Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
Feb. 3, 2002
Never feel sorry for a preacher. Preachers have more fun than anybody in town because there is never a dull day in the life of a preacher. We get to see, hear, and feel it all. As much as anybody else around, those of us who are “clergy” never know what we will be doing next.
One day we share the joy of parents who are celebrating the birth of a baby. The proud daddy will want us to agree that the handsome boy looks just like him. We smile and say, “Why sure he does; he is the spitting image of his daddy.” But we never risk saying what we are thinking -- that this baby looks about like the last fifty newborns we have seen. No matter, it is fun to share with young parents the thrill of holding in their arms a healthy new son or daughter.
That same day we may visit on another floor a patient who is dying. Beside the bed is a beloved spouse whose wrinkled brow betrays the fear that death is knocking on the door. We speak softly and listen as a family member whispers, “The doctor told us this morning that it is only a matter of hours now.” No one speaks the word “die,” but everyone understands that the sick one has only a few hours to live.
Where is the fun in a moment like that? Fun is probably not the right word. It is more like meaningful joy, the incredible feeling that somehow by being there you are making a difference in the lives of a few other people. Despite the hurt and the sorrow you share with those who are grieving, your own little life is dignified by the awareness that in the hour of death, when you were needed, you were there. There are few things in life more wonderful.
Most of us preachers don’t know quite what to say at such times. The seminaries provide us little training for that. But eventually we learn that we don’t really have to say anything. Our words are seldom remembered nor do they make much difference. It is our presence that counts.
I know this from personal experience. When my father was dying, a dear pastor and colleague was by my side. I don’t remember a word he said. I do remember that he put his arm around me. That I will never forget. I can only hope that somehow my arm, and my presence, has made that same difference for some of my own people.
Like many other people, most preachers have a daily “to do” list. But there are days when we never get time to do anything on the list. Without warning our day may be interrupted by a phone call that makes the needs of others a higher priority. We may find ourselves sitting for hours in a courtroom, hoping to comfort parents who are waiting for a judge to drop the hammer of the law on a wayward teenager. Or we may shuffle our plans around so we can meet with a couple whose marriage is on the rocks.
Hours later we may be meeting with a young man and a young woman who have fallen in love. They have honored us by inviting us to counsel them and perform the wedding. Planning a wedding, of course, is always more fun when the couple allows plenty of time for the counseling that is so important for a lasting marriage. It is sad but true that many people spend more time studying for a driver’s license than they do preparing for a solid marriage. So it is little wonder that so many marriages fail.
I do not consider the hours spent in counseling with a couple as drudgery. It is actually fun to believe that you are helping a man and a woman prepare well, not simply for a lovely wedding, but for a solid marriage that lasts a lifetime.
Some years ago I did learn something helpful from another pastor. I was in the habit of meeting at night to offer premarital counseling for couples. That meant many nights at the office, especially when counseling with three or four couples during the same time period. My friend asked me, “Why don’t you ask each couple to meet you during the day?” My answer was that both the man and woman worked and did not get off until 5 or 6 o’clock. He asked me two rather penetrating questions: “Because they work, does their doctor meet with them at night?” The answer was obvious. No, they get off work to go to the doctor.
The second question was this: “Is the counseling you are doing as important as what their doctor does for them?” Again the answer was obvious. The counseling is at least equally as important as the doctor’s counsel for their physical needs.
So for many years I have had fun explaining the above to couples that came to me for counseling. Most of the time they have found a way to get off work to see me in the same way they do for a visit to their doctor.
Preaching is fun and never a chore. If it ever becomes a chore, I will quit. But preaching is such a great privilege. People are discouraged and many are without hope. Many are whipped down by the hardships of life. And Sunday after Sunday I have the honor of reminding them that God loves them and that when they turn to him he will put his arms around them and give them hope and healing. Now and then someone will tell me that God spoke to him or her and met his or her need. They felt his love and now they have hope. Tell me that is not fun! What makes it fun is not having someone tell you that you preached a “sweet” sermon but that while you were preaching they encountered God. It really does not get much better than that.
Lately Wednesday nights have been fun for me. A few dozen people eat supper with me about 6 o’clock and then we spend 30 or 40 minutes studying The Prayer of Jabez. We are using a video series produced by the author of the best-selling book, Bruce Wilkerson. Learning is fun, and learning how to pray is even more fun. It would be much more fun to have a hundred people share this inspiring study with us for the next three months.
This weekend I will have great fun. Preaching is fun but this weekend I will be listening to some marvelous missionaries preach at our church. We call it our Missions Conference and I love to hear our dear missionary friends share what God is doing all over the world, and especially in New York City since the terrorist attack last September.
So if you want to have some fun, enter the ministry. Preachers have more fun than anybody. I should know. I have been doing it for over 50 years, and it keeps getting funnier by the day!