It’s Sunday night. It’s late. You’re exhausted. But you just can’t seem to turn off your mind. You had an unexpected funeral on Tuesday (when are they ever expected?), a wedding on Saturday, and you preached the best sermon you knew how—but no one seemed to be listening. You kept tapping the mic and asking, “Is this thing on?”
After a Sunday afternoon deacon’s meeting, a late dinner with the family and wrapping up loose ends over email, you are spent. And the worst part is, you know you are going to wake up tomorrow morning and have to do the whole thing over again. Sunday is still a-coming. With the grind of standing in the pulpit week after week, Sunday after Sunday, can anyone really expect more from you?
Yet it seems like they always do. Their expectations are through the roof. Podcasts of the greatest preachers of our day are always within reach, and how can any normal person compare with those guys? They listen to your best efforts, and they seem sleepily interested at best. Why don’t they care about what you’re saying? Why can’t they grasp this truth? Why doesn’t it excite them? There is a simple answer to this problem.
It doesn’t excite them because it doesn’t excite you.
Let me ask you a hard question. How can your flock care about something you don’t care about? Now, don’t look at me like that. I know what you’re thinking. I do care about God’s truth. I love God’s Word. I’ve studied for hours and prepared my sermon with precision. How can you say I don’t care? I can say that because preparation and passion are not the same thing.
A great danger of antiseptic preaching looms over every person who has the privilege of stepping into the pulpit week after week. You can have all the content in the world, and it can still be sterile and distant. And if that happens, all people can hear are empty words reverberating around an empty church.
Now, don’t hear me wrong. Content is supremely important. Passion cannot compensate for anemic substance. But sermons as deep as the ocean can still be presented with the excitement of drying paint. The light of God’s word must merge with the fiery heat of passion if a sermon is ever going to do what only a sermon can do.
I know you’re probably asking, “Where am I supposed to conjure up more passion, friend? I’m tapped. I’m giving it all she’s got, Scottie.” If you’re seeking passion, you won’t ever find it. Passion is the by-product of a different pursuit. You’ll find it as you look for something else—actually, Someone else. You’ll discover your passion as you discover more of God.
Prayer is the foremost creator of heat in the pulpiteer’s life. Pastor, I challenge you to develop a robust prayer life and see if passion doesn’t ooze out of you. When I talk about a prayer life, I don’t mean just a generic prayer life. I mean a habitual prayer life specifically directed at your responsibility in the pulpit. You need to learn the art of praying in a sermon.
I know time is a precious commodity in every pastor’s world, but one of the greatest mistakes you can make is letting the tyranny of the urgent rob you of directed, concerted time in prayer over the sermon. I encourage you to find a time, when the sermon is already fleshed out, to go into the worship room and pray in the sermon. Here’s what I mean: Get on your face and let God examine your heart; confess your sin and empty yourself of the baggage that’s built up over the week.
Then, walk around the room praying over your ability to internalize the message. Pray for the truth you are about to declare over the flock to penetrate your heart first. Own the challenge, and apply it inwardly before you preach it outwardly. Nothing will develop passion more quickly and reliably than letting His word filet your heart open before you attempt to slice open others’.
Next, spend time praying over the seats or pews in the room. Let the Lord bring to mind parts of the sermon He wants you to pray over the congregation. Tarry over sections of the room, praying specifically for certain portions of the message over certain people who will come. When you do this, something marvelous will happen. You’ll begin to remember that God is still in the business of changing lives through His word. That’s when it starts getting stuck all up in your craw.
None of us would admit it, but there are times we forget that God’s word still has power. We don’t preach with heat because we don’t expect results. It is prayer that sets up your heart to expect God to move. It is prayer that snaps you out of your stupor. It is prayer that opens you back up to the supernatural world of an infinite God.
Pastor, your people will start caring when you start caring.
I know you love God and you love His word. But pastoring can cool the heat of ministry in a way that only prayer can restore. Make time for it. Depend on it. And watch the forest set ablaze as His fire gets loose among your people!