And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
— 1 Corinthians 2:3
Our Moscow church waited many years to have its own building, and when that moment finally came and we moved in, it was a time of great rejoicing. The building had been constructed debt-free, and it was one of the few church buildings of its type in Russia. I was so awestruck by what God had done that when I first approached the pulpit to preach, I found myself trembling.
I have always felt comfortable speaking to people from the pulpit. However, when our congregation moved into the new facility, I understood that the transition held more significance than a simple change of venue. The whole scope of our ministry had been elevated, and I had a palpable awareness that I was being held to a higher level of accountability. Every word I spoke from that pulpit had to be accurate, at least to the best of my ability, because it would be carried far and wide on television and the Internet, and the impact would be great.
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In the week prior to the official move, I was gripped by a sense of electric anticipation. I pored over my notes again and again, trying to discern if there was one last truth that I needed to share from the pulpit. When Sunday finally arrived, I rose up early that morning, reviewed all of my notes again, drove to the church building, and entered the main auditorium with the full knowledge of what God was expecting in my delivery. Stepping up to the platform, I could literally feel myself tremble as I approached the moment when I was to speak behind that pulpit as the oracle of God to our church congregation.
Speaking for God is a great responsibility for any preacher of the Gospel, and the older I get, the more aware I am of the magnitude of this responsibility. I do not always tremble when I speak, but there are certainly moments when I do. The apostle Paul must have felt similarly at times, because he referred to a “great trembling” that he experienced as he prepared to preach to the pagan audience in the city of Corinth. In his first epistle to these Corinthian believers, Paul reflected, “And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3).
When Paul first stood up to preach before that crowd of pagans, he was about to begin his public ministry in Corinth — a city rife with paganism, immorality, and demon spirits. Paul knew that he was totally dependent on the power of God and would have no success in Corinth without it. Therefore, he was overwhelmed with a sense of utter dependence upon God.
Paul actually says that in that moment, he experienced “much trembling.” This is a translation of the Greek phrase is en tromos polloo. The word en means “in” and describes the state of being that he was “in” when he began his ministry to the Corinthians. What was that state of being? Paul told us with the preceding Greek word, tromos, which means to shake, to quake, or to tremble. He even told us the extent to which he was trembling by adding the word polloo, which describes a large magnitude or a great quantity. Together these words emphatically tell us that Paul literally “shook” as he stood up to preach to the Corinthians.
But what would make Paul feel such a great trembling? He had stood in front of large audiences and preached the Gospel on numerous occasions throughout the Roman Empire. So why did he feel such a strong inner shaking then?
Paul had just come from Athens, where his success as a preacher of the Gospel had been limited (see Acts 17:32-34), and it is likely that he felt that he had failed there. He was also very aware of his own shortcomings as an eloquent public speaker (see 2 Corinthians 10:10). Knowing that refined oratory skills were important to a Greek audience, Paul may have felt overwhelmed by his inadequacy of speech as he remembered his experience in Athens and prepared to publicly declare the Gospel to the Corinthians. And as if these feelings were not enough, Paul was very aware that enemies were present in the crowd, lying in wait to attack him over the slightest verbal misstep. Any of these factors may have contributed to the “great trembling” he felt that day.
However, in spite of the emotions that tried to engulf Paul at that pivotal moment, he made a decision that proved to be key to the outcome of his entire ministry from that moment onward. He determined he would know nothing among the people except the simple message of Jesus Christ crucified for them (see 1 Corinthians 2:2) — and then he went on to preach in the power and demonstration of the Spirit (v. 4). In the end, the apostle’s ministry in Corinth was an amazing success that led to the establishment of one of the most important congregations in the early Church. His feelings of inadequacy produced an utter dependence upon the power of God that resulted in a message that was accompanied by supernatural manifestations — which proved far more successful than any elegant oratory skills.
Over the years I have come to realize that if such a powerful apostle like Paul felt weakness and trembling from time to time, others who are called to do something significant for God may also feel such emotions when it is their moment to stand up and be counted. That was precisely what I felt when I stood in the pulpit of our new Moscow church during those first weeks — totally insufficient without the power of God assisting me. But in spite of that tangible sense of my own natural deficiencies, I have also sensed an increased level of God’s power manifested every time the Gospel is proclaimed from the platform of our new church building. To God be the glory! It is all for Him and His purposes!
So how does this apply to you?
When you are called upon to do something new — something that seems bigger than you or outside of your capabilities, yet you know it is your assignment — that is the moment for you to push aside those feelings of deficiency and turn to the sufficiency of the Holy Spirit. Prepare as well as you can, but when the time comes for you to stand, to speak, to sing, to witness, or to testify, lean upon the Holy Spirit and His power.
Train and prepare as much as you can, but make room for the Holy Spirit to do His part that only He can do. You may feel “great trembling” at that moment, but if you’ll make room for the power of God to operate, you’ll see Him work with convincing proof that is far more effective than anything you could do on your own. In fact, you’ll be utterly amazed at the things God works through you!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Father, I admit that I’ve had moments when I shook to the core when it was time for me to stand up and publicly speak, sing, testify, or to take a public position on an issue. Today I surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit, I ask You to do the supernatural part that I cannot do. I’ll train, prepare, and present my body to You as a living sacrifice. As I do my part, I ask for and yield to Your help as You step forward to do the part that only You can do. I am completely and utterly dependent on You.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that I have felt weakness, fear, and great trembling at times when I’ve been called to stand up and be counted in a significant way. But from this point onward, I will do my best to train, study, and prepare so that when my moment comes to step forward, I will lean upon the Holy Spirit and not on my preparation alone. I will make room for the Holy Spirit to work, and I declare that He will work through me with supernatural, convincing powers that are far more effective than anything I could have ever done in my own strength!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Have you ever had a “great trembling” moment in your life? When was that moment, and what about that event caused you to feel such trembling? Did you experience the power of God in that experience? What did you learn from that experience?
- The next time you are called to stand up and do something that will be viewed publicly or significantly, what will you do differently than the last time? What did you learn from your last experience that will make you act differently the next time an opportunity arises?
- Can you think of other Bible personalities who had “trembling” moments in their lives, but who experienced the power of God? Who were they? Can you make a list of them by name?