My dad took the service at my church yesterday. He's in his 70s now and it was back in his 50s when I last sat regularly under his preaching. There are some changes. He preaches more slowly now, with longer pauses, a habit I suspect comes from 15 years of lecturing to men and women for whom English is a second or third language. It was good to hear him again.
And as I sat there, I did what I always did - measured his words, analysed whether that introduction was too long, did that analogy really work, predicted what he might say next, how he could have said that last sentence better. It's a habit formed by a thousand childhood Sunday post-church recaps over lunch.
And in the middle of that, I took stock. I am middle-aged. Dad is in his 70s. My children sit beside me on the pew. And still, he preaches on.
No one else in that church, save my mother beside me, would know the true cost. The anxiety. The weariness. The loneliness. The sleepless nights. The joyless days (at times). The misunderstandings. The hopes. The disappointments. When a man preaches for over 40 years, there are deep cuts and swollen rivers and pains.
And yet, here we are.
When you see a preacher stand before you, you often forget the back-story. The unlikeliness of it all. The child of an alcoholic father. Or the man who lived a very different life before he was rescued by the one he serves. Or the proud and stubborn farmer. Or maybe the brilliant executive who turns his back on it all. Or the bloke who never finished high school and gave his first sermon shaking his whole way through it.
That man who delivers the Bible message has no superhero cloak. He's no braver. No stronger. No more able. A preacher preaching in his old age is a symbol of faithfulness. Not his faithfulness. He is weak through and through. He is instead a trophy of Christ's faithfulness to the weak, the sick and the undeserving. He's there not because he's better. He's there because Christ held him there and in return he clung to Christ.
God is faithful. He is able. That's what the presence of an old preacher says.
So as your preacher preaches, whether young or old, and you measure up the man and his words - 'he's very brash/too reformed/not reformed enough/too simple/too complicate/hard to communicate with/very lazy/too busy/doesn't-agree-with-me-about-the-proper-location-for-the-new-pie-warmer-in-the-church-kitchen' - there is a sense in which he is an oxen yoked to the plough. He strains and plods, in obedience to the Lord. Pray for him (especially on Mondays which are awful), and for his family that share the struggle, and ask that God surround him with strength and faithfulness and endurance. Pray that, if God wills, he may stay long enough in harness to be an old preacher preaching. That he still preaches on. It is a wonderful tribute to mercy and grace.
And, if you know my dad, please don't tell him I called him old. I'd be in heaps of trouble.