The Second Best Sermon I Ever Heard (and why every writer should hear it too)

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I have tried to write this blog post for more than a year, but it’s hard to do justice to the second most important sermon I’ve ever heard. Uploading the audio might have been a—um—challenge, too. (Never fear, I am now queen of online audio files…)

I write that this is the second most important sermon I ever heard (in person) because I must presume that the most important was in 1994 at YoungLife’s Windy Gap. That was the first time I ever heard the Gospel in a way that I could understand. It was the sermon that led me to receive salvation. Just over a dozen years later, I would hear the sermon that helped me realize my calling. Movie producer Tom Newman was guest speaker at Washington D.C.’s Capital Life Church.

It can feel self-important to talk about having a calling. So let me write first off that I think every one of us has a calling on our lives. And I think callings come in every form, from full-time ministry to over-time tent making, from motherhood to sisterhood. Finding our calling isn’t about trying to make ourselves feel special or unique. It’s not about finding the areas in which we shine. The world is full of people who have found their calling far from shiny stations, and it is also full of special people whose work is far from the face of heaven. Rather, finding our calling is about selling out to the Maker, fully, so we can be an instrument in His plan. As Christians, we know the purpose of our lives is to glorify God. The question of how we do it is the calling to fulfill that purpose.

Of course, my salvation and the realization of my calling did not come from a sermon by any one man. I simply mean that there are some moments when the shut doors and silent dreams in your life come together to find you sitting in the back pew and then, finally, your heart is open to hear from the Lord who made you—who saved you and who called you.

 I was sitting in the back of the church when Mr. Newman visited that day. My mind was consumed with a question about a dream I had wrestled with since childhood. I needed to know: Did I have permission to pursue it?  

Or, another way to ask the question was: Even in the face of logic, threats to reputation, the promise of failure even when it’s going well, and the statistical probability it will rarely ever go well, should I pursue this dream?

You see, I wanted to be a writer.

But even more than that, I didn’t want to waste what resources the Lord had given me with plans of my own invention. Ephesians 2:10 reads, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

This verse tells me two things: Our awesome God has a claim on just what it is we do with our time. And we can never be truly satisfied doing anything else.

Until I heard the second best sermon of my life, I was a writer afraid of her own story. I hadn’t considered writing to be a legitimate calling for folks who don’t live in stone cottages on the English countryside or beach huts in Havana. Just who did I think I was?

And then there was the Africa test. Was writing worth my time and energy when instead I could be helping the children in Africa? That’s a bit dramatic and perhaps the logic is flawed, but I don’t think it’s so far off. Could I really justify spending myself on pursuing a dream that, like most of the arts, doesn’t have a practical use? Writing doesn’t make lunch for a hungry child. It doesn’t care for the orphan. I’ve actually seen the hungry children in Africa, which means I know in very real terms what it means when good people get other priorities, myself included.

No matter what your version of the Africa test is, you may relate to the fact that there are always competitors for the obligations of our hearts. If I only had so many hours to give, how could I justify spending them lost in my imagination and a laptop?

Like a petulant child wanting to open all her gifts on Christmas Eve, I wanted to know if it would be worth pursuing the writing dream before I even started. I told myself I could handle it if I never got published. Probably. But I couldn’t handle spending nights, weekends, and years pouring myself into it unless it was His will, not when there were so many other needs where I knew I could be of some help.

And so in that silent hour of self-doubt, when I asked the Lord if He wanted me to give up writing altogether (and was preparing myself to do it if the answer was yes), I felt a ripping so deep that the only thing I could muster was resignation at the thought. Not peace. You see, your calling wants you as much as you want it.

Enter Tom Newman, who stood in our pulpit and said, “I never really thought much of the donkey and bathroom church drama…”

He continued, “Two thousand years ago, Jesus chose some unconventional means of his own to communicate his message. He toured the countryside telling stories. And that hardly seemed like the most effective means of telling people the most important truth. Because there he was talking about farmers and wedding banquets, wine skins and mustard seeds…. [sic] But they weren’t clear to those who were actually with Jesus in this time. They weren’t clear to the twelve disciples. They were always asking him afterwards to bring some kind of understanding to what it was.”

And with that, for the first time in my life, I got a new understanding of my own. Storytelling is more than just a childhood dream or someone else’s lazy Sunday afternoon. It is the way the very Creator of the universe chose to relate His truth to us. Mr. Newman said, “Jesus told stories. We call them parables. But that’s what he did to reach the masses.”

That is when I realized that my calling actually was a calling, even if I wasn’t the best at it. I can think of no greater enemy to a person fulfilling their calling than the fear that their work will have no significance.

Yes, writing can be a calling when we do it because we love our readers. We will never tell the perfect story apart from the Gospel. We will never write the perfect novel. But as Christians called to share the saving Gospel to everyone we know in whatever way we are able, why would we not follow in our master’s footsteps?

I feared that trying to be a writer was an exercise in ego. But, for me, not writing would have been the real trap of pride because the reason I was afraid to write was that I was afraid to fail.

Mr. Newman asked, “What would you do in the name of Jesus if you knew you couldn’t fail? What would you do?”

I had my answer, and I hope Mr. Newman’s sermon helps you discover yours, too.


(To listen to the sermon, visit: Tom Newman Sermon – Capital Life Church)

(For more on Tom Newman, founder of Impact Productions, click here.)

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