In the spring of 1991 I was asked if I would be willing to preach a sermon even though I was a freshman who had never preached a single sermon. The whole story is that my girlfriend at the time was on a traveling music team at the college I attended and she asked their leader if I could preach the sermon that week. The leader and I agreed and I had about a month to prepare a sermon. I prayed, I studied the scripture, I thought and I wrote. Like most 19-year-old college freshman, I had the world figured out and had a complete grasp on what the world needed to hear.
Eventually the sermon was written by hand a several pieces of paper. I preached through it again and again in my room. I asked a fellow student to read it and give me his thoughts. I do not remember what he said but I am sure it was something like, “Brilliant. Simply brilliant.”
The Church was a couple of hours away and we actually drove up the night before. I stayed in a house with a couple of young children. I remember making small talk with the parents while keeping my thoughts on the sermon continually. The next morning I practiced and prayed one final time. Then off to Church to unload my brilliant ideas in a sermon that I was sure would be talked about for years in this congregation.
After arrival the team sang and played and led the congregation in worship to begin the program. Finally, I was up. I walk to the podium and hung on for dear life. I almost threw up. I felt light-headed. I forgot most of what I was going to say and started to wing it. I explained everything I knew about God, the Bible, Jesus and the Christian life. Glancing up at the wall clock I saw it had only moved about 8 minutes. Reaching deep in my soul I found myself telling the congregation about the death of my best friend and how God had given me hope through my faith. Three minutes of emotional story telling and I was done. I preached or spoke or rambled something for 11 minutes. Those poor people had not been treated to the best sermon ever, but rather the exact polar opposite.
When the service was over I hung my head, swallowed my pride and walked sheepishly to the back door to shake hands. I heard things like, “I like short sermons.” I heard small talk about the weather and sports. No one really knew what to say to me. It was difficult and embarrassing for everyone like a bad first date. Then after everyone appeared to have left but the music team and myself, one couple came up and said, “We want to thank you for your sermon today.” The woman was crying and told me about how she had recently lost a sibling and was struggling to make sense of it. She appreciated what I had said and it was a comfort to her.
I was shocked. Really? That sermon helped? I hadn’t even planned to tell that story, but thought it might generate pity if they congregation thought I was grieving. That sermon? Yep. That sermon help.
On the ride home I remember being amazed at my God. He took that awful sermon and touched someone’s life for good in that congregation. He took that sermon and touched my life.
That experience has led me to believe that God will take anyone willing to speak for Him and use their words for good. God does not require perfection to serve Him, simply a willing heart. In the end, we may feel like we have failed when in reality God succeeded through us. Making an effort for God is always a winning move.