An excerpt from a conversation I have more times than I count:
Me: How’s your sermon going this week?
Pastor Anony Mous : Not great, really struggling. Don’t feel like I have anything to say. Feeling lost and frustrated.
I know, I’m describing all of us, almost all of the time. Except for those mythical pastors, aka every other pastor in the world, who we assume never struggle in their preaching like we do.
In some ways, this is good. It’s good for pastors to come before God utterly helpless and completely dependent on him as we prepare to imperfectly preach his perfect word to our imperfect people. But I think a pattern of discouragement can easily consume us if we don’t guard our preaching from becoming a preoccupation with self-improvement.
So a few encouragements for those of us who never feel like we’re preaching the sermon we could or should be preaching.
You can never preach tomorrow’s sermon today.
It goes without saying that you may never develop into a G. Whitefield, C. Spurgeon, B. Graham, M. Lloyd-Jones or T. Keller, but even if you do, you will not preach the sermon God gives you tomorrow, today. God has called you, before the foundation of the world, to preach from the place you’re at with the perspective you’ve been given in the moment he has prepared for you to give it. And it’s a beautifully sovereign, intricately ordained, and lovingly organic moment of heavenly proportions.
The sermon God gives you today is formed from the new morning mercies and diversely layered graces meant to inform the particular sanctification he has mysteriously designed for both you and your people. That sermon you’re despairing over today contains Spirit-enriching nutrients God has pre-ordained for the gospel vitality of your people as he prepares them for tomorrow. If your people were merely products to produce or problems to fix, than that excuse-for-a-sermon you dejectedly hold in your hands would continue to be joylessly inadequate. Thankfully, your people are persons, made in the image of God, who are being formed into a community of worshippers being stripped of their debilitating self-glory by the words you are preaching to them. Today!
Trust God instead of your sermon
Does this sound basic? Because I don’t think it is at all. Yes, we approach God’s word with a worshipful and weighty sobriety, committed to achieving standards worthy of the cross we preach: good exposition, imaginative illustrations, grace-driven application and clear, compelling communication. But let’s not assume that we’re ever correct in knowing whether we’ve achieved those aims or not.
The Apostle Paul basically confesses in 1 Corinthians 2 that he’s not the world’s greatest preacher, but that the point of preaching is not how good or bad the pastor feels the sermon went AT ALL, because a pastors faith should not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. Let me say it like this: it doesn’t matter what you or anyone else thinks about your sermon as long as it is a demonstration of the Spirit and of power.
So by all means, labor to the glory of God over your carefully worded manuscript, but make sure you rest from your labor by removing your trust from your words to His word, which never return void. What this means is that every preacher spends time confessing every week that his feeble sermon for fragile people is simply the foolish method used by a faithful God.
Remember the right things about other pastors
Pause and reflect on some of the defining sermons God has used in your life to reveal his wisdom, and remember who these sermons were composed by: alarmingly weak, battle-weary men experiencing the lightless fog of unclear minds, the saccharine deceptiveness of praise-seeking hearts, the scathing attacks of disgruntled parishioners, and the dull ache of doubt and disillusionment. These were mere men, who had to put their pants on one leg at a time before stepping into a pulpit just like yours, while holding in their hands a manuscript they felt was barely deserving of the title sermon. And yet, that was the sermon God used on that day to awaken the dawn that had been lying dormant inside of you! Not only that, but God also used that moment to deepen an ordinary, ordained man who just preached a sermon he’d rather forget.
So pastor, preach what you have! It was given to you by God, for today, before the foundation of the world, for the good of your people and a glory not of your own.