When we witness to our faith to those around us, whether near at hand or further afield, we soon recognise our dependence upon God. Indeed, if we do not, and if we are engaged in some sort of ego trip, then our preaching activity is fatally flawed. For sound preaching is not about counting up converts and taking pride in our personal tally; it is not about making ourselves the focal point for all the activities that we are involved in. It is about sowing the seed of God’s Word. The sower has a key role to play; but his name is not important. What is important is that the seed—the Word of the gospel—is broadcast everywhere, in the knowledge that some of it will fall on productive soil. When we look at the impact of that word on those who are genuinely brought to conversion, we recognise its power “to make us wise unto salvation”. We see the hand of God reaching out, we recognise the force of His love and we come to understand our own insufficiency.

Comfort of the Scriptures

It must have been like that for that “preacher of righteousness”, Noah. He lived in a wicked world where the giants of apostasy and corruption exercised their dominance. The Lord Jesus Christ indicated that such would be the conditions in the world prior to his return. We can learn from Noah therefore, who “walked with God” (Gen 6:9). In providing an ark for the saving of his household and anybody else (had they had the sense to listen), he was dependent in every way on the guidance God gave him. The strength of character he must have shown in the face of the ridicule and indifference of the society around him came from his faith in God. Because of that trust, “he found grace in the eyes of the Lord”.

Surely his knowledge of God had been learned from his grandfather Methuselah and his father Lamech. He had been named Noah, “Comfort”, because they wanted him to know “the God of all comfort”. He grew up with the desire to share the “comfort of the Scriptures”—the Word of God—with those around him. His knowledge was not just ‘head knowledge’. It was that intimacy of knowledge and understanding that is forged through daily experience. He had learned that he could trust God, that he needed to be guided by His word, that he must show the character of God both in his message and in his behaviour. He had to have the courage of his convictions to keep on with the work of building the ark, instructing and saving his family, seeking to save those around him lost in the darkness of sin. He knew the real comfort in God’s purpose that derives from the fact that iniquity can be pardoned (see Isaiah 40:1, 2, 8).

Proclaiming the Name of the Lord

As it was for Noah, so the starting point for our witness must always be our own commitment. The combination of our prayerful response to the Word of God and our gratitude for His saving work in our lives should motivate us to want to share our faith and hope with others, by offering them the opportunity to respond to the Word of life. The motivation of the preacher is a direct result of knowing and understanding God’s character and His desire to save. The God of the covenants, Who revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush, is a God whose Memorial Name enshrines His desire to manifest His glory among men. We need to reinforce this understanding every day through our Bible reading and prayer. The more we know God, the more we realise our obligation to reach out to those around us with the gospel message.

The psalmist puts it well: “It is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works” (Psalm 73:28). James echoes this thought when he writes, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8). Later he goes on to write about the power of prayer to heal the sick, to convert sinners from the error of their ways, to save souls from death (5:13–20).

As we draw nearer to God, we understand both the joy in heaven when His Word falls on fruitful ground and the pain when it is rejected. Jesus spoke of the love of his Father, who “so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Peter shows his understanding of this when he writes: “The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 esv).

Waiting for the Fruit

The preacher sees how this deep love of God leads to patience. By contrast we are often impatient for results. God understands that the seed takes time to germinate, to grow, to produce fruit. A forced flower lacks the capacity to survive. God wants response but He does not want love that is like the morning dew that evaporates with the heat of the sun. We remember that the seed is the Word… and it is powerful. Our role is to allow it free course, to encourage personal response—a growing knowledge and understanding of the true gospel which brings salvation. We should help it to do its work without rushing people into premature baptism.

Learning and Sharing

Of course, the more we share saving truth with others, the more we become convinced of it ourselves. Our appreciation of our Father’s grace, of the dedication and sacrifice of His Son deepens. Our facility with the Word of God and the pattern of sound doctrine within it increases. There is great opportunity for both brothers and sisters in Christ. We can help others to learn about the Word of God in so many ways—face to face dialogue, correspondence, internet contact and in many other ways. Sometimes people hold back, fearing their inadequate knowledge. In fact, if we think we know it all, we shall not be effective. Better for us to let others see that we too are learning. We can lose people when we feel the need to win the argument at all costs. God is a God Who listens as well as speaks. Wherever we are in our spiritual development we remain on a continuous pathway of learning.

If we do not have a ready answer to a question, it is good that we explain the need to seek out the answer prayerfully. While God provides so many ways of bringing His Word to us, in the end He allows us room to discover its gems for ourselves, He creates the climate for us to seek, to search out, to find light in our darkness. We can model that process to contacts as we encourage them to “receive with meekness the implanted word” (Jas 1:21 esv).

All Things Work Together

Another thing the preacher learns is that God works in His own way as well as in His own time. So often we make detailed plans and find that for some reason they do not work out. The hall we wanted to book for a special effort is not available. The bus we planned to catch while travelling in the mission field does not run. The brother who was going to translate for us does not turn up. But the preacher who knows and understands God, learns to trust. God knows best. Instead of being disappointed, we allow for God’s intervention. We learn to look for a reason in every situation. We seek out new opportunities. So it was for Paul when his first plan to go to Ephesus was thwarted. The time was not yet. God had work for him to do in Macedonia first of all. On a later voyage, when Paul’s counsel to the ship’s captain was ignored and the ship in which he was travelling was caught up in a fearful storm, Paul saw the hand of God at work and many lives were wonderfully saved.

God’s Mercy and Forgiveness

Paul wrote of the burden of caring for all the ecclesias. His letters reveal to us the challenges he faced and the struggle to create the right attitudes and behaviours among the young ecclesias. There were dividers, power-seekers, wolves among the flock, brothers who loved the pre-eminence, those who were greedy for gain and enjoyed immorality. Sadly such people exist in ecclesial life today. Particularly where ecclesias are young and immature, in unstable and fragile societies, the gospel can become a means for self-advancement. Our responsibility in our preaching activity is not only to sow but to water and nurture.

Throughout the process we learn more about the character of God as we seek to reflect it. When he wrote of his manner of preaching to the Thessalonians, Paul showed how much he had absorbed the Divine mind. He had been among them as a mother, as a brother, as a father (1 Thess 2:7, 9, 11). All family members know the struggles as well as the pleasures involved in growing together. Families have to learn the importance of forgiveness, ensuring that the night of sadness readily turns to a new bright day. God is a God Who forgives. We come to understand this more as we find our way through the pleasures and pains of missionary work.

The Foolishness of Preaching

Telling others about our faith can be one of the most enjoyable and satisfying experiences of our lives. You don’t have to do it overseas, though it is true there are added benefits when we find people living in quite different circumstances from our own, who readily respond to the power of the gospel. In this we see the Wisdom of God, who “chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor 1:27–29 esv). How much this tells us about the God Whom we serve! They are words to chasten the proud. They are also words to give courage to the weak and strengthen the faint-hearted.

Paul experienced suffering and deprivation of a kind seldom endured by the preacher today. Sometimes his prayers were answered, as they were in the storm-tossed vessel; but at other times he was made a fool for the gospel. He sums it up when he writes about the “thorn in the flesh” that remained with him, despite his pleadings. Finally he recognised that God’s plan for us is long-term; the slow process of gestation is followed by a slow process of growth and development. In all this, God is working His purpose out, encouraging us to depend on Him more and to be transformed by His wisdom and presence as we walk with Him. “My grace is sufficient for you; for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9 nkjv).