“Tell me all the great things …” That’s what the king asked of Gehazi (Elisha’s very average, on-again, off-again servant) in 2 Kings 8:1-6. In that short passage of Scripture, a mediocre king, on a comfortable throne, in a messed-up world, got close enough for a moment to hear the words of Elisha’s servant. In that moment, Gehazi became a servant of the Most High.
I don’t know what the king wanted to hear Gehazi say (I doubt the king did either). And we don’t know everything Gehazi said, but we’ve got a few CliffsNotes. We know he told the king that God used Elijah to bring a dead boy back to the land of the living. We know he told the king that God used one of His own to do more and better things than circumstances seemed to allow or conventional wisdom dictated as possible. We know it must have been one heck of an extemporaneous sermon because a moment later, that mediocre king became great—for just a moment. He leveraged his power on behalf of the powerless; he eschewed his own kingdom for the sake of a better one. It must have been a really good message about “all the great things.”
In general, good preaching isn’t just descriptive. Telling people how things really are is important, but a decent news anchor can do that. Good preaching isn’t just prescriptive either. Telling people what to do can be helpful for application’s sake, but most people can figure that out. The best preaching illuminates truths that are easily lost in the reality of all that is and has been. Good preaching cuts through what’s only real for a moment to get to what has been and can be true. Good preaching tells the kings of this world (of everything and nothing) about all the great things God has done. People are able to see that great things are still possible, because by God’s grace, they are.
One of the best things I ever learned from my father about preaching wasn’t from one of his sermons (though they were and are very good). It was from one of his “almost” sermons to me.
When I was 16 years old, I was cutting weight yet again for yet another wrestling tournament. I was sitting on the couch feeling skinny, tired and weak. I looked like Skeletor and an ant had a baby.
There I was, sinking into the cracks beneath the couch cushions and ready to throw in the towel, when Pops walked in and said, “Look at you! You look ripped, cut, hewn from marble like a Greek statue.” I said, “Really? I just feel weak and hungry.” He said, “No, that can’t be … What feels like hunger is just the death of weakness. Your ‘hunger’ is making you strong.” By the time he left the room, I wasn’t just feeling better—I was better. It wasn’t a full-fledged sermon, but it gave me a glimpse of something good. He saw things that I couldn’t see for myself until he said them. Some words are so good, they can’t even be true until they are spoken. Once spoken, they can’t help but be true.
Goethe referred to this when he said, “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you will help them to become what they are capable of being.”
Jesus lived it out centuries before, calling Simon Peter the “rock,” and telling Nathaniel he was the Jew “in whom there was no guile.” Jesus spoke truths into existence. Our job (with God’s help) is to see and speak truth in such a way that it reveals what has been veiled by temporary realities.
I am not talking about the power of positive thinking. I’m not the guy who buys the “if you can dream it then you can achieve it” thing. I will never play in the NBA no matter how much I believe in myself or work on my jumper—it is impossible. I will never have a butler. I will never be 6’5” 230 lbs. of shredded muscle. Those things would be awesome, but aren’t good enough to be great things anyway.
I am not a power-of-positive-thinking guy, but I am a great things guy. I believe when we tell people about the great things (they are loved by God now and not when they get better) and when we speak clearly of the great things God has done and still promises to do, then we create new ways for people to live and new worlds for them to live in.
I may not get there every Sunday, but it’s always worth a try. Think about it: What was the best sermon you have ever heard? What spoken words did you hear and suddenly, something that always had been true became true? How did this cause you to live differently?