I’m often asked how my careful preparation for a sermon leaves enough space for the Holy Spirit to move while I preach (here’s a post where I shared how I prepare for a sermon). In other words, am I relying so much on my preparation that I trust my preparation more than I trust the Holy Spirit?
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I am convinced that the Holy Spirit works more than just on Sunday mornings. While I sit on my deck early Monday mornings reading the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is pointing out key ideas in the text. While I sit in my office with books open upon my desk on Tuesday afternoon, the Holy Spirit helps me exegete the passage I’m preparing to preach. When I’m typing the first draft of the message on my computer, the Holy Spirit is spurring thought. While I’m sharing key components of my outline with my Creative Team Wednesday afternoons, the Holy Spirit is causing creativity to happen. And when I’m resting Friday afternoon, the Holy Spirit is bringing into my memory the message that’s brewing in my mind. The Holy Spirit is involved in every step of the sermon writing process.
I believe that the Holy Spirit is as involved when I write a sermon as He is when I preach a sermon. (Tweet that!) Much like there’s a process of writing a sermon, I also go through a process to preach a sermon. I like to call them my pre-preaching rituals.
Imagine a varsity football team suiting up for a Friday night game and all the rituals they go through in order to mentally and emotionally prepare themselves to play. Deep breathing, stretching, pep talks, and getting pumped up. That’s what I mean by pre-preaching rituals. Here are my pre-preaching rituals:
1. Run-through my notes
Sunday morning I wake up early. I like to wake up before the sun rises. Because I like to get to the Church building before anyone else does. And I run through my notes. I’ll stand on stage, lights on, and preach to an empty room. This lets me hear how phrases sound out loud. I never want the first time I preach my sermon to be with my congregation listening. I’ll keep a pen in my pocket and I’ll often adjust my notes after hearing how certain points sound. As I preach this run through, it’s not unusual for me to audibly ask if I’m saying what He wants me to say.
2. Get alone with God
Once the worship service has started and people are singing, I do not talk to anyone else again until after I preach. This is my time to focus every ounce of energy upon God. I stand near the back of the room and I pray and worship God by myself. During this time I will meet with the elders of my Church, and they’ll pray for me and the message I’m about to preach. Once they’ve prayed for me, I’ll again get alone and focus on God.
3. Affirm my calling
I believe with all my heart that God has called me to the place I serve for a specific purpose – to preach the word. While I am not arrogant enough to believe I’m the “man with the word”, nor am I the only vessel God has chosen to speak to the people of my Church, I do believe God has set me in this place for this time to speak His word to His people. So I thank God for that call.
4. Trust God to do what He said He would
Also while I’m alone with God, I’ll recall what God has said of His Word. Isaiah 55:10-11 says, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Hebrews 4:12 tells us, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
5. Stretch my body
Mentally I’m getting pumped up for the task at hand, which naturally causes my body to tense up. So before I step on stage, I bend down as far as I can and stretch my back, my legs, and my arms. I want to feel as loosened up and relaxed as possible before I preach. This also gives me an opportunity to check my clothes to make sure I’m presentable and not about to experience the embarrassment of walking on stage with my fly down.
6. Breath deeply
While stretching, I take deep breaths. This too helps relax my body and the extra oxygen to my brain helps me stay focused. As I breath deeply, I pray and recite over and over what God’s word has promise me of itself (ritual #4).
8. Preach the Word
After all of the preparation and pre-preaching rituals of the morning, I’m confident that the Holy Spirit has traveled this journey with me every step of the way. In fact if I’ve prepared well, the sermon gets into me and what is preached is the overflow of what God has done in me all week long. As I begin to preach, my notes become nothing more than reference points. The Holy Spirit works as much on Sunday morning, as He has all week with me.
So there’s my pre-preaching rituals that prepare me to preach every Sunday morning. And here’s my “why it matters for you” question: What if you were to be as intentional about coming to listen to a sermon as I am to preach a sermon? Our worship team spends hours preparing to lead songs for worship. What if you were as intentional in preparing to come worship God as our worship team?
What pre-church rituals could you begin to prepare your heart to hear from God this Sunday? I’d love to hear your ideas! Share your thoughts and/or questions in the comment section below.