Last night a group of Wheaton friends shared in celebrating my birthday with cards and a fun gift. But, to my surprise, my wife Carol said she wanted to tell the group something first.
She flipped back 41 years to a Sunday when I preached in our home church in West Norwood, London. She described my nerves as a young (very) inexperienced preacher facing my first preaching at both morning and evening services, and how I vomited beforehand in sheer nervous tension! I really did feel overwhelmed.
The morning sermon was tidy, worthy and short. I survived! But the evening was the main service with over 500 people crowding into the church, and filling its galleries. I had prepared and prayed hard to preach on the divided reactions to Jesus in John 10:19-20. With dry mouth and accompanying nervous sensations I began my sermon. A stillness came over the congregation and me.
Then, in the middle, I had my one and only experience (so far) of God unmistakably speaking to me. That's the only way I can describe what happened. Suddenly, even as I was speaking, I heard clearly a voice say: "Michael, I call you to preach." It was the last thing I expected to happen. Indeed, the way that I was feeling, racked by nerves, this would have seemed the least likely occurrence. And while I "heard" this word, there was a peculiar intensity in the sermon that several hearers commented about afterwards.
I know that sceptics can swiftly dismiss such an event as some kind of subjective wish-fulfilment. But, I look back to it as a foundational experience of God's grace at work in my life. Remembering is an important part of Christian worship, ensuring that we recall God's work in the past. I was so grateful that Carol reminded me of this event, 41 years later!