Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.—Jude 3
I can relate to Jude.
The book of Jude was written by one of Jesus’ brothers who became a believer after Christ’s death and resurrection. In the introduction to this short book, Jude reveals that he originally wanted to write to his fellow Christians for one purpose, but because of the circumstances felt he had to change his plans and focus on something else. And while what he first wanted to write about was the happy and joyful news of God’s saving grace, what he ended up spending his time on was something a lot more negative: warning about false teachers, who were spreading lies and confusing God’s people.
Every good pastor has had the experience of preparing a message and then looking back and realizing, “That didn’t turn out like I thought it was going to.” You started out assuming that a passage of scripture was about one thing, but deeper study revealed it was actually about something else. Or you intended to preach a message that would encourage and uplift people, but found yourself compelled to say some really challenging things about sin and judgment. Experiences like that are a good reminder that it’s not about what we want to say, but what God wants to say. If you were prayerful in the process of preparation, you can have confidence that the Holy Spirit was leading you. But it’s still an uncomfortable feeling, because, at least in my experience, the thing you end up saying usually steps on more toes than the thing you started out wanting to say.
Of course, this is only a problem because I’m human and care too much about being liked. It’s an incredible privilege to get up on a platform and proclaim God’s word to His people. I love doing it, and it comes with all sorts of blessings. But it also comes with its share of temptations, one of which being the temptation to use that position to make sure that people think well of you.
I will confess that when I come across a passage of scripture that I know is going to challenge people, I struggle with the temptation to water it down or spin it in such a way that I’m not the bearer of bad news, because it’s just not fun to stand up on that platform and deliver bad news with all of those eyes on you. You start to overthink everything. “Did I say that right? Was I true to the Word? But at the same time, was I able to avoid offending anybody? What if they’re angry? What if they don’t come back? What if nobody comes back and the church shrivels up and dies and I have to get a job doing something I hate? Should I have said it differently? Should I not have said it at all? God, why have you put me in this position, where I have to stand up here and say unpopular things, when what I really want to do is say warm fuzzy things that make everyone like me and think well of our church and keep coming back every week?”
When I start to feel that way, I have to remind myself that my life is actually really good, and my future is secure in God’s hands, and I have things much easier than the prophet Jeremiah did. Jeremiah was called by God to spend his whole career sharing a message no one wanted to hear. His job was to say that judgment was coming, that it wasn’t a mistake when God’s people started to suffer, that they were going to suffer unless they repented of their sin, but that really God knew they wouldn’t repent until after they had suffered. Good times were on the horizon, but they would only come after many years of hard times. Of course, this did not make him popular. He spent years being hated by his own people. At one point, he was so frustrated with his calling that He prayed these words:
You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived;
you overpowered me and prevailed.
I am ridiculed all day long;
everyone mocks me.
Whenever I speak, I cry out
proclaiming violence and destruction.
So the word of the Lord has brought me
insult and reproach all day long.
But if I say, “I will not mention his word
or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
indeed, I cannot.—Jeremiah 20:7-9
I’ve always been moved by that powerful picture of God’s Word like a fire in the preacher’s bones. This is something else every good pastor knows: it may be painful to speak the hard truth, but it’s more painful not to. It’s pointless to resist God, to try to hold something in when He put it in us to share with the world. So we speak it, and maybe we lose a few friends along the way. Again, I’m not complaining: I live in a comfortable house with my beautiful family; we have a loving church and enough food on the table. Jeremiah, on the other hand, was thrown down an empty well and left to starve. I’m just saying, be aware that sometimes if you go to church and walk away thinking, “man, that message wasn’t a lot of fun to hear,” it probably wasn’t a lot of fun to deliver either. Pastors don’t always preach God’s Word because they enjoy it; they preach it because they are compelled. So pray for them, and pray for yourself, that everyone involved would be listening to the God who loves them enough to say the hard things as well as the happy things.