By Steven Smith
"Oh, everyone preaches at our house sir."
The year was 1935. On a large farm in Oklahoma, a young boy named Dalton Jennings felt the responsibility and freedom that came from farming life. He was up early, tended to all his chores, and enjoyed a somewhat quiet early childhood. Yet, it was at the age of nine when things began to change.
A farming accident left his father with a head injury causing severe hearing loss and occasional headaches. Like all in the farming community, he simply got by in life and did the best he could with the limited help of rural medicine. He got along, that is, with one hitch. In order to communicate with his father, Dalton and the entire family had to yell. And yell they did. In the morning and evening the pleasant home was filled with continual yelling. No emotions involved … just loud voices bellowing in natural compensation for Dad's hearing loss.
When Dalton was fourteen, the local preacher was making conversation with his family after church and kindly said, "Son, maybe you will make a preacher one day."
"Oh, everyone preaches at our house sir." Dalton quipped. It seems that preaching and yelling were the same for this quiet, precocious child. The pastor was so amused at this young man, he asked him to return that evening and read Scripture and have prayer before "Christian Training Union" time.
Young Dalton unpretentiously approached the front of the church that afternoon, arousing only mild expectation from his listeners. He turned to Matthew 5 to read the beatitudes and, knowing his dad was in the audience, proceeded to belt the words of Christ in a thunderous voice. Neither the congregation, nor Dalton, realized the gift he had honed for years in the daily conversation of his home. The stunned crowd sat in silence at the quiet boy with the massive voice. When the pastor affirmed him after the service, Dalton simply replied, "I told you, everyone preaches at our house."
Dalton would soon win the hearts of his surprised family and friends in the small farming community. They loved him for his passion and his quiet demeanor that morphed into a thunderous voice when before a crowd.
Inevitably, Dalton would leave the farm to pursue training for Christian ministry. He returned a year later to preach both Sunday services at his home church. Dalton did not let on that he was disappointed with only little success in his training, and preaching abroad.
However. that afternoon he shared his frustration with his uneducated father who had sensed something was wrong with the morning sermon. His father had always been silent on such matters, but a flood of bottled up wisdom poured out when he gave Dalton the secret that would change his life forever.
"Son you can't preach because you have not listened. It's not that people don't listen to you, its that you don't listen to God."
"But, Dad, I have the best voice of anyone my age!"
"Dalton, preaching is not people hearing you, it's you hearing from God." Dalton was bewildered at his father's presumption that he could tell him about ministry, and he turned to walk away.
Countering his son's frustration, he said in his loud voice, "Son, don't you know how hard it is for me to hear?" His father continued to yell. "Every day that I wake up I strain to hear the smallest sound! But I don't care, because you learned your voice through my pain. I think I'm deaf so others won't have to be."
He continued, "Now you have to go before God everyday and strain to hear the voice of God. Listen hard to hear every little sound. And if you don't plan on hearing from God, my pain and your preaching will both be lost; so do us both a favor and farm. Or, you to go in the house and don't come out till you've heard from God."
After a short pause, the father added, "My deafness gave you a voice, … your deafness will take it away." The stinging reality of those words compelled Dalton to go the house and bury himself in a backroom.
When he entered the pulpit that night he preached with the passion of a man who had heard from God. In that moment, Dalton realized that he stood on the shoulder of his father's pain every time he preached. And, that if he did not strain to hear from the Father who saved him, he would waste the sacrifice and pain of his father who raised him.
And when the hour comes that he must speak, he ought, before he opens his mouth, to lift up a thirsty soul to God, to drink in what he is about to pour forth, and to be himself filled with what he is about to distribute.
© 2000 Steven Smith
Steven Smith is a pastor and conference speaker who sees threads
of theology and philosophy woven through the stories of our lives.
Courtesy of The Center for the Study of Faith and Culture College of Communication and the Arts Regent University