After being out of a week-to-week pulpit for about two years, I have been forced to rethink and redevelop homeletical rhythms. In trying to develop these rhythms I have re-listened to a few preachers from my past—I have been fortunate enough to sit under some great preaching: Tommy Nelson, Haddon Robinson, Michael Quicke & John Piper, as well as soak up influence from Tim Keller.
All of these experiences have been formative in different ways. One thing I have learned is that I am none of these men, nor will I ever have such preaching stature, but that has not kept me from trying to learn how to preach the Scriptures better. Here are a few more things I have learned from them:
- Tommy Nelson – explain the word of God clearly and push it into the crevices of life.
- Haddon Robinson – organize your sermon around a central idea and restate it repeatedly and differently
- Michael Quicke – cultivate communion with the Trinity during the sermon writing process, relying on the Spirit
- Mark Driscoll – always ask “why or how do I/we resist the message?”
- John Piper – preach the argument of Scripture, with God at the center, and bank on the promises of God.
- Tim Keller – preach to the heart, not the will, and be culturally literate, always keeping the non-Christian in mind. Raise the problem of application and solve it with the solution of the gospel.
If you have suffered or struggle to minister, counsel, or preach on suffering, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul Tripp has a chapter you should read. Mind you, Tripp is not dealing with the philosophical problem of evil; he is addressing the practical issues of suffering. The chapter entitled “Building Relationships By Identifying with Suffering” holds out a deeply communal, redemptive vision of suffering. Accordingly, he frames his chapter with this insight:
You are a sufferer who has been called by God to minister to others in pain. Suffering is not only the common ground of human relationships, but one of God’s most useful workrooms. (145)
Tripp goes on to develop “the humble character of personal ministry” in suffering, noting that God sends suffering people into our lives, not only so that they will change, but so that we will change too. (146) He pushes back against the spiritual professional approach of many pastors, who are inclined to dole out advice and counsel in suffering without identifying with others in suffering. I was convicted of this tendency to identify with sufferers “from above,” not from their level. When recounting stories of suffering and how God sustained me through them, I have typically pointed to God’s sufficiency and the triumph of his grace, but without confessing my struggles towards embracing that sufficiency and victory.
As a result, on Saturday night I changed the way I told/shared/preached the story of losing my best friend to suicide. I did my best to follow Tripp’s advice: “Tell your story in a way that breaks down the misconception that you are essentially different form the person you are helping” (155). And I incorporated these elements: 1) the difficult situation 2) your struggle in the midst of it, and 3) how God helped you. Some of us need to do more of 1, just telling the stories. Others need more 2, to be more honest about our struggles in suffering. And others need more 3, to look beyond the pain to embrace and tell of God’s all-sufficient grace in suffering.
This chapter helped me immensely. I hope that this post helps you.
This weekend I preached a sermon on suffering (we will be podcasting soon). Not the most popular topic but one we can all relate to, eventually. The sermon was based on some research and writing I’ve been doing on Luke-Acts. In this message, I reflected on the numerous conceptual and verbal parallels between the suffering stories of Jesus and Paul.
My aim in this message was to develop a practical theology of suffering, not to deal with theodicy (the problem of evil). However, as with most of my messages, I am trying to keep the non-Christian perspective in view. What is it like for them to suffer? Well, there is a lot of overlap as well as some significant differences between how Christians and non-Christians should suffer. My main two questions were: 1) Should all faithful Christians suffer? 2) If yes, how can we suffer with purpose?
These were my closing comments:
The gospel offers us purpose in our suffering in two main ways: purpose that is redemptive and purpose that hope-giving. Suffering is redemptive for people who hope in Jesus. Purposeful suffering comes through Jesus by redeeming our pain and our sin. Through his life and death Jesus suffered and died in a way that no man will ever suffer and die again. Not only was he rejected, scorned and crucified, but he was also separated from his father’s love as he bore the weight of sin and evil in his death. As a result, Jesus can redeem your suffering by comforting you in your loss and pain. He is the “great high priest who can empathize with our every weakness.” He offers consolation, comfort, and acceptance in the midst of loss, pain, and rejection. He redeems our pain. Jesus gives your suffering purpose because he redeems it. He also redeems our sin, our escapism, our self-reliance, our bitterness, our pride by dying the death we should have died as a substitute sacrifice for our rebellion against a just God. Jesus offers us purpose in suffering by redeeming our pain and our sin. But that’s not all…
Jesus gives our suffering purpose through his resurrection. In the resurrection of Jesus we have the hope of no more suffering. Once and for all, he conquered death for all those who hope in him. In Acts 14:23, just after his stoning, Paul tells us: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” The kingdom of God is not escape from this world, an entrance into Nirvana, nothingness, but the renewal of all creation, bodies, culture and creation. The grand program of God is a new creation, and all who persevere through suffering by treasuring Christ, will inherit the world in which there will be no more sorrow and no more tears. Those who look to Jesus have hope in suffering, hope of final deliverance from all suffering and inheritance of a new creation. Our suffering is purposeful in Jesus’ redemption and resurrection, which makes him the center and source of all meaning. Ultimately, our suffering magnifies Jesus, in his death and in his life, as the King of the greatest kingdom to ever exist.
Of the three books on suffering that I read, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands was most helpful. In fact, chapter 8 from that book is worth a whole post. Remember, this sermon was not dealing with theodicy, but developing a practical theology of suffering. I read chapters from these three:
Dave Devries has some great material on missional planting over at Missonal Challenge. Check out his most recent post on “Should We Focus on Fast-Growing Churchplants?” He offers a good critique of Stephen Gray’s Planting Fast-growing Churches.