“Can you hear me now?” is the question that the actor with the horn-rimmed glasses, Paul Marcarelli, made famous after asking the question over and over again on Verizon commercials from 2002 to 2011. Many times, it is easy to feel just like Marcarelli when we’re pleading with the Lord: “Can you hear me now?”
There are those glorious times when we open God’s Word, and the Spirit speaks loudly and clearly. The text seems to unfold naturally into clear points, and illustrations just fall from the sky. Then, there are those other times. The dreadful times when the Scripture isn’t as clear; the illustrations and applications are hard to find, and worst of all, God seems silent.
What do we do when the preaching deadline is coming and it seems as though God is not hearing me, or rather, I’m not hearing Him?
Here are five things to do when God seems silent in our sermon prep.
Pray and Pray Some More
When we’re not praying, we’re essentially operating as a lone ranger. Even, though we’d never say it, our actions are saying, “God, I got this one. I don’t need you.” However, we are desperately in need of the Lord to speak through us, even when we feel like we can’t hear Him. Prayer is the high-octane-fuel for every aspect of the preaching ministry. Plus, there are times when we have to trust the Word that we are trying to convince others to believe – God is always listening. “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Pet 3:12).
Do the Work of a Student
I’ve always heard “your devotional reading should be separate from your reading and studying for sermon prep.” Obviously, this is solid advice. However, I don’t know about you, but I’ve always studied, prepped, and built sermons from learning Scripture through a devotional perspective. I can’t teach a text that hasn’t first taught me. What I mean is, I’m always going to be most effective when I am preaching, speaking and teaching out of the overflow of my own worship of Jesus from that week’s sermon prep. As communicators, we need that Word poured over us first, and prayerfully it splashes on others through the preaching.
Don’t miss God’s voice in that hard work. Sometimes, He screams loudly in those study hours, and sometimes He is speaking ever so quietly in a whisper. But, I promise He is speaking to your spirit through those commentaries, lexicons and mostly through the Scriptures.
Let the Word Be God’s Voice
When Scripture speaks, God speaks. We must realize, every time we read, memorize, and proclaim God’s Word—that is Him speaking. God’s Word is God’s voice. Even as preachers, teachers and leaders, there should never be a time when we’re pleading with God to speak to us while we have His Word closed collecting dust.
On a side note, could it be that sometimes we feel God is silent in our sermon prep because we’ve limited our sermon prep to spending a couple of hours rummaging around the internet finding someone else’s sermon to preach? At the end of the day, we all borrow and learn from each other. However, may we not be a people who download our sermons. Instead, let us be a people who dive deeply into the Holy Scriptures to find a specific word for a specific people at a specific time. God speaks in those moments.
Trust the Word
If you’ve been preaching or speaking for any length of time, then you’ve most likely had some moments when you’re standing in front of a crowd ready to deliver a message that you’re lacking confidence in, because you feel as though God has been silent all week. It’s in those moments that you have to trust God at His Word. Be confident in what you’re saying. If you’re preaching the Bible and not your opinions, then you can be completely confident in the words that are being proclaimed. His Word won’t return void (Isa 55:11). Remember, this is a promise about Scripture, not our sermons. If your sermon is filled with opinions and self-help, then it most likely will return void. However, if it is filled with Scripture, you should be filled with confidence in what you’re saying.
Trust the Spirit
One of the greatest nuggets ever passed on to me about trusting the Spirit in preaching was given to me right before stepping behind the pulpit for the first time: “Remember that the same Holy Spirit inside of you is the same Holy Spirit who wrote the Scriptures that you’re about to preach. He knows how to communicate His Word.” Wow! I’ve never forgotten that. Trust the Spirit. He wrote the Bible. He dwells inside of you. He knows the needs and conditions of the people. He will be faithful to work through the proclamation of His Word.
In the moments that we feel like God has been silent, we can default to trying to manipulate a movement and a message. Fight against that. Instead, just trust the Spirit of the Lord. If He can speak through a donkey, He can speak through us.
Shane Pruitt is the National Next Gen Evangelism Director for the North American Mission Board.