This article originally appeared in the Charlotte Observer, 7/201930. copyright “Friends of Vance Havner” 2022
If you are going to be an uplifter, a preacher or reformer, it will pay you to study life as it is and not as books picture it to be. Most messages fail to get across because the speaker does not know life; he has studied in some cloistered spot life as some other recluse thought it ought to be and then has gone forth into the world as it is utterly out of touch with reality.
Sometimes when I listen to some polished professional weaving airy theories before a comfortable audience in snug pews I feel like crying out, “Brother, what do you know about it? Brought up in pleasant environs, trained in your conventional course, then turned out a finished product into a standardized system, do you really know life as it is? Have you ever been down amid the dirt and sweat and grease, the heartache and hunger, the grief and misery of raw and naked reality? Do you know folks as they are, not as books and plays and talkies picture them? Have you ever felt the pulse of humanity, its thrills and tragedies, its sunlight and shadows, its broken dreams and its beautiful longings, its sordidness and sweetness, its filth and fineness-have you ever listened to the heartbeat of the race as most of it actually is?”
The finest writers, preachers, artists are not always those who had most thorough technical training. Indeed, some were pitifully lacking there. Those who best have expressed the heart of humanity are those who have got down into the middle of life with both feet, rubbed elbows with folks as they are, witnessed the complex shadows of experience, the comedy and tragedy of life. They can speak the heart of humanity because they have shared its emotions.
If you wish to be a preacher, it is perhaps well to study theology. It is better to know life. You cannot sit in a cozy corner and do that. Work in a rescue mission awhile. God incognito into the great cities and rub elbows with all classes. Get out on the open road and study people from life. Learn their hopes and fears, their dreams and problems, what God and life and happiness mean to them. You can be in Rome without doing as Rome. One need not drink swill to understand hogs and you do not have to share the vices of men to understand their viewpoint. But get right out into things as they be; you will be angered, shocked, amused, saddened, gladdened; you will be amazed at the virtues of the vicious and the vices of the virtuous. And you will come back to your pulpit with an understanding heart which is better than a smart head.
And you will be following exactly in the steps of the Master, the friend of publicans and sinners. He was no pale recluse in some sheltered nook inventing fair theories of life that would not work. He mixed with the mob, the raw, genuine hash of humanity. He dined with them, walked with them, shared their simple joys and helped them in their sorrows. He liked them because they were exactly what they were and did not hide their failings behind the robes of superficial piety. The only set He could not endure was that Pharassic clan who thought they had religion sewed up in a bag with exclusive control of the puckering string. And He once boldly told them, “The publicans and harlots go into the Kingdom before you!”
What do you know about life? Think over it, brother.