During my vicarage year, I had the privilege of leading a study on the five “solas” (“alone's”) of the Lutheran Reformation. Each week, we would focus on one Sola (i.e. Faith Alone, Scripture Alone, Christ Alone, etc.), looking at the doctrine behind each and then connect it with Scripture.
Now, I personally enjoyed this study. Not only do I have a passion for Reformation history, but I also love to teach it. And this was evident from the study’s large and growing attendance each week.
As the study grew, so did my confidence in my own ability to teach. In fact, my confidence level grew so high by the end of the study that I figured I wouldn’t need to worry much about preparing my sermon the following weekend. If I could speak well during Bible study, then I could preach well too!
Now, I didn’t want to walk into my sermon empty-handed. So, I made sure to select a Bible reading, do some research on it, look up other sources for the sermon, and produce a manuscript. All seemed well before the sermon that morning, but I made a fatal mistake as I entered the pulpit.
Not long after beginning the sermon, I realized I was glancing far more at my manuscript than usual. Normally the night before, I would take some time to practice my sermon and even pray about it. Yet, in this case, I figured my confidence was all I needed. Boy, was I wrong…
It came to the point that I was now reading the whole sermon, not even looking up at the people. Worse, the air was very dry that morning, so my throat became dry and made my voice very broken. Now that my confidence was at rock-bottom, I stumbled through the rest of my sermon, finished, and tried to avoid people as much as possible after for fear that they would disapprove of my performance.
So, in that sermon, I made a fatal mistake. Was it overconfidence? Not quite; it actually went much deeper than that. My mistake was how I feared man more than God. In other words, I desired the approval of others over the approval of God. Therefore, by going up into that pulpit, I figured a good sermon was only ‘good’ if it got approved by others. Otherwise, it wasn’t worth preaching.
Well, because God does not want His church, nor His Word, to be based on man’s approval, He
knew that I needed to fail in that message. And praise God I did, for it kept me from becoming conceited in others rather than in trusting God.
Concerning his ministry, Paul writes, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10). In truth, this message is not unique to pastors; it also pertains to all Christians. If we are willing to forego our obedience to God for the sake of worldly approval, then we are willing to stop putting our confidence in God as well.
Conversely, when we put our trust in God, we also trust that He will work anyone else’s disapproval for our good. In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego experienced God’s goodness firsthand when they willingly refused to worship an idol since they trusted God would deliver them. And God did; He delivered them from a fiery death in a furnace. What’s more, God used their disobedience to show Nebuchadnezzar his error in trying to kill them, and even brought him to faith. Who knows? I’ll bet God may use our obedience as well to work in them too.