Recently I was at a gathering of church leaders, preparing for a special presentation about Christian education. These words spoken to God in the opening prayer captured my attention and my heart: “Keep us from anything that is self-promoting.”

Self-promotion is about as ugly as sin gets. The ugliness is magnified, in my opinion, when church leaders are involved.

As I have pondered the ugliness and the sinfulness of self-promotion in the days since the gathering, a Bible passage and some lyrics keep coming to mind.

The passage? John 3:30, where John is speaking of Jesus.

  • NIV “He must become greater; I must become less.”
  • NLT “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.”
  • MSG “This is the assigned moment for him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines.”

The lyrics? The song “Disappear” written and recorded by Out of the Grey. Below is a YouTube video that includes both the song and the lyrics.

God and Me

Romans 11:33-36 NLT
“Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge!
How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!
For who can know the Lord’s thoughts?

Who knows enough to give him advice?
And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back?
For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory.

All glory to him forever! Amen.”

Today I have been reminded, again, of the riches and knowledge and wisdom of God.

Today I have been reminded, again, that I am not God.

I needed both reminders.

Sometimes I think I know everything about God, to the point He is unnecessary.

Sometimes I think I know better than God, to the point I want to tell Him what to do.

Today I have been reminded who God is and who I am.

Teach me, Lord

“Teach me, good Lord:

Not to murmer at multitude of business or shortness of time.

Not to magnify undertaken duties by seeming to suffer under them, but to treat all as liberties and gladnesses.

Not to call attention to crowded work, or petty fatigues.

Not to gather encouragement from appreciation by others, lest this should interfere with purity of motive.

Not to seek praise, respect, gratitude, or regard from superiors or equals on account of age or past service.

Not to let myself be placed in favorable contrast with another.”

from Prayers Public and Private by Edward White Benson

Getting Out Of The Way

“He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” John 3:30 NLT

A reporter for The Washington Post noted that one senator, on the first day of the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Chief Justice nominee John Roberts, “made 49 first-person references in a 10-minute statement that was, ostensibly, not about himself.” Others who watched the hearings were less gracious, calling the statement “political grandstanding for the cameras.”

The hearings should have focused on John Roberts. When the statements were completed and the questions answered (or even left unanswered) the public should have known more about John Roberts. Instead, this senator (and he was not alone) seemed more interested in presenting himself as a hero than he was about revealing the character and qualifications of the nominee.

And therein is pictured the dilemma faced by the preacher each time he steps into the pulpit. Who is the sermon really about? Do we care more about revealing who we are than we care about revealing the character of God?

Jeff Brown recently told me about a session of his graduate-level preaching class spent discussing the issues involved with self-disclosure in sermons. When and how is it appropriate to talk about yourself? You begin this discussion when you are being trained to preach, but the struggle continues through your years of ministry. Truth is, even the most experienced preachers wrestle with these issues every week as they write their sermons. Is this sermon about God or me?

Most preachers understand the congregation can usually sense when they are full of themselves. So they strive to stay out of the way and let God be the center of attention. Sometimes they are successful. Other times they fall short. Too often the preacher casts a shadow over the One he desires to preach. If people leave the assembly after I have preached thinking that I am clever, or talented, or even humble, I have failed. People don’t need me talking about me. People don’t need me. They need God. They need me staying out of the spotlight so it may shine brightly on God, so He is clearly seen and plainly heard.

The goal of every sermon the preacher writes is to have worshipers file out of the assembly with God’s praises on their lips, saying, “God is marvelous” or “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” When that happens, our time of preaching is truly a time of worship.