When the Lord speaks through the sermon

It happens often that I hear from a worshipper, “your sermon really spoke to me today pastor.” It is by far the best compliment a pastor can receive. It is God’s affirmation that I was on the right track. It is evidence that the Holy Spirit was speaking in the message… that God’s word went out and did not return void.

It also happens from time to time that people get offended by the sermon… sometimes even severely offended. Something is said in the message that brings conviction and the individual thinks I have singled them out on some issue. They believe that their wife or husband has spoken to me and told me about some issue in their lives and that I have chosen to air it out from the pulpit. Sometimes they accuse me of looking at them when I said a certain convicting statement and assume that I knew. This is never the case, but no amount of my assuring them that I was not singling them out, no one has talked to me, and I did not know is enough to convince them.

If you have listened to many sermons, you have probably had the experience of hearing the Lord speak personally to you. At times He speaks to you in a positive, reassuring, and comforting way. At times He speaks in a convicting and concerning way. Here are a few things to remember when you feel as though the Lord is speaking to you in the sermon.

First, be encouraged. Whether the message is encouraging or convicting, the Lord is speaking to you because He loves you. He is concerned with you. He values you as His child. What does a good loving father do? He guides his children in the truth. He encourages them. He disciplines them. And He does it all so that they are formed into the best person that they can be. Your Heavenly Father is no different, except that He is better than the best earthly father.

Second, the preacher does not speak on his own authority as long as he is speaking according to the inspired word. When you feel convicted by the sermon and wonder if the preacher is just being mean, look at the text he is preaching. Did he say anything that was not in the text? If the convicting word that he spoke in the sermon was first spoken by God in His word, then the pastor is simply saying what God has said. You have no reason to be angry at the messenger.

Jesus actually predicted that this sort of thing would happen in John 16:8. Speaking of the Holy Spirit who would come and speak through His disciples, Jesus said, “And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” Just as Jesus’ preaching was offensive to the Pharisees, the preaching of His apostles would be offensive to the world. Jesus never spoke on His own authority but on the authority of the one who sent Him (cf. John 8:28), so also the apostles would not speak on their own authority but on the one who was sent.

Third, there are bad apples in every bunch, but preachers do not generally want to be mean. We are just like you. We want people to like us. We do not want to have to deal with conflict. It is in the nature of what we do, though. In order for people to understand their need for a Savior… their need for repentance, they have to see how exceedingly sinful they are, therefore we cannot shy away from speaking the hard truths. It is likely that he knew that thing he said in the sermon was going to make people mad, but he could not let it go unspoken. He was bound by his conscience, his responsibility, and his knowledge that he will be held accountable for your soul.

Fourth, growth in spiritual strength comes in much the same way as growth in physical strength. It requires stretching yourself. It requires subjecting yourself to intense pain at times. Your pastor, like any good trainer, is always challenging you to push a little harder and go a little further. He does not do it because he hates you. He does it because he wants to see you grow and because he will be held accountable by God.