There is a delightful old joke about a monk who took a vow of silence. He was only allowed to speak to the head of the monastery once a year. At the end of the first year, he was asked, “Brother, do you have anything to say?” to which he answered, “The beds are hard!”
Another year passed and he was asked, “Brother, do you have anything to say?” to which he answered, “The food is bad!”
Finally, another year passed and he was asked, “Brother, do you have anything to say?” to which he answered, “I quit!”
The head of the order shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Well, I’m not surprised. All you’ve done since you got here is complain.”
A week has passed and I still can’t speak. I have a terrible sore throat and I’ve hardly gotten out of bed. I’ve even resorted to channel surfing. I’ve watched more TV in the last week than I have in the last five years. I’m afraid I might become a “Swamp People” addict! (That’s a television show about hunting alligators in the swamps of Louisiana where the main characters are Cajuns who race around in boats shouting, “Choot ’im! Choot ’im!”)
It’s been an interesting experience. For example, people will shout from across the house, “John, do you want anything?” That’s really nice but I can’t shout back “I’d love a Fudgsicle!” Or, it’s natural when I whisper, people whisper back to me like we’re keeping some great secret.
It’s a great challenge for a preacher to lose his voice! Imagine what it would be like, if suddenly all of the preachers lost their voices? Before you add that to your prayer list, my dear friend and fellow minister, Jim Hinton observed, “Well, they could still send text messages!” That may be, but an unspoken dread most ministers share is a kind of discouragement that causes us to wonder if we are doing any good? Is anyone really listening to what we have to say? Are we relevant or just tolerated?
One of the curses God pronounces on Israel through the prophet Amos is a famine for the Word of God (Amos 8:11, 12):
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God,
“when I will send a famine on the land—
not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord.
They shall wander from sea to sea,
and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord,
but they shall not find it.”
The challenge for preachers is two-fold. The first is not to give up but continue to speak out. Noah preached for over 100 years and no one except his own family listened to what he had to say; yet he is called a man of God. The second is the far more important imperative. The famine isn’t of preachers but of “hearing the words of the Lord.” It isn’t enough to just speak. We must be sure of our message! Now excuse me while I gargle again and try to find my voice for Sunday’s sermon.