The Preacher, Sermon Preparation, and the Holy Spirit2
I’m often asked questions by young men in the ministry regarding how I go about the process of sermon preparation. We typically make a good bit of progress in our discussion until they hear that I begin work on a sermon on Monday and typically conclude no later than Wednesday. Their response often reveals a false assumption about the Holy Spirit. They tend to believe that it reflects a greater reliance on the Spirit to wait until Friday or even Saturday night to begin thinking about what will be said on Sunday. Let me say a few things about this.
First, some have obviously bought into the lie that the power of the Holy Spirit is more operative and more readily accessible later in the week than he is earlier in the week. There are actually pastors who appear to believe that the Spirit doesn’t make an appearance or do his work of quickening and enlightening us in our study of Scripture until Friday or Saturday. Or at least they think that the anointing of the Spirit isn’t as genuine if it comes on Monday or Tuesday as over against Friday or Saturday. They think that it reflects a greater dependence on the Spirit if they delay their preparation until the last hour. They think that it honors the Spirit more and that they will experience more of the Spirit’s anointing if they delay preparation for preaching until almost the last minute.
On the other hand, I believe the Holy Spirt is as much at work on Monday morning as he is on Saturday night. Although I believe pastors need to be open to the spontaneous prompting of the Holy Spirit I’m not suggesting that you don’t need to study and prepare in advance of Sunday morning, or that if you do you are limiting the work of the Spirit. Maybe Charles Spurgeon was capable of writing his sermons on Saturday night. But I’m not. And I doubt if many of you are. I start praying and studying and writing my sermons for the next Sunday on Monday morning! I’m probably a bit odd in this regard, but my sermons are typically finished by Wednesday morning, leaving me the remainder of the week to mull over and meditate upon and if needed revise certain elements in my message.
And I believe the Holy Spirit is just as present and active and empowering in my preparation on Monday and Tuesday as he would be if I waited until the final hour to consider what I planned on saying on Sunday morning. Tragically, I fear that the appeal to spontaneity is sometimes more of an excuse to be lazy than it is a reflection of one’s desire to honor the Spirit by making it necessary for him to act spontaneously. There is nothing especially holy or godly or Spirit-honoring in delaying preparation until the last minute. I’m not saying you can’t. Some of you can. But most of us are not able to do this. My prayers for the Spirit to enlighten me and empower me are just as pleasing to God and effective when prayed on Monday morning as they are when prayed on Saturday night.
Our dependence upon the Spirit must be a conscious act in our preparation to preach at any and every moment of any and every day. God is not impressed by one day of the week over against another. Our Father does not say to himself, “Well, Sam obviously doesn’t think highly of me or believe that he needs me nearly as much as Mike or Tom. The fact that Mike and Tom wait until the last minute to decide what they’re going to say on Sunday morning and ask me for help late on Saturday obviously means they are much more dependent on the Spirit than Sam is.” No. It may simply mean that Mike and Tom are lazier than Sam and use this faulty theological assumption to justify spending their time during the week on some other activity or hobby.
Now, let me be clear. It doesn’t ultimately matter when you prepare for preaching. God created all seven days of the week and he loves them equally. And the Holy Spirit is available to us for all he does on every day of the week, at every hour of the day. And for that we should be eternally grateful.