3 Powerful Words We Rarely Hear From Preachers


The subject line, with the above title, in my email inbox begged to be opened. No, it actually it screamed!   “Open this email”

I wondered if I was guilty of neglecting three words that could improve my preaching. After all, it was a newsletter I receive weekly from “Better preaching.”

When I opened it and read the first two sentences, I had to chuckle. What were the three words?

“I don’t know.”

Don’t misread this. I do know. Those were the three words that North Carolina preacher, Jonathan Martin, said that we too often neglect–“I don’t know.”

I chuckled because this is an answer that I have found myself giving with more frequency in recent years. In fact, I just used it yesterday in my post on 1 Corinthians 10:13. Paul said when we are tempted God will provide a way of escape. Then I asked, “What will be your way of escape from temptation?”

My answer: “I don’t know. But I do know that God will provide it.”

This could be said of many Bible promises that are given and doctrines that are affirmed. We may not understand the complexity surrounding all of these issues, but if we  accept by faith God at His Word that makes it so, whether I understand it or not.

I don’t know Jonathan Martin’s theology, but I have to agree with this observation in his article. “There is something explicitly or implicitly understood that public personalities need to have an authoritative position on everything.”

This is true not only of preachers, but politicians, pundits, and professors. It seems that even those in the field of sports, entertainment or business feel the need to express their opinion and/or solution to matters of public policy or the complex problems facing our culture. I agree with Martin, there is nothing wrong with saying, “I don’t know.”

About 3400 years ago, Moses affirmed “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut 29:29).

God hasn’t revealed everything to us. Just what we need to know that “pertains to life and godliness.” (2 Peter 1:3).

How does the Holy Spirit dwell in us? I don’t know. But he does. The Bible says so! (Rom 8:9-11; 1 Cor. 3:16)

How can God know the hearts of all mankind and judge us righteously? I don’t know. But he can! And He will. The Bible says so (Acts 17:31)

How does God work providentially in our lives, like He did Joseph, without violating our freedom of choice? I don’t know. But He does! (Gen 45:7; 50:19-20).

How do you explain sickness, suffering and death of innocent little children? It’s difficult. I know there are some insights in the book of Job. And there are answers as it relates to the issue of sin and its attendant consequences. But in specific cases, “there is a time to keep silence” (Eccl. 3:7).

Martin expressed it this way, “Tragedy strikes. Disaster befalls us. A child or a mother or a father dies unexpectedly. A bleak diagnosis is given. It seems it is time to speak of the unspeakable.”

Sometimes we just have to admit that we don’t know. “..to recognize the moment when there are no words to be said… Sometimes the sacred thing, the wise thing, the compassionate thing, the best thing—is to shut up.”

When there are no words, no explanations, no profound insights “we can weep with those that weep.” Just like Jesus did at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. We can extend a warm handshake. A pat on the back. A caring hug. A nod of the head. A knowing look. And in our silence, speak volumes of our love, care and compassion to the hurting.

But I’m thinking this advice is not just good for preachers, but parents, Pastors and Bible class teachers. Oh, and maybe when it comes to some facebook questions and controversies, silence or a simple, “I don’t know,” is a far better choice!

–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman

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