The Long View of Preaching

26 February 2024 by Wes Bredenhof

Every preacher prays for a positive response to his efforts.  If we’re honest, we’d rather like to see that response sooner rather than later.  It’s encouraging to hear from people when God’s Word from your mouth has hit the mark.  The reality, though, is that it often takes the long view to see the effectiveness of preaching.  Moreover, that long view may even extend out of our own lifespan on this earth.   

There once was this young unbeliever named Luke Short.  He was 15 years old and somehow he found himself in a church listening to a famous Puritan preacher named John Flavel.   Flavel was preaching on 1 Corinthians 16:22, “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.  Our Lord, come!”  Flavel clearly and faithfully preached the gospel from this text.  Luke Short heard the sermon, it went into his ears, but sadly it didn’t reach his heart.  He remained an unbeliever.  Sometime after this, Luke left England and migrated to America. 

Luke Short ended up living a long life.  He was 100 years old when he started thinking about all the things he’d heard and seen through all his years.  Suddenly, in a moment, he remembered that sermon from John Flavel which he’d heard 85 years before.  He remembered it in detail and as he thought about it, it dawned on him that he was nearing death and judgment.  As a result, he prayed to God for mercy and salvation in Christ.  Amazingly, at 100 years old, Luke Short became a Christian.  He reportedly went on to live for 16 more years and, during those years, he shared the gospel with whomever he could. 

Sometimes we might look at preaching and wonder how God can do anything through it.  Yet if you look at Isaiah 55:11, God assures us that the Word which goes forth from him will never return empty.  His Word will always accomplish the purposes he has for it.  In some instances, that purpose is salvation as soon as the Word is heard.  In other instances, like with Luke Short, that purpose is for the seed to be sown only to sprout much further down in time.  But God always has a purpose with his Word and his purposes will never be frustrated.

When John Flavel preached to Luke Short, he must have been at least 29 years old.  It happened in Dartmouth and Flavel began his ministry there in 1656, at the age of 29.  So he had at least 14 years on Luke Short and he died in 1691, long before Short.  While he walked on this earth, this preacher never knew that this particular listener would become a Christian through his preaching.  Assuming believers can recognize and know each other in the hereafter (and we have good reason to believe that’s true), Flavel waited a long time for 116 year old Luke Short to make his entrance into the blessed presence of God.  But eventually he was able to see another one of the fruits of his labours.  Someday every preacher will – and he’ll praise God for it, just like I’m sure Flavel did and does.  Here and now we just need to remember to take the long view, take courage, and keep preaching.