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The Playful Preacher

"Rich, you've got to try harder!"

An earnest student, I had conscientiously visited everyone on the hospital floors assigned to me. I had written detailed verbatim reports. Now, my clinical pastoral education supervisor was frustrating me.

"What more should I do?" I replied.

"Just try harder" was his enigmatic reply. So I tried harder. But every week his exhortation was the same. One day, in anger and frustration, I blurted out, "I can't try harder! I give up!"

"Good!" he replied, softening immediately.

The lesson I learned fourteen years ago still lingers: trying harder doesn't work. It's like a pair of Chinese handcuffs: the harder you pull, the tighter they get. Only by pushing both fingers together (the opposite of trying harder) will the handcuffs release.

The same is true in my preaching. When I work too hard to make an impact, when I assume too much responsibility for changing others, I can inhibit the very changes in my listeners I desperately seek. My well-intentioned efforts actually ...

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