Yesterday, I kicked off a series of messages on what it is to be and make disciples. Like most days, I was burdened. For months I have been burdened in my spirit about the nature of discipleship in the Church and particularly in the church that I serve. I ask questions about whether we are effectively accomplishing the task of “making disciples.”
A “burden” is not a foreign concept for a preacher. Zechariah gives us insight…
1The burden of the word of the Lord concerning Israel. Thus declares the Lord who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him. Zechariah 12:1 (NASB95)
My task/responsibility/privilege to shepherd and preach to God’s people is a burden. Now…it is not that the people are a burden (though the demands and needs of the people of God can be, at times, burdensome; rather, the burden I speak of is that weightiness of the word of God for His people in my charge. This is a “burden” that He entrusts to the preacher to bear.
Most Sundays…I preach until the burden lifts. (Yep, I know that sounds weird…if you are not a “preacher,” but it is what it is). Preachers are not “public speakers” in the sense that a politician, or motivational speaker, or even a “teacher/professor” is. Preachers step into the pulpit with a divinely given assignment, and are not “released” until they have completed the assignment.
I shared with my people yesterday…after preaching for nearly an hour…that I was not yet “unburdened.” Sure, the service was nearly over…but the burden remained. Why?
- I was burdened for the response of the people. I sensed in my spirit that there were people who were choosing to leave the service while disobedient to the Lord’s will.
- I was burdened for the consequence of their disobedience. Literally, our obedience or disobedience to the Lord impacts us…sometimes and ultimately for eternity.
- I was burdened that the plea of God was not heard. God nearly always DRAWS men to Himself during the proclamation of His Word and the word of the preacher. The hearer may not respond but God is drawing.
I waited for almost an hour after the service…until everyone had left before leaving… because I was burdened.
Now I don’t say this to elicit “pity” or “sympathy.” I am not looking for consolation, nor am I having a “blue Monday” that preachers often have. God KNOWS that this is not my motivation. I am motivated, however, by my clear understanding that eternity hangs in the balance.
Now, honestly, I have heard preachers (and others) offer “suggestions” about the burden. I don’t necessarily understand their logic since it is not my “experience.” Here are a few-
- “Remember, that results are not your concern.” Sure, I get that…but I am not speaking of the results. I am talking about the burden.
- “That’s just how people are.” Ok, I get this…but I care about them. I too was the “way I was” and Jesus pursued me…hard. He was unrelenting. I am not sure how to relent…in light of that.
- “God’s Word doesn’t return void.” Again, I get the sentiment…but what theological understanding allows a preacher to preach passionately and then to dispassionately declare in the midst of NO RESPONSE that God’s Word did what it was supposed to do? (Consequently, when Jesus cried out while looking over the city, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem. How I longed to gather you together as a hen gathers her chicks, but you were not willing (MT 23:37),” did He just need to trust a little more that God’s Word doesn’t return void? )
I am convinced that there is and will always be a burden for the preacher. If He cares (not as a hireling but as a shepherd), then he must be concerned and weighed down at the awesome responsibility of the task of proclamation.
The continuation of the burden provokes me to intercede for my people. It drives me to prepare more, to preach harder, to stand in the gap, and to fall on my face. It is the burden that does not lift.