"Lord, please help me get out of the way of what you are trying to say here."
In the past, whenever I was getting ready to preach or teach, that's what I used to pray. I had this impression that the best form of help would be for me to be an impersonal distributor of the living water found in Scripture to other people. I thought that ideally I should be a pipe that served only to channel God's truths to others. Like some sort of human PVC tube, I imagined that my primary task was to simply make sure not to inhibit the living water from flowing to those around me. In that way I would be certain to deliver it untainted and altered.
I guess there is some merit to that way of thinking, but now I've come to realize that the "pipe approach" to preaching and teaching is off the mark.
At every step along the way, God has wanted human fingerprints on what he's doing. Instead of using a heavenly megaphone or dropping pamphlets from the sky, God has wanted humanity to be deeply involved in his redeeming work. From the job description given to us at creation, to the work of the prophets, to the incarnation of Jesus...all the way to his decision to use the church as his primary witness, this preference of God's for human involvement has been evident. So, it seems clear that his desire is not only that we point to his word as the source of life, but that the living water welling up in us would participate in sustaining and serving those around us (John 4:1-42, 7:37-38 and 15:1-17).
God doesn't seem concerned that we'll dirty or smudge his plans. He genuinely wants us (yes, our imperfect human selves!) in on his salvation and transformation initiative.
So, instead of seeing myself as a pipe, I'm trying to see my life and work more like a fruit bearing plant.
Like a plant, I am nourished as I feed on God's word. Therefore what I have to offer in terms of teaching and preaching are filtered through my experiences and interests. And amazingly, somehow in the divine economy, when done correctly, that Word has the potential to become something else - something that further benefits the recipient.
A famished person who spots a fruit tree at a distance may also rightly expect to find a source of water near its roots. That water nourished a plant which provides him with a different or derivative source of sustenance. And in the same way that the tree points to the source of water and additionally offers something of value to that person, a ministry of teaching and preaching at its core serves to take the living water and turn it into a further kind of blessing. Our hungry and thirsty person really benefits from the plant's fruit as well as the water that allowed it to grow.
So, what I'm realizing now is that my work of teaching and preaching is less about getting out of the way and more about using everything at my disposal - heart, soul, mind and strength to enrich and fortify those I serve. That perspective honors our place as coworkers and co-creators in God's kingdom. We are called to be more than pipes, simply shuttling God's word to others. By God's grace, our lives and experiences, when rooted in good soil, adds to the gift and further blesses those we encounter.
May we know that we are more than simply pipes. May we be fruit bearing plants, firmly connected to the vine and may we recognize the way we bear real, unique fruit that has the potential to bless those around us.
Grace and Peace,