I want to share something with you today that’s very personal. This is not sad, it’s not disturbing, this doesn’t depress me in the least. Don’t mis-read or mis-interpret today’s post. This is a reality I’m only just now recognizing in the past two or three years, and I want to simply acknowledge it.
I’m sharing this for two reasons: One, I want all preachers who read this post to fully understand that they are not alone and, two, I want everybody else who reads this post to have a better understanding of something really weird and quirky about their pulpit guy.
The Sunday sermon is brutal.
The weekly homily consumes me every waking moment of my every day. I think about it all the time. Mowing the yard. Eating dinner with the family. Watching a baseball game. During a meeting. When I get up in the morning and when I close my eyes at night, I’m thinking about the sermon. Maybe I need to arrange the points differently. Should I leave out that illustration? Should both of those passages be used or just one of them? Is this truly what the Scripture says or am I making this up? Does this encourage anybody? Do I need a better example? Should I use that person’s name in this story or not? Does the end connect to the beginning? Are they going to hear what I want them to hear? One more word study. Look up one more cross reference. One more prayer begging God to reveal himself to me one more time. It truly consumes me. I can be having a conversation with you, face to face, about your family or your job or the Rangers or the fact that my house is on fire and burning to the ground, and I’ve still got the sermon in the back of my mind: Is there something in 2 Thessalonians about God’s providence? The sermon is this thing that hangs over me, following me, always with me, always there.
The sermon is never finished. It’s 10:00 Friday morning and the sermon for this Sunday is finished. But it’s really not. I’ll be obsessing over it all day today, at several points during the Amarillo – Tascosa game tonight, and all day tomorrow. I’ll be second guessing some key components of the sermon during Bible class Sunday. It’s brutal.
And when the sermon is finally delivered…
I’m almost always disappointed.
I’m telling you, it’s brutal.
It rarely turns out as good as it was supposed to. It hardly ever lives up to what it should. There’s a tremendous sense of relief, but a more pronounced feeling of let-down. It sounded so grand in my head, it felt so inspirational in my prayers, it meant so much to me when I read it from the Bible, but it didn’t come out of my mouth that way.
The words of the 4th century preacher Augustine, who lived with this same agony week after week, resonate in my soul: “I am saddened that my tongue cannot live up to my heart.”
Now that I’ve actually written this down, it looks and sounds depressing. But, really, it’s not. It’s just a weird reality for me and, I’m guessing, all preachers except maybe Rick Atchley. To be consumed by and obsessed with something all week long and never have it turn out just right is the reality of this calling.
But so is the beauty of God’s grace.
I experience God’s grace in my preaching nearly every Sunday. This is also a reality of the calling: that through my inadequacies and shortcomings and full-on failures, our sovereign Lord is doing eternal work. He shows it to me every week. He is at work when his Word is being proclaimed. He is doing salvation and reconciliation and sanctification when his Gospel is being preached. He affirms that to me almost every single week in very real and encouraging ways. And I’m so grateful. Most preachers do understand this. I suppose it’s the best reason most of us keep doing the chore.
That gives real meaning and purpose to the terror of the weekly sermon, but it doesn’t alter the terrible cycle for the preacher. So, when your preacher doesn’t seem fully engaged, maybe a bit distant, not totally there, give him a break — he’s thinking about the sermon. And on Sunday afternoon and evening when he’s a bit quieter than normal or even withdrawn, cut him some slack — the sermon wasn’t as good as it should have been.
A couple of you dear friends and a blood relative or two have emailed me since this post was published, concerned that I was feeling fried or in danger of burn out. I was afraid that’s how this post might be perceived. Believe me, I’m fine. I have my hang-ups and my issues, but even the most emotionally and mentally healthy preachers, I think, have these same feelings about the act of Sunday preaching. It’s just part of the job — I don’t think it’s a weakness or a sign of an unhealthy situation.
This post has also generated a caution against “worrying” about the sermon. I don’t believe “thinking about” the sermon and “worrying about” the sermon are the same thing. At least, that’s not how I interpret or experience what happens with me and these sermons. Isn’t Bill Belichick always thinking about his defense? His team may win four Super Bowls in a row, but isn’t he always wondering how he could make it better? He still sleeps just fine at night. But, when he’s awake, he’s thinking about it.
(Don’t read into this that I think my preaching is comparable to Belichick’s coaching. I don’t belong in the Hall of Fame. And I don’t cheat.)
If God can communicate through Balaam’s donkey, surely he can communicate through us. Good post my friend! God is faithful.