouraged to see that our people cared and they showed that care by praying.