What it means to preach.

I walked around in a daze yesterday. Felt like I’d spent the night going rounds in an underground Fight Club. My tender bits ached. There was this sort of slosh of spent adrenaline, an acid bath, chewing on the strings of my muscles. I couldn’t write words, I kept misspelling or leaving out prefixes and suffixes.

It was from preaching.

Preaching, like all communication, is a psycho-somatic exercise. I have to be reminded of this because it’s easy to think that what’s going on is purely intellectual: the distillation and presentation of cognitive content. Even if we are committed to the idea that preaching should have an affective element and include a call to affective response, the physicality entailed by this commitment slips from view.

But the reality is, ‘Having a feeling’, just like ‘having an idea’ is a physical process. It means the flushing of hormones, secretion of tears, glands swelling and expelling, neurons spasming electrically. Blood-flow courses along the trail of the idea, careers around the brain to bathe its birth in chemical soup.

This internal alchemy combines with an external process. An ‘idea’ is also the harmonic resonance between people, mediated by language and memory and touch, posture, smell. No one ever thinks alone. Consciousness is a collective act.

And at the end of the process you can be left utterly physically exhausted.

Preaching is:

Scrabbling to grab hold of what a truth feels like.

Believing things for others.

Being what you say is out there.

Stretching out your arms so far you think your heart will break.

Losing your voice for joy at being the only one who gets to shout the beauty of the truth.

Sobbing uncontrollably.

Framed with words

And when you’ve done your best, when you’ve bled out on the pulpit, you’ve only done what was expected. No one should expect praise for this, much less anything short of this.

But maybe the Spirit will capture those puffs of breath and make them Words. And you and everyone there will thrill with the power of them. And at the end you will collapse into each others arms and worship God, full of gratitude that he spoke. Vibrating cellularly, organically, corporately, with his truth. And the Word of God will dwell richly among you (Col 3:16).

6 thoughts on “What it means to preach.

  1. I think a very vivid, organic post. Personally, it was a bit overdone for me in the last column. What´s up in your crazy country of natural catastrophies?



    1. Hey Chris, thanks for your impressions. I was just trying to capture a feeling I had. We’ve been having wild time in Oz lately – floods, bushfires, cyclones. Nothing near us in Sydney though. Was really hot here last week. You should come and escape the German winter.


  2. The Spirit did capture those puffs of air and transformed them beyond what any man could say.
    They became a message from the Lord himself.
    To not feel torn and broken would perhaps mean you had not given your all.
    I am confident that offering yourself to God and to his flock so openly and so fully, honors God and brings him great joy.
    Take heart my friend, that the gifts God gives us are sometimes hard and painful in their use for his purpose, but he has gifted you mightily. So tear open your heart, weep with us, and share your love of him with us, knowing that you are bring him glory, even at great personal cost.


  3. This leads me to think that preaching is with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul and all your strength. You have spoken eloquently and with passion here, too.
    Keep going.


    1. Thanks Kath,
      I guess that's the first rule of theology, and preaching, and life: Love Yahweh your God with all you've got. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself.
      Thanks for the encouragement.


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