The Preacher’s Nightmare

Preaching is the greatest privilege given to a minister.  It is also the most ominous responsibility pressed upon a minister.

Each Sunday before worship, I pray this prayer:

Lord, I am not worthy to preach your Word.  I am tainted by my sin.  Do not let my sin taint the Word which you have given to me to preach today.  Let me get out of the way, so you can preach Your Word to Your people.

When I rise to preach, I do so with fear and trembling.  God is counting on me.  The people who are desperate for God’s Word are counting on me.  Everyone is counting on me, but I am counting on God.

Most weeks, God speaks clearly to me, His Word is in my heart and on my lips.  Those weeks, I am ever grateful for His gift and for His good work.  Those weeks I preach confident that He is using me to speak His Word.

Yesterday was not one of those Sundays.

I was preaching from John 7:14-24.  I had spent hours in preparation, exegetical work, personal reflection, commentary study, and prayer.  I knew the text forward, backwards, and upside down.  Despite these efforts, a sermon never came to me.

By Sunday AM, after 13 days to prepare, after panicked prayers, and after a sleepless night wrestling with demons, I had scrapped together a few thoughts and packaged them into terrible disarray.  When I rose to preach I had zero confidence in what I had and was terrified of the impending failure of the sermon.

I abandoned my notes and rambled like a mouse in a drunken stupor trying to escape a maze.  Perhaps the best thing I did was to keep it short.  Between services I went to my private prayer place in the church to pray and found myself weeping.

For the second service I came at the sermon from a different angle, but felt like I was drowning with each new word and phrase.  I preached a bit longer, hoping that God’s Word would finally explode from my lips and rest on at least one person’s heart.

I wanted to hide rather than meet’n’greet as the congregation exited the sanctuary.  I prayed that no-one dare say that the sermon spoke to them.  I apologized to a dozen or so folk for the mess I had made of God’s Word.  I refused to accept any compliment which was passed my way.

I had failed God!  I failed the congregation!  Every Pastor has had this experience.  This is one of those times when ministry is a heavy burden.

In my grieving, guilt, and shame, God reminded me of Isaiah 55:10–11:

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (ESV)

He reminded me that my effort was not wasted not was it waste.

I cannot linger in these postpartum blues because it’s already Monday Noon and Sunday’s coming, again, and again, and again.

Lord, help me, your people are counting on You.

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8 Responses to The Preacher’s Nightmare

  1. Brett Dinger says:

    Hi Rus,

    Sounds to me like you need a word of grace! You have not failed God! Had you neglected the work to which you are called (in this case, study and prayer) and arrived on Sunday morning expecting something great to happen- then you might be able to say you failed God. In your prayer, you humbly ask the Lord to “Let me get out of the way.” Is it possible, then, that the sermon that never came was an answer to that prayer? Maybe some of those meet’n’greet comments are evidence of a living Lord who speaks through our confident efforts and especially in spite of our worst.

  2. Cece Peterson says:

    According to your Scripture for yesterday, “Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. ” I agree with Brett; it sounds as though your congregation, wisely, chose to “stop judging by mere appearances.” I cannot imagine the weight of responsibility you bear (I do miss your sermons!). Pray, study, trust. Miss you!

  3. Hey Rus,

    As a fellow writer, I know how we can be our own worst critics. And I also know how frustrating it can be at the mercy of the Heavenly muse. But the difference between us is that I write to merely to entertain, while you write to preach the Word. So I’ll say this: never underestimate the Word. Your sermon may not have said much to you, but it really stuck a cord in me. I’ve been wrestling with my own frustrations on where my life is going (and not going), and your sermon helped me center myself in God’s wishes instead of my own. Besides, you can never really control when God will speak to you – whether it comes months or minutes before you give your sermon. Similarly, you can’t control whose heart your sermon touches.

    I hope this help, and regardless, I look forward to your next sermon.


  4. Rugg says:

    I believe that your heart will hear and your mouth will give is Gods Message. Remember the mustard seed that’s all u have to get out. Love u my brother

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