Editor’s Note: The weekend can be an incredibly distressing time for many pastors to enter into. The desire to spend quality time with family while juggling the pressures of an unfinished sermon can be an exhausting reality. What many pastors need are not more tips on how to prepare better sermons as much as some encouragement to better prepare their hearts to preach the sermon they have. Join Ronnie Martin every Friday for The Preachers Corner, where he offers some words of comfort and stories of hope to help preachers enter the weekend encouraged by the gentle and lowly heart of Jesus.
Sometimes, the words just won’t come.
I remember the first time I ever had to stand in front of an audience and “say something spiritual.” I was hosting a concert at the youth group I was involved with and after the band played, it was my job to encourage all the youths (of which I was one) to give their hearts to Jesus, consider the truths of the gospel, and I don’t know, stop making out with their boyfriend or girlfriend. For reasons I can’t recall, I didn’t have anything written down, and when I got up to the stage, my mind went TOTALLY. BLANK. The nightmare you’re imagining right now is exactly what I’m describing. So I just stood there squirming awkwardly, as a completely scared-to-death novice who hadn’t acquired the ability to “vamp” like I so desperately needed. Eventually, after much shaking, sweating and a near nervous breakdown, I mumbled something about Jesus and rambled through a largely incoherent prayer before the band came back up to thankfully finish on a much higher note than I was able to deliver. It was a harrowing experience that I believe is the reason why I still have dreams about standing in front of large crowds while no words will come out of my mouth.
Of course, the irony of ironies is that I became a public speaker. A preacher no less.
And yet, even though I’ve acquired the ability to appropriately “vamp” in a public setting when necessary, sometimes the words just won’t come. What I mean is that sometimes on a Friday, and not for lack of trying, I have both a passage and an empty page sitting before me. Does this describe you some weeks? This week?
It may be that you had a crowded week that pushed your prep time into the margins and has now left you scrambling. It could be that you have a tricky passage that’s required so much extra study time that your mind has become scattered and cluttered. Maybe you’ve had all the time in the world to prepare, but the deeper you dive into the text the more blank your mind seems to become. Whatever it is, you don’t have it, but you need to have something. Unfortunately, I can’t help you write your sermon because I still have my own to worry about, but here’s a few things that help me when the words won’t come.
First off, remember that Jesus is marvelously compassionate. Right now, He’s looking at you with gentle and lowly eyes, sympathetic to the weighty task that He has called you to. He knew it when He called you to it, and His compassion doesn’t diminish because you’re struggling, it only increases because He cares about you and the words He’s given you the privilege to speak. Remember the weighty compassion of your shepherd and apply it to your heart, because this is the heart you desire to bring into the pulpit on Sunday, whatever state your sermon is in.
Secondly, remember that you’re, well, human. God created you as a human, and your humanness is one of the important truths you bring with you into the pulpit every week. Christ didn’t call you to be a sermon writing machine, but as a unique member of the church body to deliver the gospel truths He is using to build His kingdom with. If you will learn to lean into Jesus, He will use your humanness to uniquely provide spiritual strength to your equally-as-human-as-you-are-congregation.
Thirdly, remember that Christ has ordained this wordless moment. It’s not that He’s playing tricks and doesn’t want you to have anything to say on Sunday, it’s that He’s preparing you in this wordless moment to speak words to your heart that you may have not been able to hear otherwise. Because here’s what I’m confident of as you agonize in your wordless world: you will have a message come Sunday. The more important question is, what kind of heart will you have to deliver that message? Because it’s a message coming from one human heart to other human hearts, who are deeply loved and cared for by the heart of Jesus. So when the words won’t come, ask Jesus to fill your heart with words that will give you a heart for the people He loves, His church.
And the rest? It’ll come.
But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.
1 Corinthians 2:9-10