In your new book you write, "I cannot convince people to be obsessed with Jesus, and that's why you need the Holy Spirit." When did you come to that realization?
Once you pastor for a while, it dawns on you that nailing a sermon doesn't mean lives will change. Or you'll meet a person who's surrendered everything to Christ, and you'll realize that your sermon wasn't even good and nothing you did caused him to become a believer.
There was a guy who had been in our church for 15 years. One day he told me my preaching hadn't changed him. He said I spoke too much about the "narrow road" and how everyone needs to be radical for Christ. But he said there's also a "middle road" where people like him can do a lot of good things. I was floored by that. He's sat under my teaching for 15 years and he still believes there isn't only a wide easy road and a narrow difficult road, but also a middle road? I've been told many times that my teaching is really helpful, that I make things simple for people to understand. And then you hear something like that.
That's when I remember, I cannot make someone fall in love with Jesus.
So what's the point of all the work, sermon prep, and programs if the outcome is out of our hands?
Some of our toil is wasted, because we're toiling believing that these things change people.
I believe a lot more of our work needs to be put into prayer, study of the Word, and trusting God. I could spend an extra ten hours on every sermon, trying to get every word just right, but my time would be much better spent out sharing the gospel with people and praying.
Now, I do study hard, because the Scripture tells me to and because I want to be accurate in my teaching. We should work hard "as unto the Lord," but we have to let our theology guide what we work hard at. And you have to be led by the Spirit on how much time to spend crafting a sermon and how much time to spend praying for a movement of the Spirit.
How can we know if our ministry is being empowered by the Spirit?
Churches that are built through our effort rather than the Spirit's will quickly collapse when we stop pushing and prodding people along.
Now we should push, prod, and persuade men, but I've learned to spend a lot more time praying and asking the Spirit to move and begging God to send forth laborers.
The more you look at Scripture, the more you realize that nothing happens unless God is behind it. Jesus is building his church. I just want to be a part of that. I'll keep doing my work, but the fruit is up to him. We can only pray, "Please, please, please let us see your Spirit at work. May it be like a mighty wind that moves us."
I equate it to surfing. Sometimes I'm out in the ocean and there are no sets coming in. I really don't want to paddle in, so I'll pray, "God, give me one nice set, one good wave to take me back to shore." I pray because I can't make a wave and I can't ask my friends to go further out and splash to create a wave. We're powerless. That's what I feel like in church. We think we can make waves, but in reality we're totally dependent on the Spirit.