"Life is about swimming with a pack of predators." Thus began a sermon preached recently by Ed Young of Fellowship Church as part of his "Shark Weak" series.
The point of this particular series was to show us that we all lack the strength to face problems in life when we're ill-prepared. "We all swim with sharks," Young continued, circling around a 12-foot shark planted in the middle of the stage. "What are you dealing with? What is your shark?" I was immediately reminded of that old, hackneyed sermon lesson from the story of David and Goliath: "What are the giants in your life? Here are five stones you can use to defeat them…"
The rest of the sermon was peppered with random verses from the Bible that lent support to Young's message. For example, he quoted Matthew 10:16: "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves," changing "wolves" to "Great White sharks" to tie it all together.
He wanted his sermon to prepare his congregation to go out and face their problems unafraid. It was, in Young's own words, a "pre-dive safety talk," and he compared God-breathed scripture to a diver's regulator, allowing one to breathe while swimming among life's sharks.
Young didn't go into much detail, leaving one to conclude that the sharks in life could include anything from a difficult co-worker to terminal cancer. He concluded up his pre-dive safety talk by encouraging his listeners to make sure they follow their diving checklists: "Listen intently, see clearly, breathe deeply, swim confidently, and God will take you to depths that you never dreamed possible."
A half-hour sermon, and that's the takeaway? No discussion of sin. No mention of God's sovereignty or decree giving an ultimate purpose for the evil we may encounter. A brief pep-talk about how God can make your life better seems to be a common theme for most pastors these days.
Rather than worrying about his congregation being shark weak, Pastor Young should be concerned about them being gospel weak. How were his words meant to encourage anyone facing real adversity?
Scripture tells us that believers will endure hardships in this life. We are, after all, living in a fallen world that is in rebellion against God. Christ's words to his disciples in Matthew 10 were a warning that they were going to suffer persecution and even death for the sake of the gospel. He explained that his followers "will be hated by all for my name's sake" (Matt. 10:22).
The life of the Christian is one marked by suffering and persecution (Luke 21:12, Rom. 8:16-17, 2 Cor. 1:6, Phil. 1:29, 1 Pet. 2:20, 3:14-17, 4:16-19). Indeed, it is because the very One we follow suffered and died in our place that we have any hope at all. Nothing we face in this world can overcome that. "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Rom. 8:18).
It is no surprise that few pastors seem willing to truly exposit God's word for their congregations. Hebrews 4:12 reminds us that "the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart," and that can be infinitely more intimidating than any shark.