I’m not preaching tomorrow. I’m too sick.
I started preaching full-time when I was 19-years-old. That’s close to 25 years. For the first 15 of those years, I preached at least twice a day (at both the Sunday morning and the Sunday evening service). The church I’ve served for the past 10 years only has the morning service, but I sometimes preach for the Indonesian congregation which uses our building in the afternoon, so I still get in two a Sunday sometimes.
And I’ve missed very few of those sermon engagements. Very, very few. I’ve probably missed so few that I can count them on one hand. Tomorrow will increase that number by one. I can still count them on one hand, but I will have to use one more finger.
And I’m not happy about that. I’d rather be preaching. I enjoy it very much. I also enjoy the other interactions I have at church, the opportunities to speak into other peoples’ lives and to have them speak into mine.
I’m not entirely unhappy about that, either, though. I’m not entirely unhappy about it because I know it was not only the right decision but it was made for the right reasons.
Here’s how it happened: I woke up sometime very early Saturday morning with chills and incredible congestion. I got under an electric blanket and went back to sleep, confident I would feel better in the (later) morning. But I didn’t. Even a shower and a shave didn’t make me feel better. In fact, at some point during the shower I developed stomach pain as well. And so I ended up on the couch instead of taking my daughter to the library as I do every Saturday. At some point, I decided to contact a preaching buddy to see if there was a chance he could be ready to go tomorrow “just in case”. He could, but he needed to know by 4 PM. He then called me about 1 PM to see how I was doing, and at that momentI decided it was time to throw in the towel. I said he should plan on taking my spot.
That might not seem super-significant to you, but it was to me. You see, one of the reasons I have missed so few preaching engagements is that I’ve been afraid of missing them. Missing a preaching engagement, whether because of sickness or weather (snow often hindered church services in Ohio) or family situations or what have you, was always a major anxiety for me. I thought people would be unhappy that I wasn’t preaching and leave the church, or that the leadership would be unhappy and let me go, or that I wouldn’t be able to wow any new visitors and they wouldn’t come back, or that I’d somehow forget how to preach during the off Sunday, thus causing my ministry to collapse. And so there were many Saturday nights spent evaluating headaches or snow accumulation with a great deal of apprehension.
And I realized this time that such apprehension is not a part of the Kingdom. I realized that Kingdom people who are confident in both the love and guidance of God don’t make decisions based on anxiety, that anxious decisions aren’t Kingdom decisions, that anxiety is not Kingdom. And so, even though I was tempted to ask my preaching buddy if he could give me more time to make my decision, tempted to try to “see how I was feeling later”, tempted to push myself to preach even though I didn’t feel up to it, I decided to pass the pulpit to him. I let him take over knowing that neither my congregants nor my God would be upset with me, that nobody would leave the church, that I wouldn’t be fired or forget how to preach. I let the preaching engagement go, refusing to allow anxiety to make me do it when I really didn’t need to (and probably shouldn’t) do it. I let the Sunday go knowing that God’s will would still be done, and that will would be good.
It was a victory, I think, a new maturity in my walk with God. I’m not criticizing anyone who hasn’t had this victory yet; I know how difficult anxiety can be, and you’ll find no condemnation from me if you are struggling with it. But it was a victory for me.
Now if I can only shake this cough.