The alarm on your smartphone cries its obnoxious wakeup alarm way too early on Monday morning. You stumble to the kitchen to grab one of the last clean coffee mugs and begin to pour yourself a cup of coffee. You sit down in your favorite chair, which may be just a bit too comfortable for such an early wakeup call. As you take a sip of hot coffee, you flop open your Bible and offer the simplest of prayers, “Father, I’m tired. Help me find rest for my soul in you this morning as I read your word.” With tired eyes you begin to make your way through the next chapter in your Bible Reading Plan, taking time to journal your thoughts and interesting tidbits as you go. When finished reading, you begin to pray again, but this time using the written thoughts from your Bible reading as your prayer guide. Minutes later, you are in the shower, and then kissing your bride and children as you leave for the office.
Hours later, you empty your email inbox, make a few calls to guests who attended your church the previous day, and grab lunch with a deacon. You, then, sit before your computer, open a Word document, and type the text range you plan to preach on Sunday. You once again flop open your Bible, just as you did earlier this morning, but this time you place it aside. Instead, you open your Bible software program and begin perusing the available commentaries and sermons on your text. You even take time to look through the bookshelves behind your desk to pull any relevant “hardbacks” you own. As you sit back down in your chair you realize that the day is passing by quicker than you though. You glance at tomorrow’s schedule and see that you have already scheduled meetings in the morning, another lunch, hospital visits in the early afternoon, and a counseling appointment before going home for dinner. Sermon preparation simply does not make the priority list tomorrow, and Wednesday will most focus on the Bible Study you teach in the evening. Knowing the predicament you now face, you must do something to prepare now to make you feel less stressed when you finally begin sermon prep on Thursday. What do you do? Of course! Google! Surely one of your favorite preachers worked through this same text at some point in his ministry. With so many audio and video links to sermons, you feel confident at least someone preached your passage before. It takes less than 60 seconds. You find it—a video sermon waiting for you to consume over the next 45 minutes. You watch it, and you love it.
When sermon prep day finally arrives, you once again take out your computer and open your Word doc. But this time the thoughts flow freely. Before you know it, the sermon has basically written itself. You feel relieved, even accomplished. You leave for home, and other than a fun gathering or two with friends you have a pretty relaxing weekend. Sunday arrives, and you do you what you always do. You sing with great gusto. And then the moment comes. A member of the worship team prays, and it is time for you to make your way to the pulpit. You do. You announce your text. You preach. The sermon seems to resonate with your congregation. Even a few guests who came seemed impressed. But as you drive home for Sunday lunch, you begin to get a feeling of sadness—even a sense of fraud. What could this be that is causing you to miss out on enjoying the moment? And then it hits you. You preached a sermon based completely on thoughts from others, and you do not even know if you really understand the text better than any other member of your congregation. Again, you offer a quick prayer as you drive, “Lord, I did not make your word my priority this week. Forgive me. Help me to do better next week.”
This scenario plays out week-after-week in many churches. Few pastors can say with honesty that they never experience the scenario for themselves. So we must ask why our personal time with the Lord on Monday morning seems more disciplined than our weekly sermon preparation time. During our “quiet times” we seek to commune with the Lord, revel in his gospel, and totally depend on him. So what makes sermon preparation any different? I suggest making your sermon prep look a bit more like your daily devotional time. Following these three guidelines may help:
- Make sermon preparation a time of communing with the Lord. Why do our daily devotionals seem like a means to an end—communing with the Lord—but our sermon prep seems like a means to another end—a good sermon? In reality, a preacher who seeks to fellowship with the Lord through the text during the week will preach a sermon with more impact on Sunday morning.
- Make sermon preparation a time of reveling in the gospel. The whole Bible points to the death-defying work of Jesus Christ. To preach a text in its proper context, a sermon must proclaim “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). Since this is the case, a preacher must spend time throughout the week asking how the text at hand points to Jesus and his gospel. But this is not merely an academic exercise; it is an opportunity to worship—to revel. Let the gospel impact you during the week, and then your people will be impacted on Sunday.
- Make sermon preparation a time of depending on the Lord. On Monday mornings, with a cup of coffee in our hands, we sense our need for the Lord. We depend upon him for grace and help. But in our sermon preparation we often focus solely on commentaries and other sermons as our aids. Pray to the Lord for help, yes, but make every step of the sermon preparation process an opportunity to express total dependence on the Lord.
Sermon preparation takes time and much effort. But as pastors called to “shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Pet 5:2), nothing we do is more important than getting the text into us so that we, in turn, can be used of God to get the text into others.