There was a time when I’d rather face a firing squad than speak in front of a crowd.
Public speaking terrified me.
But God has a sense of humor.
I remember in high school history class, we did a re-enactment of the Estates-General during the French Revolution. I played the role of a Catholic priest. My last-minute costume consisted of wearing an inside-out black sweater and a clerical collar made of printer-paper. And using my best Jean-Luc Picard accent, I defended the role of the Church in French society.
The next thing I knew, I was drafted to be on the debate team and in drama club. I was made to go on different debate tournaments and to present a dramatic recitation of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven as the opening act of the school play.
And I was sick to my stomach every single time.
I did not enjoy it. It did not come naturally to me. If I didn’t have such a first-child-healthy-respect-for-authority, I would have refused. But I did it.
After I came to faith in Christ, doors seemed to open for me to preach the Word.
If I’m not mistaken, my very first sermon was in a bilingual English/Chinese Salvation Army mission. I was a new Christian looking for a church, and this was nearby. I think I went to visit once, without knowing it was a mostly Chinese church, and the pastor immediately took me under his wing. I believe my first sermon there was about the kingship of Jesus Christ. I’m sure it was bad. But I couldn’t stay there very long, because they believed in women pastors, and I could not see that in the Bible.
Over the years, I got other opportunities to teach and preach. And the more I did it, the less intimidated I was by preaching.
But do you know why I really stopped being scared of preaching?
All the mistakes I’ve made.
I’m a genius at making preaching mistakes.
I’ve committed them all.
And I’ve been deeply embarrassed over and over again.
I’ve forgotten my sermon, made mistakes on PowerPoints, had PowerPoints not work, preached at length and with great fury on points of doctrine not even clearly established in my text. I’ve lost my place. I’ve forgotten chunks of thought. I’ve lost my place mid-thought. I’ve made terrible jokes that got crickets. I’ve stumbled on stage. I’ve tripped going up and down the steps. I’ve preached with my shirt out and my fly down. I’ve preached on the verge of throwing up. I’ve had people get offended. I’ve had people walk out. I’ve looked at my shoes, or the ceiling, or the back wall instead of at peoples’ faces. I’ve made just about every mistake you can think of.
As a result, my pride has really taken a beating over the years.
And you know what? The more my pride has been beaten out of me, the less scared I’ve become of preaching.
I think, for me, much of my fear stemmed from wanting to look good and to be admired for my great preaching. I didn’t want to look bad or embarrass myself, so preaching terrified me.
But now I know what I am. Or what I’m not.
I’m not a superstar.
I’m not amazing.
I’m not the center of attention.
The gospel is amazing. Jesus is amazing. The cross is amazing.
Instead of being terrified of preaching because of how ridiculous I might look to other people, I’m solely (or almost solely) concerned with teaching the truth effectively. And that’s what should concern me. As Peter wrote,
Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God (1 Pet 4:11).
Am I speaking as one who is speaking the utterances of God? Now that is a sobering question. And it is the question that still makes me tremble whenever I step up to speak the Word of God to the people of God.