Before my first message on Saturday morning at the Men for God
rally, I was sitting by myself on the bleachers in the rear of the
meeting area. It was a good place to relax while waiting for the
service to begin. Up walked a student from the Bible Institute who
wanted to know if I was nervous. “I always get nervous before I
preach,” I replied. And that’s true. Even after preaching several
thousand times, I find that I always have the proverbial butterflies in
my stomach. It was that way in the pastorate, and it’s that way in my
present speaking. Most preachers experience the same thing, I’m sure.
You never really get used to the awesome responsibility of bringing
God’s Word to people. Sometimes in those last few minutes I am
reviewing the message in my mind, sometimes I am scanning the people
trying to get a sense of the crowd (I do this often when I preach in a
new venue), sometimes I’m thinking through my opening sentences, and
sometimes I am simply up on my toes mentally, waiting for the moment to
I have a few prayers that I pray on a regular basis, one of them being “Not by might nor by power, but by Spirit, says the Lord,” which is really a quote from Zechariah 4:6. Sometimes I ask for wisdom. Sometimes I ask the Lord to send the Holy Spirit to make the Word effective. In recent years I often pray, “Lord, help me to preach the sermon I need to hear.” Somehow that prayer seems to put things in proper perspective. I am not just a preacher of the Word, I am also a preacher under the Word.
Even if I have preached a sermon before, you never know how it will go. Every congregation, every service, every moment stands alone. Like all preachers, I have had the humbling experience of glowing over my sermon on Saturday night, going to bed with enormous anticipation, only to stand up on Sunday morning, look at my notes, and say to myself, “Who stole my sermon?” And of course it happens the other way also. You can have a terrible week, struggle mightily in preparation, and then the Lord sends his Spirit and gives wings to the sermon so that it almost feels as if you aren’t even preaching but are a spectator watching the Spirit do his divine work.
Any preacher worth his salt knows that “all is vain unless the Spirit of the Holy One comes down,” but that can’t be programmed in advance. The Spirit blows where he pleases, and you can’t tell where or when or how he will blow upon your meager sermonic efforts.
We work and pray and think and study and practice and make our notes. Then we pray and wait for the moment when we must stand up and deliver God’s Word.
So, yes, I get nervous. Every time. I hope I never lose that because losing it would mean that I am taking preaching for granted. So with God’s help, we preachers do our best, and if we look nervous or distracted or deep in thought before we preach, well, we are.
I don’t know of any greater privilege in the world. It
must be like waiting in the locker room for the Super Bowl to begin,
only with eternity on the line.