Can we stop saying this?
Sorry, let me explain.
I studied Youth Ministry in college. It was a delightful major that spent muchf time emphasizing how to teach and to minister while maintaining a strong biblical foundation. In many courses, I had to periodically teach to and be evaluated by the class; it was an exciting and nerve-wracking opportunity each instance. Honestly, I am not a naturally gifted teacher, or at least not exceptionally so, so when it came my turn to teach, I labored over my lessons. I spent hours thinking about exactly what I wanted to say so that I could communicate clearly. I practiced speaking out loud in front of a mirror. I worked hard on them.
I’m sure most preachers spend a great deal of time agonizing over their sermons and messages, but the language they use doesn’t always communicate that. Most preachers will take to the pulpit and begin with a prayer that consists of some language similar to “Lord bless this message, and help everyone to understand not my words, but yours.”
That final clause, “not my words, but yours,” is what I take issue with.
When a teacher prays for a class before an exam, they pray “Lord help them to remember all that they have studied,” as opposed to “not their answers Lord, but yours.” So why do preacher’s get a free pass to use this sort of language in prayer?
I labor over my words. If I were to pray that same sentiment, I would be dismissing the work that I did and that God took pleasure in. When I hear this prayer, all I hear is that the speaker did not spend much time preparing and now needs Yahweh to give him the words, or that he does not have confidence in his own words.
I just don’t think that’s Biblical.
Ever read the psalms? They are a very unique collection of scriptures. They sit in the heavy tension of God’s words to us, and our words to God. The laments and the praise psalms are each carved out of personal experience; sometimes from a deep sense of abandonment and gloom, others out of a sincere heart of worship and joy. But despite different periods of composition and the wide range of emotion saturated in the lyric poems, the psalms were born in personal experience.
Our greatest ministry, our greatest sermons and messages, and the best lessons all come out of personal experience. We don’t need to dismiss our experience, language and preparation when we step up to the altar–quite contrary really.
So rather than praying “not my words, but yours,” pray “Lord use my words,” “Lord inspire this message like you did the psalms,” “Help me to recall what I have prepared,” “Holy Spirit follow my words as the wind and help others come to know you.”
Just use me.