Saving Eutychus 101
It’s not about you
Writing a book about preaching makes me very uncomfortable. I know there are all kinds of dos and don’ts and useful tips and techniques. As we’ll see, there are plenty of helpful things to say about biblical theology, and pace, and illustrations, and approach and so on. But my biggest fear in putting all this down on paper is that it makes it sound as if preaching is all about the preacher—what we say and how we say it. But it isn’t.
Everyone who has ever preached regularly knows something about the mystery of the sermon that you thought was brilliantly constructed but fell completely flat. In God’s kindness, you may also have listened to yourself giving a really dud sermon and then led someone to become a Christian (I much prefer those days!). Why does that happen? It’s because God works through preaching. And we really do need to remember that. That’s why this chapter (which doesn’t say anything particularly new but, like a good sermon, points us to the truth of which we need to be constantly reminded) may actually be the most important chapter in this entire book.
Praying in our generation
My guess is that people in almost every generation have thought that prayer was going out of fashion. “People are much more self-reliant than they used to be,” our grandparents said. Then our parents said the same thing. And now you might be thinking it, too. I suppose it’s part of living in a fallen world. But even so, I think that our generation, in the second decade of the 21st century, faces some particular challenges when it comes to encouraging God’s people to keep praying.
When I was a student in Aberdeen in Northern Scotland in the late 1980s, the main obstacle to getting out of bed in the morning to pray was the fact that it was freezing and the heating didn’t work. Although living in Brisbane has greatly reduced the thermal challenges, 25 years later I face a whole new set of temptations every morning.
Now when I wake up in the morning not only would I rather stay in bed, but my phone is right there, calling me. I can check emails and sports scores from the northern hemisphere, read the news and even play Scrabble if the mood takes me. I can read my favourite blog posts, catch up on Zite, check the weather radar, look to see who’s on Skype across the world. Or I could get up and pray. But even if I make it out of bed, the millions of potentially distracting details only a touch away continue to clamour for my attention. Facebook and Twitter are just two of them. But even when I’ve successfully negotiated all of this, am fully awake, have a cup of coffee in my hand and am ready to concentrate, I’ve wasted at least 20 minutes and am feeling the pressure to ‘get on’ for Sunday. So what do I do? I start to read or write (rather than pray).
I know that the temptation to skip prayer for other ‘more productive’ activity is not new. It’s just incredibly easy now—distractions are literally at our fingertips. And nowhere is that more obvious than when it comes to praying for (and before) preaching.