by John Meador
Paul preached with a "limp." So did some of the most effective communicators of God's Word.
In the same way, Jacob limped for the rest of his life (a reminder of his encounter with the living God). Our scars and our past hurts are constant reminders to the listener of our encounters with suffering and the comfort which God gave us.
In fact, until we've experienced that pain and the subsequent comfort, we have little experience with which to comfort others. Read Paul's take on this: "For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer" (2 Corinthians 1:5-6).
Nine times-NINE times!-Paul uses the word "comfort" in four verses of the above context. He describes a comfort he received from the Lord being useful to comfort others in ministry. He even says that the reason we sometimes suffer is so that we can comfort others.
In other words, our "limp" brings hope to others. We have suffered, we have been hurt and we have been wronged-we may even have deep scars. But what are we doing? We are comforting people because God has met us in that suffering. We are encouraging people by our "limp." We've been hit, but we're up and limping for the glory of God.
Never will I forget the amazing testimony of Ron Dunn, whose 16-year-old son committed suicide while Ron was pastoring a church in Texas. He returned to the congregation after several weeks of grief and searching-and said these words: "Everything I've taught you is true. I've been to the bottom, and the bottom is solid. God can be trusted." The people who sat under Ron's teaching describe him as "preaching with a limp" and they identify with his teaching far more than they would the typical preacher. He brought them hope and comfort by his experience with suffering and the testimony that God met him in the fires of affliction.
Recently, I heard another preacher, one who had recently lost his wife in a tragic car accident. He spoke powerfully of the grace of God meeting him in his moment of loss and grief. He brought tremendous encouragement to the hearers-including people who fear suffering and people who wonder where God is when we suffer. The effect of his message was to remove fear and doubt by letting his "limp" be evident to all. He is a hurt man, but he is also a comforted man. Therefore, he is an effective man when it comes to comforting others.
So, how do we preach with a limp? Let me offer several thoughts:
1) ‑Don't avoid the passages that deal with suffering.
In this era of "feel-good" preaching where the majority of preachers just want people to walk out inspired, we often fail to connect at the deepest level. God is shouting in our pain; why aren't we shouting with Him? Of course, the expository preacher preaches suffering as readily as he preaches joy-he trusts the sovereignty of God's timing in the books and chapters he preaches through, and God honors that commitment to Scripture.
2) ‑We must learn to be vulnerable in the pulpit.
When we have been in the pit, we have a message for people that can only be preached by relating what it is like there. Paul never hesitated to talk about his suffering, and in fact gave many details in his list of things that happened to him. Have you been hurt? Share that hurt, and the comfort God gave you. Have you been lied to, or deceived? Tell the people what you experienced and how God came to your aid. Have you suffered physical or emotional anguish? Lovingly, carefully, and humbly relate it to your people, but be sure to remind them you are still standing by the grace of God. Sure, you expose your heart and sometimes your mistakes or frustrations, but you'll be amazed at how God uses that.
3) ‑Remember that the Bible promises a grace to meet every need-no matter how great.
Spiros Zodhiates once told me that we never get all of God's enabling grace at once, even though we get all of His saving grace at salvation. He said: "God's grace comes to us a slice at a time. We get all we need for help in time of need." Dr. Oscar Thompson, who suffered several relapses of cancer over years said, "God gives dying grace for dying days-but not until it is time."
With that in mind, you can stand before people and promise them that God will give them all the grace they need for every need they will encounter. You can comfort and encourage and promise-because that is what God has promised. And they will believe you. And why will they believe you?
They see your limp-and they know you've encountered God.
John Meador is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Euless, Texas.