A burning fire shut up in my bones


If I say, “I will not mention him,
    or speak any more in his name,”
then within me there is something like a burning fire
    shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
    and I cannot.  Jeremiah 20:9


It’s a funny thing, this preaching life.

I didn’t want it when I started. I resisted as much as I have resisted anything in my life. I was willing to do just about anything but getting up in front of a group of people on Sunday morning.

To make matters worse, I wasn’t particularly promising with my first effort. There was the preaching class at seminary, of course, which was bad enough, but there was also that first church where I preached. If some people resigned their memberships that day when I preached my first sermon, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

In an act of grace and compassion, however, my supervisor never told me. I learned later, several years later, that people looked around when I was finished and wondered, “What was that?” Not disapproval so much as disbelief. They weren’t even sure it was a sermon.

I clearly had a long way to go.

But I kept at it. I don’t know why. Maybe it was God’s determination to have me, the way God has been determined down through the centuries to have countless others like me.

Whatever it was, I made myself do it. For a number of years I remember arriving at the church on Sunday mornings before dawn to preach my sermon over and over to an empty sanctuary. Getting there before the custodian was always a challenge, but I did it. I can’t think of anything in my life I’ve ever been so determined to do.

Now, more than 30 years have passed, and – strangely, oddly – I can’t imagine another life for myself. This way of life I resisted for so long has become so much a part of me that I actually look forward to it each week. I miss it when I don’t do it. I squirm uncomfortably when I have to listen to others do it – not because they’re bad, but because I feel deep inside as though I should be doing it.

On Saturday mornings, when I feel as though the next day’s sermon will finally preach, I do a fist pump and let out a yell, the way an athlete would who scored the winning goal or who broke the tape at the end of a marathon. Even the dog doesn’t jump anymore when I do it.

But I do it out of a sense of joy and satisfaction and gratitude.  What a privileged life.

(Photo: That’s the medieval fortress on the banks of Lake Geneva near Montreux known as Chateau de Chillon. I was there Monday, and – yes – it’s that beautiful.)

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.


15 Responses to A burning fire shut up in my bones

  1. Lisa Blake October 11, 2014 at 6:35 am #

    I cannot imagine you ever not being a good preacher. God works with us all to do what we are suppose to do in this life. Another wonderful reminder I needed to hear this week. So glad I found your blog at this time!
    Peace, Lisa

    • Doug October 11, 2014 at 9:00 am #

      Good to hear from you, Lisa. And thank you for the kind words. You will be glad to know that it was the wonderful people in Wheaton who showed me what they wanted from a preacher.

  2. Susan October 11, 2014 at 8:33 am #

    I moved to Munich just a short time after you began at IPC. I was blessed and encouraged the few times I was able to hear you preach. This is a great post, not to mention a beautiful photograph. Yes, it *IS* that beautiful there, isn’t it?

    • Doug October 11, 2014 at 11:34 am #


  3. Jonathan wheeler October 11, 2014 at 8:36 am #

    I agree with Lisa. I was visiting Switzerland last month, visited your church and heard your sermon on Faith and Science and it was brilliant. Glad you persevered! Kind regards, Jonathan Wheeler

    • Doug October 11, 2014 at 11:35 am #

      Thanks for the kind words, Jonathan!

  4. Jeff October 11, 2014 at 9:05 am #

    I always looked forward to your words. I liked that you seemed to be talking with us not at us, and that you always used the right amount of self disclosure. I always wonder when listening to the several “preachers” if they walked the walk, while with you, it most often felt as if you were in this “trying to do what God wants even when we messed up” as much as I do. Pleasing God, doing what is right, living as if we were really Jesus’ disciples can be hard, and you at least admitted it. In my own work, self disclosure works well with the new ones, and not so much with those who have been around for awhile. New ones are anxious to know we all make mistakes at what we are trying, while those who have been at it a while – the middlins – think they know everything already. Then there are us old farts, like me, just wondering if God even smiles and listens. Or in my work, they wonder if just being with a patient might be enough. I wondered at the parallels in our similar but different fields of life. You did well, most of the time, Doug. I think that is sufficient in any of our work.

    • Doug October 11, 2014 at 11:37 am #

      And I always look forward to your thoughtful responses, Jeff. In an international setting, interestingly, I am having to rethink the subject of appropriate self-disclosure. I get many comments about that – not critical, but surprised and taken aback. Am glad you’re a reader.

      • Jeff October 11, 2014 at 12:55 pm #

        I found that when I cpntextualized it by saying my way of teaching or supervising or counseling may be different than what they were used to – not better not worse just different. And that it comes from the family and culture and training I have had. I own it. I would not ask them to change the way they do their work. And that although I would be glad to discuss it with them I would hope that they would be comfortable enough to know that there is another way of doing the work that they See me doing. I try to open it up for discussion. Of course there are always those who believe their way is correct. I’ve seen mission pastors and psychologists alike. Sometimesit just doesn’t work because of our own worldviews.

  5. Jane Sepke Price October 11, 2014 at 9:08 am #

    You made me want to go to church again! I was in a very needy place when I first came to First Pres. I used to sit right in front so I could catch every word. You shared wonderful stories that really spoke to me. More than 10 years later, I still use my Doug quote “The road to the promised land is through the wilderness.” I remember telling you once that I promise I won’t cry through every sermon. Thank you for sharing your gifts.


    • Doug October 11, 2014 at 11:39 am #

      I’m not sure I can take credit for that, Jane! But I’m glad to have been there when you were ready to listen. Did I really say, “The road to the promised land is through the wilderness”? I was just a kid!

  6. Mandana Sharifi October 11, 2014 at 10:04 am #

    Dear Doug …I’m still trying to find a good home for Pooki (the Maltese) so I could make the trip over…but with faith I have already bought my ticket to UK from Jan 16th for just under 2 weeks hence will try my very best to pop over to your lovely adopted home, Switzerland! I love castles and the baroque architecture and artifacts so perhaps one day will get a tour of the above castle? :0) Stay blessed as we all know you are to us…

    Hugs from mom & I,


    • Doug October 11, 2014 at 11:40 am #

      Would love to see you, Mandana. I should be here when you’re in Europe, so just let me know. And say hi to your mom from me.

      • Rick Oppenhuizen October 11, 2014 at 1:26 pm #

        Wow, I can resonate with these words. My “squirming” happened in the pews of Beechwood Church in Holland, MI. The preacher was great but I knew that I was supposed to be the one up there. So I followed the burning. Jer. 20:9 was on my original resume’ and I continue to feel that burning every Sunday morning. It feels like a horse at the gate ready to run the derby. Preaching is an awful and awesome thing. Holding up the Word is like a surgeon holding someone’s heart in his hand. It’s awful, but probably because I am an awful human creature. (Really God? Couldn’t you do better?) But it’s also awesome, because of our awesome God. It’s an awesome thing to hold up the very Word of God. So I pray that God will keep your fire burning (and mine) for a good long time to come. Preach it Brother and thanks again for these wonderful words.

        • Doug October 11, 2014 at 1:39 pm #

          When you and I were playing bumper pool in your parents’ basement – at age 14 or 15? – I could not imagine that both of us would be pastors and doing what you call this “awesome thing” each week. Thanks for the encouragement, Rick. I will pray that God keeps the fire burning in you as well.

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