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The preacher in the pew – a fresh look at old things

May 2002 | by Alun McNabb

Pulpit-less Sabbaths are not easy for preachers, but the discipline of being confined to home or the pew can do them a power of good.

Recovering from illness, I saw anew how vitally important is the public worship of God, and trembled, from the pew, to discover how much is determined by the man in the pulpit.

I saw afresh the awesomeness of the task of leading people to God in their worship. I was solemnised at the thought of how God’s people may be greatly helped, or totally distracted, by a single word, phrase, attitude, or gesture.

Public prayer

I felt again the seeming audacity of what we call ‘public prayer’; that a man would take upon himself the task of not only speaking to God on his own behalf, as if that were not onerous enough, but of trying to lead others in the same exalted exercise.

If the essence of true prayer is a man’s own heart and the secret place, how is he going to pray suitably for others’ hearts in the public place? That it can be done, and must be done, we all know; but what a thing it is!

That mere mortals should attempt to grasp immortality, and that sinful men should attempt to grasp a holy God, and all in public, I saw again to be a task of immense proportions.

God’s Word

And when I heard one say, ‘This is the Word of God,’ I thought anew what it means to read the Scriptures in public. When our ears are subject to so much of the world’s public words, how we should endeavour to do justice to articulating the very words of God?

Are these indeed the actual words of the living God? Then what attention should be paid to their public reading! And, need it be said, what attention should be given to their hearing.

I considered afresh the solemn and powerful introduction we so often make to the Scripture reading: ‘Let us hear the Word of God’. What a business — what a responsibility — what a privilege!

I read recently an article written by one of our Fraternal Ministers in which he bewailed the practice, in some ‘evangelical’ meetings, of doing away with the reading of the Bible altogether.

No doubt they deemed other things ‘more important’. But may we never underestimate the good done by the hearing of what God has said. Paul wrote to Timothy: ‘Give attendance to reading’ (1 Timothy 4:13), which meant, in the Jewish world of that time, ‘Give attention to the public reading of Scripture’.

Worship in song

And what of this worship of God in song? I wondered, for our help, if the first line of every hymn should not be something like: ‘This is for God’.

O how we should try and lift up our voices for God. My voice problem means that singing is all but gone for me. It is one of the things I most want to do but, for my voice’s sake, it is the very thing I must not do.

So I am more of a listener than I was. Being in the pew as a listener was an education. I noticed that some people were not singing at all. They just stood there (I am not speaking about the unsaved).

Others mumbled so quietly that it hardly seemed worth the effort. I found this discouraging. But some were evidently doing business with God. Their whole demeanour showed that the solemn joy of public praise was indeed divine worship.

What a thing is this ‘singing to God’! Would you not have loved to have been at the Last Supper to hear Jesus and the others sing? ‘They sang a hymn’ (Matthew 26:30). May we all be examples to one another in this offering of thanksgiving to our Redeemer.

Preaching

Then I sat and listened to preaching. After many years of doing it, the call of it, the weight of it, the privilege of it and the accountability of it, struck me as even more demanding.

Now what a thing is this — a mere man called to tell others the way of life! If public prayer seems audacious, what shall we say of preaching?

Has not that man enough to do to guard his own soul and behaviour, without being so presumptuous as to take it upon himself to teach others? O how we need God the Holy Spirit to fill the man and feed the people.

Preaching! The unspiritual mind has always despised it — the Bible said it would — yet it is the God-ordained means whereby sinners are converted, believers are built up and God is glorified.

Not surprising, surely, that I pondered once more how any man can dare to climb the pulpit steps