This post is part of the series on Preaching for youth. I always consider preaching to be an awesome privilege, but also a considerable responsibility. When we have 40, 60, maybe even more students in a room to listen to what we will say, it’s an opportunity we cannot afford to let go to waste. Every time I preach, I long for students to be inspired to take the next step in their spiritual journey, to walk out of that room changed and closer to God. I want to make a difference, I want to have impact. So how do I deal with this pressure?
The key is this: it’s not about me. It’s something I’ve had to learn over the years and I still have to remind myself of this. It’s not about me. With preaching more than with anything else I know I’m just a vessel, a tool in God’s hands. None of my human talents, words, or messages could ever make a difference without God’s inspiration, blessing and presence. If I don’t preach what He wants me to, I am nowhere.
So I pray. For me, sermon preparation is more about prayer than anything else. Sure, there’s studying the passage in depth, doing research and writing the actual sermon. But I spend more time on praying and thinking (what others may call meditating) than on anything else.
However you prepare your sermon, whatever steps you take, I believe that prayer has to be at the heart of it all. If you want to preach God’s words, if you want the Holy Spirit to speak through you, if you want your words to make a difference, you have to submit yourself and your sermon to God in every way.
Here’s what my prayer looks like in the different phases of my sermon preparation:
Prayer for guidance
I often start out with a ‘formal prayer’ asking God for help and guidance in finding the right verses or topic to preach on for youth. I keep doing this until I’m sure of the text or passage He wants me to preach on.
Prayer for wisdom
When I’m studying the text I continually pray for an open heart, for wisdom and understanding. I’m a big believer in preaching on the key message of a verse or passage, so I pray for wisdom to find the right key message. When reading opposing views on a certain text or issue, I ask God to show me His view.
Prayer for the message
Most of my praying is done in the phase between studying and writing. This can be a couple of days or even weeks in which I think a lot about what I want to say and the sermon starts to take shape in my head. It’s the phase in which the key message starts to take shape and I’m constantly thinking about how to bring this. It’s when the basic outline is being constructed in my head. Every thought about the sermon I give to God and ask for His opinion, for insights, and for ideas. I’m basically in a constant conversation with God to find out what He wants me to say. This phase is often exhilarating, because God will give me great ideas our of nowhere and I get enthusiastic about what He’s telling me. When this phase is done, writing the actual sermon is often little work.
Prayer for creativity
I almost always use stories in my sermon and most of the time they’re personal ones. But I always ‘check these’ in prayer. I ask God for creativity, the right stories, anecdotes or even jokes. When I have an idea for a different format, I ask God what he thinks.
Prayer for the right words
I write my sermons out, meaning I don’t use an outline, and when writing I’m in a continuous conversation with God about what to include, what to leave out and how to say what I want to say. I also pray for the right words, for beautiful expressions or literary/rhetoric constructions.
Prayer for protection
I don’t know about you, but for me spiritual warfare is very real. When I’m preparing a ‘big’ sermon (like for seeker services or other outreach activities), I’m often under attack in those areas where I’m weak. For me, one of those areas is the ‘feeling’ of not being good enough. Often during sermon preparation, I feel like I’m not good enough to preach, that I am not ‘holy’ enough in God’s eyes, that my faults and failures will render me useless and that others are far more qualified than me. I wrestle with this in prayer right up till the moment I’m on that stage.
Prayer for impact
The last prayer I do is right before I’m ‘on’. I tell God I’ve done my best (or not, because sometimes life gets in the way of sermon preparation – but even then God can do mighty things!) and that I’m trusting in Him to do the rest. I love that line from an old Keith Green song: just keep doing your best, pray that it’s blessed and He’ll take care of the rest (1). That’s essentially my prayer before my time is up…and then He finishes it and transforms my human efforts into His mighty work, leaving me grateful and humble that He chose to use me, imperfect sinner that I am. Our God is an awesome God!
How do you use prayer in your sermon preparation? Any tips or advice you’d like to share with others?(1) Taken from ‘He’ll take care of the rest’, written by Keith Green and Wendell Burton