Friday, August 17, 2012

I had to surrender.

Sunday before last, I was scheduled to preach while the pastor was on vacation.  I had agreed to do so well ahead of time and had even begun to strategize about it a few weeks in advance, wanting to ensure a well thought out message with engaging, and even humorous, illustrations.  I sometimes get feedback that I’m too serious from the pulpit, so I was going to make a deliberate attempt to stay lighthearted.  Despite my honest effort to be thoroughly prepared, events in my personal life took a turn that week, and I was not in a good place, when I arrived at church about an hour before worship.  My emotions were barely stifled.  I was unable to look anyone in the eye, because any sign of compassion might bring my struggle to the surface.

I sat in a front pew and read back over my sermon, gathering my courage to lead worship.  I realized as the scripture and message kept piercing my heart, how completely helpless I was to fulfill this obligation.  I knew that some 90-100 people were about to file in and expect worship.  I knew from past experience that some of them would be hanging on my every word, looking for an opportunity to send an offended and critical email to our pastor, validating their staunch insistence that women shouldn’t be preaching.  I knew that, for all the times in ministry that my personal issues had made my leadership role a challenge, this was the time.  This was the moment of complete surrender.  I knew that I, me, myself, Emily – I could not get through worship.

So I prayed.  I gave it all to the Lord.  I begged God to take over and use me in whatever way necessary to glorify him.  And, in a way I can’t explain, God did just that.  I didn’t plan my prayers, I just walked up to the pulpit and let it come out.  Every time I said "Amen," I was thinking, “Weird – that’s not really a prayer I normally would say.”  The sermon, thankfully, was all written out, but even in delivering it, I was constantly struck by the message of scripture; as if this message I had written the week before were not my own, but written for me.

That Sunday morning is one I will never forget.  People love the poem “Footprints” for how it expresses the notion of Christ’s partnership and support of us, the idea that we could look back and see the times Jesus was actually bringing us through.  But rarely do we actually feel his arms beneath us and know that right then, in that moment, we are being carried.  But that, my friends, is something I have experienced.  There are many hard times when I’ve fought through on my own, but praise the Lord to know how powerful Christ was when I was utterly helpless.

May that be a blessing I do not have to experience very often.

(This was my sermon illustration - thought you might enjoy...)

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20


  1. Knowing it was a strained week for you...several of us were praying for you. Funny you should write this...I could almost feel when the Holy Spirit lifted you. You found your voice, your smile, your enthusiasm. Your shoulders relaxed...and the message flowed through you. It was a thing of beauty to see God work through you that morning to touch our hearts.

    1. I remain humbly amazed that God can transcend our brokenness and use it for glory and grace. But it certainly happens.