What are your Life Sermons?
I’m a sucker for a beautiful pulpit. Not the pulpits I grew up with in America, I’m talking about the stunning architectural pieces that adorn the cathedrals of Europe. The carved wooden imagery, dramatic staircases, and stunning canopies are captivating, but it’s also the knowledge that God’s Word has been spoken in these places for centuries.
The truth is, everyone is preaching about something.
I once heard, though can’t remember where, that by the end of our lives, we will each be preaching the same 4-5 sermons over and over. Our life sermons don’t need to be religious per se, though often they are infused with our core values, beliefs, and world view.
We can be preaching about many different things, such as: We must steward our talents and resources. Home is the most powerful place to form children. Make space for friendships. Family is more important than work. We must use our power to help the powerless. God can redeem any mistake or trauma. Exercise is essential to healthy living. God’s Word is the bedrock through any life storm. Be prepared. Savor the beauty in the ordinary. Save and be resourceful. Small decisions matter. God redeems the most spectacular failures. Have a teachable spirit.
Of course our sermons can be dark and depressing as well: You can’t trust men. Religion is for the weak. The only person you can depend on is yourself. Whoever dies with the most toys, wins.
As we work with people in mid-life and beyond, we ask them to sit with these two questions: What are your life sermons? What is the best mode for delivering these sermons?
Not that identifying our life sermons is always easy.
Last summer when I was talking with my sister about what writing projects to take on once my kids left home, she said, “Sister, you need to write up all that stuff you guys are doing on wholistic member care! Alex doesn’t have time to work that — you should do it!” And I burst into tears.
She said, “What’s wrong???”
“It’s not my sermon! That’s Alex’s sermon!” I cried.
“Well, what is YOUR sermon?” she asked.
“I don’t know!” I wailed. “I train on this topic! How can I not know what my life sermons are!?” (Hello, mid-life angst.)
Themes of our life messages can be seen in the first half of lives. In our 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s, the seeds of our sermons can be found as we explore our passions, gain expertise, and learn life lessons (often the hard way).
However, not all of the things we immerse ourselves into during the first half of our lives will necessarily become our long-term passion. Take Ruth Haley Barton. In the book “Why I Changed my Mind about Women in Leadership,” Barton mentioned that in her 30’s, she spent a significant amount of time studying and teaching about the theology of women. But as her career unfolded, she intentionally chose not to make women in leadership her main focus of teaching and writing. It’s not her main sermon, even though she is extremely knowledgeable on the topic. She focused her energies instead on soul care– for women and men.
But by mid-life we begin to zero in on what is most important. We start tossing around words like “legacy” and “finishing well”– and suddenly, we find ourselves longing to rearrange our lives to focus on the things that matter the most to us.
Some areas to explore when identifying your life sermons:
Look at your driving values. What are the things that repeatedly come up in your conversations with others? Things such as: Health. Intimacy with God. Relationships. Recycle. Grace. Work/life balance. Think globally. Initiative. Perseverance. Joy. Hope. Simplicity. Adventure. Open-mindedness. Care for the outcast. Order. Discipline. Values are embedded in our sermons.
Look at your gifts and calling. Naturally, our sermons will often stem from our areas of gifting. We could safely guess that one of Marie Kondo’s (the organization lady on Netflix) life sermons is about keeping a simple and organized life. Pete Greig, the founder of the 24/7 prayer movement out of England, oozes his life sermons through his writings and preaching— Prayer matters. Pray boldly. Prayer changes our world.
Look at major losses or failures. Unfortunately some of the most painful experiences become our greatest teachers. A health crisis can teach us to value the small things we take for granted. The lost of a marriage due to addiction can teach us to bring our secrets to the light and seek help. The grief over a missed opportunity can lead us to preach later about taking risks.
Look at the things you are most passionate about. What makes you weep? What makes you so angry, you’d pound the table in an intense conversation? Where are you spending the bulk of your time, money, and energy? What things can you spend hours researching? Each of these things point to the God-given passions you bring to the world.
Ask your friends, spouse, children, or co-workers. Trust me, those closest to you KNOW your sermons. When I asked my daughter what they thought my sermons were, Karis said, “You stand with people on the edge of some new ‘territory’ in their lives (calling, problem, etc) they are supposed to take and you help them to figure out how to take the land.” Not bad, Karis. That would be one way of describing what I do.
Exploring our life sermons can also lead to some alarming realizations about what we are speaking and living. Many mid-life corrections come from the places we realize our current trajectory is NOT leading us toward what we value most. We may discover areas of healing or lies that are still embedded in our thinking.
So what do you do once you know your sermons? Then your question becomes: what is the best mode for delivering your sermons? Teaching. Mentoring. Life-on-life modeling. Writing. Friendship. One-on-one conversations. Facilitating safe space. Serving. Creating art, song, or poem. Activism. Prayer. Giving. Catalyzing. Restoring. Casting vision. Storytelling. Working the land.
Our modes for delivering our life sermons may change over the years as our capacity decreases. Maybe we could say your ‘pulpit’ takes different shapes and forms through the years.
Some dear friends of ours have spent 40 years in full-time ministry with young leaders. In their 50’s, they had a powerful season of convergence — running a retreat center which allowed them to live out the things they are most passionate about: hospitality, integrated spirituality, creating safe spaces, and equipping and encouraging leaders.
But as they crossed over into their 60’s, the demands of running a retreat center along their other teaching and leadership roles began to take it’s toll. They had to explore what were other ways that their ministry could be structured to allow this to be sustainable. They made the difficult decision to close the retreat center. Interestingly, they’ve taken their leadership courses on the road. Now others run all the logistics and labor of the conferences while they provide their rich teaching. He began regularly writing a leadership newsletter for their organization to pass on his decades of wisdom. Their sermons have not changed, only their method of delivery.
My daughter also astutely pointed out that one of my sermons is teaching others to live into their life sermons. So I use my little pulpit today (this blog) to speak a blessing over your life ministry:
I bless the sermons stirring in you that originate from the heart of God. I call those forth today in power and bless them to display God’s Kingdom here on earth.
I bless you with courage to live and speak your sermons. Your voice is needed.
I bless you to discover the ‘pulpits’ to best communicate your sermons and the wisdom to know when a new pulpit is on the horizon.
May God empower each of us today to step into our pulpits with joy, power, and confidence.