February was an interesting month. I preached three times in February, the same number of times I preached in the entirety of 2019. Preaching is serious business, and I can say that preaching in February was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I have greater respect for preachers who get on their pulpits to carry out that sacred task multiple times each month (and I still wonder how George Whitefield was able to survive under the demands of his preaching schedule).
My first challenge was finding the time to adequately prepare for my sermons. I work a full-time job that keeps me really busy. I am undergoing my compulsory post-graduate national youth service at a tech startup. And while it is usually the case for folks like myself to have pretty flexible schedules, I have not experienced the norm. In the past month I struggled to find the time for sermon preparation, especially on the days that I had to work overtime. My fight against time easily led me to panic. I got worked up over the clarity of my points. I doubted if I had gotten the interpretation of my texts right. I worried over everything.
Sermon structuring was also difficult for me. I have listened to great preachers preach and read many beautiful sermons, and I have been amazed by their excellent sermon structures. I grew up in a church where sermon structure wasn’t thought of as important. Pick a verse, have catchy quotes scattered in your sermon, add a few unforgettable illustrations, and have your conclusion–that was what I saw every Sunday while growing up. But I have come to appreciate well-structured sermons. If preaching is hard work, then preparing properly structured sermons is probably harder work. It was hard work for me.
I also experienced some difficulty with delivering my sermons. I never thought that preaching to a seemingly disinterested crowd would be difficult. On one occasion I saw someone sleeping through my sermon, and that disturbed me greatly. On another occasion, the yawns and side conversations made me wonder if I was doing something wrong. This is probably silly to admit, but my delivery got affected by how I perceived my audience. I found myself questioning my delivery. Is my voice loud enough? Am I pronouncing my words clearly? Am I using words or expressions that are beyond the understanding of my listeners? I was bothered by the reaction of my listeners.
But I didn’t encounter only difficulty last month. I was also greatly encouraged.
I was reminded that the Bible is a book that requires serious studying. This is especially true for the one who decides to take up the task of preaching. A preacher who desires to declare the whole counsel of God must be devoted to the study of the Word. He must be a man of the Word through and through. Perfunctory glances through Scripture is unacceptable. He must prayerfully study God’s Word if he is to speak for God. How will he know the mind of God if he doesn’t know His Word?
After a particularly discouraging sermon, I was encouraged by the truth that God always works through His word. Delivery is important, but it certainly is not all that preaching is about. I think of the conversion experience of Charles Spurgeon, and of the poor man who decided to stand in for the chapel preacher on that stormy day in Colchester, England. The poor man was unable to pronounce some of his words rightly, but it did not matter. The unstructured, poorly delivered sermon of an unprepared preacher was an instrument in God’s hand to bring the young Spurgeon to Christ. God does work through His Word, even when it isn’t presented with great eloquence.
After every sermon, I find that I still have a lot to learn. And if the Lord permits, I intend to learn all that can be learned. Or at least most of it.