One thing you learn is to work hard at preparing. Failing in public is not something I’m comfortable with yet. And all of us know of instances, awful instances, of people getting up in public to speak and failing: failing to make sense, failing to maintain interest, failing to say anything worthwhile. Not all, however, seem always conscious of it. And that is an interesting thing: what one is conscious of, what one is not.
Then you learn that depending on good preparation is not enough. There is a supernatural element to preaching that nothing else has. Of course, I don’t know if this happens when one prepares a lecture on something else, but you can prepare a sermon, understand the passage, think what you have is good and have it flop. At least I can. And you can preach something, have it go well, and then preach it again that same day elsewhere and have it not go quite so well. Of course, part of this may be countless factors, but one of them is the overconfidence. Preaching is not about performing but about being used by God. And if you are overconfident in what you can do, God can still bless the sermon or he can make it an occasion for instructing you in the value and necessity of being confident rather in what he can do.
And what God can also do is make it seem like a total flop to you to teach you a lesson and at the same time make it seem quite otherwise to the people hearing because he is faithful. Which is the interesting point about what one is conscious of. There are times when it seems the most ridiculous and awful struggle for one to keep people’s attention, or that one’s way of presenting things is absolutely confusing and awkward, and one never gets past the self-consciousness of opening one’s mouth in public for longer than is decently interesting, and then the people don’t appear to think so afterward.
Returning to what one learns, one learns also to value those times when out of weakness and self-mistrust one still has to preach. It makes you pray more earnestly, examine yourself, consider your own faults in preparation. And it drives home the lesson because you also have the experience of having preparation you really do not think amounts to very much but which God owns nevertheless and to one’s surprise.
Of course, there again is the thing about what one is conscious of in the expectations one has. Sure, if you expect to preach worse you probably don’t judge the thing the same way as when you are expecting to preach better. And here is where the temperament is probably a large factor. In my case: an introspective person, one with a more subjective and romantical temperament than some. Then there are people who are not haunted by failure, it seems, no matter how much they fail. I am happy with my own imbalanced roller-coaster, all things considered.
The thing is, you have to struggle to get some kind of perspective on it by distancing yourself, just as I imagine the opposite kind of person has to struggle to get some kind of perspective on it by closing the distance. I don’t know if in a person like me this would come over time; if after a long struggle I would eventually be able to approach the pulpit with a sort of equanimity born of a legitimate confidence. Part of it is no doubt that I am not called by God to preach.