I am an introvert. Always have been. Those elementary, junior high, and high school moments where I would have to stand before the class and quote a poem, summarize a book, or give a report were sheer agony for me. As a teenager, I was asked speak before my home church on Laity Sunday as one of three other speakers. I had prepared and felt I had something good to say. As the Sunday got closer, my confidence got weaker. It was so weak by Sunday I begged off claiming a sore throat. Every personality test I took during my career confirmed that I was and am a bona fide introvert.
So it was oddly ironic that I became an instructor during my career with BellSouth. It was helpful that my initial teaching sessions were mostly one-on-one. And over time, the classes I taught were fairly small, I was a subject matter expert, and I was totally in charge. All of which helped assuage my discomfort.
Six years before I retired, I began to volunteer some weekends with a Christian mission organization. I was asked to help teach a new workshop on missions for local churches that TMS-Global had initiated. Depending on the size of the church, we would have a team of two or three instructors to lead the workshop Friday night and Saturday morning, teach a joint Sunday school session, and preach in the Sunday worship service. I was doing fine with this arrangement because after teaching for 28 years I was fairly comfortable in that environment. Preaching in the worship service was another matter though.
Now I had spoken before congregations before but it was either at my small home church or on a short-term mission trip. On the mission field, I always spoke through an interpreter. When doing that, we all know we can stumble and bumble through a message and the interpreter will turn it into something beautiful. Or, the interpreter will let you talk and preach a message of their own.
Fortunately, with TMS-Global, I was always paired with an outstanding preacher so that part was no big deal because they did the preaching. No big deal, that is, until I found myself scheduled to speak at the worship service in a medium size church on the Mississippi coast. I accepted the role but, as the date drew nearer, I found that teenage angst once again creeping in. The night before the worship service, I was still awake at 3:30 in the morning sweating bullets, worrying and praying over what was to happen in just a few short hours.
So, on roughly three hours of “sleep”, I am up showering for what may be the most embarrassing day of my life. I would love to tell you that the Lord suddenly gave me a tremendous sense of peace and I boldly walked into the pulpit that morning. That didn’t happen. I was just glad they had a pulpit so that my knocking knees were not so obvious. I do remember in my intro joking that the pastor must be a truck farmer on the side because of the repeated references to watermelons he made when announcing an upcoming festival they were having at the church. Although I got some laughs, I immediately had the feeling that maybe that was not a good move.
I prayed and then launched into my message. It lasted about 25 minutes and I ended it with this, “There are over two billion people in the world who have yet to hear the name of Jesus. Some of them are waiting to hear it from you.” As I turned to walk away from the pulpit, the entire congregation stood to their feet and began to applaud. At the time I thought, that was either pretty good or they were happy I finally finished. As people came up to me after church with positive expressions and thanks, I conceded that maybe it was not so bad. Shortly, my teaching partner told me that he had asked a long-time member of the church if it was customary that the congregation give standing ovations at the close of the message. The gentleman said as far as he knew it was the only time it had ever happened.
When I finally had a moment to myself, I offered the Lord a prayer of thanksgiving for all that had transpired that morning. That’s when the Spirit spoke to me and told me that the response to my message was to let me know that anytime I step into a pulpit or stand on a stage before a congregation He had me covered. He also let me know that there would be no more standing ovations lest I begin to think that it was my doing and not His.
I have spoken many times since then, some small churches and some with crowds of 1800-2000 people, and not once have I had a congregation respond with rousing applause. I still have fear when I speak. Only now it is not a fear of my own frailties and insufficiencies but an awesome fear or reverence for One, “who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20 NLT)