While I am committed to giving the Holy Spirit all the time He wants, I personally need the discipline of a clock. It is good training for me to know I do not have all day to deliver my message. Without the clock's reminder, my human nature may become careless and abusive. With the clock, I become much more precise and to the point. Am I suggesting that we put a time limit on the Holy Spirit? Absolutely not! Am I saying that we ministers need the discipline of self-imposed time-limits? Absolutely yes. Without it, the quality of our preaching will degenerate. If I refuse to acknowledge my need of the clock then I reveal another problem: Conceit.

The night I was ordained in 1949, my pastor said to me, "Charles, when your ministry has ended, you will have preached more sermons to more people if you have been considerate of their time." The following year, someone else told me, "Words are like the rays of the sun --- the more they are condensed, the more deeply they burn." Like it or not, the clock is one of the best tools preachers have in achieving that "condensing". Sir Winston Churchill said of another speaker, "He used a gallon of words to express a spoonful of thought." That is precisely what we do not need in the ministry. Preachers are like cooks, some leave the pot on the stove long after the water is gone. The key is not in watching the clock, but in listening to the Holy Spirit.

Years ago I heard comedian George Burns tell an audience, "The best advice for young comedians is 'Leave them while they're laughing'." He was absolutely right. Carnal as that wisdom is, we preachers need it. The sad epitaph to many a good sermon was that the pastor did not leave until "long after they had quit listening." We have all been caught in the painful situation of hearing some pastor ramble beyond the point of endurance and then blame his time-waste on the Holy Spirit. That is an affront to the integrity of God. Under no circumstances should we put a time limit on the Holy Spirit or interfere with His freedom. Equally so, whenever we expect the Holy Spirit to honor our carelessness we need the clock's alarm-bell to ring loud and clear.

The day Abraham Lincoln delivered the two-minute Gettysburg Address, one of the most famous speeches in American history, he was preceded by another speaker who bored the audience with a two-hour message. The people were exhausted when Lincoln came to the podium. But what words he spoke! They were like burning rays of the sun. What made the difference? Abraham Lincoln gave his listeners the blesssing of an inspired, disciplined, well-trained mind. The other speaker, whose name and message means nothing today, refused the benefit of his watch.

A few years ago, after suffering through a speaker's painfully long message, I wrote these words:

This is it, The final spot;
Where all lines learned
Are now forgot.
The show is over.
The guests have gone,
But the speaker —
Bless his blindness—
Keeps droning on.

As you pray for us pastors to experience the anointing of the Holy Spirit, pray that we will allow ourselves to be disciplined, well trained; pray that we never become insensitive to the Holy Spirit or to the audience. Pray that we will present God's Word with the intensity of sunlight through a magnifying lens. Pray that His words will be precise and burning. And please pray that we will not reject any tool of learning --- including the clock.    

Chas