Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Ultimate Mistake

I could continue this series indefinitely, but seven is a good number to end with. So this is both the last and the most serious mistake.

Before I explain what this mistake is, let me warn you that this one is tricky.

It is very easy to read what is here and say, "Well, of course." It is very easy for a preacher to think, "I would never do that." I know, because I used to think those things while I was making this very mistake.

The worst mistake a preacher can make is not relying upon the Holy Spirit in the preparation and presentation of the sermon.

I can remember a guest lecturer speaking to a homiletics class. He joked that Mark 13:11 did not apply to sermon preparation:

Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

He said that Jesus was talking about speaking before enemies. Then he added, "But in some churches that might be an accurate description of the sermon." I laughed along with everyone else.

But I'm beginning to think that this has more in common with preaching than we realize.

Let's get one thing out of the way right away: This is not an argument for laziness or a lack of preparation.

But what is Jesus saying here? He is saying:

"When you are up against it. When everything depends upon what you say and how you say it. When the stakes are high. Don't depend upon your intelligence, eloquence or charisma. Instead, depend entirely upon the Holy Spirit. And he will give you the words to say and will use those words to accomplish his purpose."

I have found myself in a similar situation preparing to preach. I had the choice to hang out with people (doing incarnational ministry) or to head to my office and prepare the sermon. I felt that it was more important to take advantage of the opportunity to build relationships, knowing that I was going to be under-prepared for Sunday morning.

Instead of panicking and worrying about what profound things I was going to say, I prayed and trusted the Holy Spirit to "come through for me."

And with the little time I had left on Sunday morning, God gave me something significant to say. And he gave me a peace, reminding me that the impact of the sermon depended upon his activity and power rather than mine.

I then realized that the most important part of the preparation process was for me to depend upon the Holy Spirit.

(This is where you think, "Well, of course. That guy sure is a slow learner.")

But I'm not talking about saying a prayer for guidance at the beginning of the research phase. I'm not talking about reminding myself that my efforts are worthless unless God blesses them. Nor am I talking about doing the "holy huddle" right before the service and praying for God to work through me.

I'm talking about really trusting God. I'm talking about taking the pressure off me in the preparation and presentation of the sermon. I'm talking being sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit the whole time. (For me this usually comes in the form of thoughts or feelings.) I'm talking about letting God speak out of what he's doing in my life.

This is almost impossible to communicate in words.

For years I thought I was "trusting God." But I was really depending upon my research, my communication skills and my natural empathy.

I have found that it wasn't until I had nothing else to put my hope in that I found out what it really means to trust God.

It's working without a net.

God is perfectly happy to use my abilities. He gave them to me after all. But they are useful only after I have learned to trust him, really trust him.

I think I am actually starting to understand what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 2:4:

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power.

He didn't mean that he was lazy or sloppy. Rather, he had learned to speak with the power that only comes from complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit.

May God so equip us all.

(Remember, Jesus' words in Mark 13:11 don't apply only to people who get paid to preach sermons in church buildings.)

Pastor Rod

"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"


jeff franczak said...

Rod, this is my favorite post of your entire series.

I agree with what you’re saying about making the mistake of thinking we’re relying on God, when we’re really not, or not enough. I also think much of what you said also applies to both personal and group Bible study.

I can understand that being sensitive to and yielded to the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential, yet if my “approach” is wrong, then I’m going to miss the mark. I think sensitivity to the Holy Spirit will mostly and naturally flow out of a good relationship with Him. A intimate relationship does not turn on-and-off like a light switch—it takes a ongoing desire and commitment and nurturing. So, while an honest prayer for God’s help is always good, it’s only just scratching the surface of being truly dependent upon (surrendered to) Him.

I also had a few thoughts about how this topic applies to the congregation. I need to come with spirit of humility and repentance—reminding myself that I am completely dependant upon God’s grace. Then, I want to be inspired to be more than a mere listener; I want to be consciously relying on and asking the Holy Spirit to help me participate in the message—to be able to hear what He’s wanting to say to me (and maybe to the congregation) and then go live it.

Last thought... As the congregation, we also need to be praying for our pastor(s), musicians, teachers, ushers...everyone ministering...and everyone being ministered to, especially guests.

M. Pease said...

Jeff has a very good point, that the congregation shares the responsibility for a "good sermon". While I appreciate your list, we all have a need to learn about God and His ways, and then go out and live our lives in relationship with/to Him from that.

Without the Holy Spirit's intimate involvement in my every day life (and my co-operation) all the great sermons in the world will make little difference.

Pastor Rod said...


You're absolutely right about the relationship part.

I was trying to make clear the difference between pretending to rely on God and actually doing so. In the process, I forgot the most important part. The specific prayer must be within a context of surrender and continual communication.


Pastor Rod said...


I agree. In fact, I see the call to "missional living" as one of the primary purposes of every sermon.