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When Preaching Is Big & God Is Small

I’ve been a pastor for a long time, which is why it’s so perplexing to me that speaking in front of people still triggers a low-grade fear. It makes no sense. I’m called upon to speak often, so my fear should be long over, but it’s not. Strange fears dance across the stage of my mind. I’m afraid that I won’t meet the goals of my talk. I’m afraid that I’m going to look stupid. And I’m afraid that what I’ll say will be irrelevant.

Maybe you can relate. If you can, come on a brief journey with me while I share with you how I’ve come to diagnose this issue in my life.

This passage has been a huge help.

Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue. –John 12:42

In this verse we meet the local authorities. They are believers. They are followers of Jesus, but they would not confess him publicly. Why? Because the Pharisees could put them out of the synagogue. If that seems like a cop out, just consider the stigma this might incur for their family. Consider how it might affect their income. Imagine the public disapproval that would be stamped on each of these individuals if they made their faith public.

They were leaders—part of the ruling class. But if they’d named the name of Jesus, how long would they keep their authority? How long will they keep their positions of leadership?

Maybe you find it hard to be sympathetic with these leaders. But God flips the switch and shines a light on their true motives in the verse that follows.

For they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. –John 12: 43

Fear can camouflage deeper drives. But here, God pops the hood on the authorities’ fear so that we can see a deeper motivation—an active heart longing and desiring to please men rather than God.

Here’s something I’ve learned about myself that might be helpful to you. Fear is powerful experience and Scripture speaks to it in beautiful and comforting ways. But it is rarely a root issue. I once heard someone say that ‘fear is an inverted want’. I had to think about that for a few minute before I really understood it.

It means that fear presents as a motivator, but quite often, something far deeper is at work.

Jesus didn’t die simply because I’m fearful. He died because I’m a sinful glory-hound who craves the wrong kind of glory. 

So, for instance, in examining my fear of public speaking, I can talk about many things that may trigger legitimate fear. Stupid things I’ve said in public in the past, an upbringing where praise was distributed sparingly, a history of constitutional fears as far back as I can remember. All of those things are very significant to understanding me as a person. But they’re not the cause of my anxiety. Most often, I suffer the same problem as the authorities. I love glory, and I want to get it from other people. I want to be esteemed and praised. And I want my stock to go up when I speak. I’m a glory-hound – I love the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

My fears are real. They can’t be ignored, denied, or spiritualized into something they’re not. But for me, they can camouflage a deeper reality. When preaching become big, God becomes small.

So, I flee to the gospel. And there I’m reminded of the One who sympathizes with my fear but also escorts to face my true motivation. Jesus didn’t die simply because I’m fearful. He died because I’m a sinful glory-hound who craves the wrong kind of glory.

Christ is the glory that came from God (John 5:44). When He is big, speaking shrinks to inhabit its rightful place. Standing in front of people is transformed from an exhibit to an act of service.

What about your fear? Do you need to peel back the fear and look at another layer of motivation? If you’re called to speak or preach, it can make all the difference in why you do it.

If it helps, here are a few questions worth kicking around to help diagnose your own fears:

  • Are people to big when you speak publically? If so, how come?  Pray and ask God for his help in answering the question. 
  • What does it look like to pursue the glory that comes from God in speaking? How about in caring for another person?
  • Do you often hunt for praise after you speak? If so, what does that say about where you find glory? 
  • What kind of practices help us keep ministry connected to the human heart?

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