Preaching Articles

Are you ever afraid when you preach? Maybe as you make ready to mount your pulpit? I hope so! If you're not, then I'm afraid of you and consider you a danger to the ministry. Forty-five years after I preached my first sermon, I still feel fear every time I preach—and I'm so glad I do!

I almost can hear somebody thinking right now, "Isn't pastoral ministry about helping people to live beyond their fears?" Somebody else is thinking, "Our Savior says, 'Do not fear, only believe,' and John wrote, 'Perfect love casts out fear'" (see Mark 5:36 and 1 John 4:18). I know all those verses and a whole bunch more just like them; but I tell you I'm still afraid every time I preach, and I think you should be, too!

You see, I'm not at all persuaded that the idea of fearing God is some Old Testament relic. In our New Testament understanding of God, we want to remember God is not fear but love and, again, that "Perfect love casts out fear."

Really smart preachers who know who they are, whose they are and who called them demonstrate that by a healthy dose of fear. Come with me to that day when Isaiah stepped into the temple after King Uzziah died. There in the temple, Isaiah was face-to-face with the incomparable contrast between his own sin and God's pure, holy glory. Isaiah also saw smoke billowing throughout the space, suggestive of God's power to consume (see and compare Isa. 33:14 and Ex. 19:18, for instance). Isaiah feared that he would be destroyed because he was in the presence of the purest of all beings. He announced woe on himself; he was in deep trouble.

Preacher, have you ever thought about the fact that these are the first words out of Isaiah's mouth about himself in his whole book? They are the words of a fear-filled man announcing a prophetic, well-deserved woe on himself. Isaiah first had to face his own sin-filled nature and rampant uncleanness before he could worship God as he should.

Sometimes I still wear the gold college ring my student congregation bought me for graduation. Every time I slide it onto my finger, I am forced to recognize our University of Mobile motto from Proverbs 1:7: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." It is smart to be afraid sometimes.

The number of times the Bible extols "the fear of the Lord" as a virtue is not beyond number, but it is high. It happened at the foot of Mount Sinai, when "It came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled" (Ex. 19:16). When Jesus came down among us, things actually got worse. When He stilled the storm, "they feared exceedingly!" (Mark 4:41). At the Transfiguration, "they were greatly afraid" (Mark 9:6). On resurrection morning, the first witnesses to the empty tomb "said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid" (Mark 16:8). So, now tell me, dear preacher-reader, that we ought not to be afraid!

Let me give you two reasons why preaching with fear is important. The first is that what we are called to do is stand in God's place and announce His message. Surely we must all know we, too, are men with dirty mouths. The second is that we are filled with this holy awe kind of fear because God just might choose the moment we preach to do something totally amazing and beyond any human understanding one more time. It's a glorious and good thing to be afraid at a moment such as that.

So, preach in the words of Puritan Richard Baxter, "Preach as though never sure to preach again, a dying man for dying men!"

The Rev. Dr. Leslie Holmes is professor of ministry and preaching at Erskine Theological Seminary in Columbia and Due West, SC. A Presbyterian minister, he was most recently senior pastor of Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church in Augusta, GA.

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Robert Donato

commented on Mar 26, 2014

Thank you Dr. Holmes for this reminder "that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom..." Blessings!

Charles Bavier

commented on Mar 26, 2014

I have preached for nearly forty years and I am nervous and in fear every time I stand in the pulpit. I think first of all I am representing almighty God and presenting God's Word. Second of all I am standing before God's chosen people. Sometimes and more often than not my knees and legs are quivering. I feel this way until the service has ended. I often thought I was the only one that ever experienced this fear. I have also often thought this is a Fear in awe not an afraid fear. There is a difference.

Charles Johnson

commented on Mar 26, 2014

"I'm not at all persuaded that the idea of fearing God is some Old Testament relic." What a powerful statement. I think in this New Testament world, too many of God's men have lost their sense of awe and wonder at the Holy God we are called to represent and serve. Every time in scripture when we find someone having a face to face encounter with the living God, the response is always the same: abject fear and humiliation...face down on their knees before a holy God. Every time we step into the pulpit, we ought to be like Moses...take your shoes off for you are standing on holy ground. Perhaps if preachers today spent more time on their knees before the presence of God Monday through Saturday, come Sunday the power of God would fall...

Mike Spencer

commented on Mar 26, 2014

The apostle Paul brings this brilliantly to light in Romans 3 as he quotes David in his description of the wicked, "There is no fear of God before their eyes". Not only should we as preachers and teachers have this fear of God as we strain and struggle to rightly teach God's word, but we should bring the full fearful force of God's law to bear for the sake of driving the wicked to God's grace through the work of His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I recommend to you all C.F.W. Walther's "The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel", a series of His lectures from the mid-nineteenth century. It has been extremely helpful in my understanding of the principle division in all of scripture. There is a free Pdf available on the web.

Brad Bess

commented on Mar 26, 2014

Amen! May the Lord in His grace help us, His minister's to walk in reverent fear of Him, always!

Alexander Drysdale Lay Preacher Uca Australia

commented on Mar 26, 2014

I agree with Charles Bavier. Every time I stand at a pulpit to deliver a message I am afraid. Not of the congregation. Not of myself. But afraid of letting God down. He is my friend and I want to do the best I can for him and the fear of not doing so, of not doing what he wants, of doing my own thing worries me. I KNOW he loves me and I worship an awesome God but if he takes offence and punishes me I would be so scared.

Suresh Manoharan

commented on Mar 28, 2014

After I accepted the Lord way back in Oct 16th 1983, I stopped reading my then favourite novelist Alistair Maclean's novels but after after reading this wonderful, practical article, I am reminded of one of the Maclean thrillers' "FEAR IS THE KEY". Indeed reverential fear for the Lord is "the key" to effective Christian life and Ministry.

Eugene Augustine

commented on Mar 28, 2014

Thank you so much for excellent discussion. In recent times I have been asked the question.. What do I consider good preaching? .. after much bible exposition and puritanical commentary .. as one who stands in the pulpit as well..I have emphatically concluded that God does NOT need my help to get His message across.. HE USES US BUT DOES NOT NEED US!.. An attitude of servant-hood driven by humility standing in God's grace seems to produce the best results .. since Truth is exclusive by definition and absolute in existence , the one who proclaims God's truth that is closest and most accurate to God's will is usually the one most effective in disciple making! Very often , servants of God will shout the Great Commission from Matthew 28, forgetting how that passage of scripture begins.. " All Authority in heaven and earth is given to me ..".. meaning that JESUS CHRIST HAS THE FINAL AUTHORITY IN THE DISCIPLE MAKING PROCESS.. We are also subjected at times to carnal preaching which stems from pride filled objectives using hypocritical means all in the name of love! A simple example of this can be demonstrated when servants take 2 Timothy 3:16 out of context .. Paul writes that ALL SCRIPTURE IS GOD BREATHE AND IS USEFUL ..ETC .. IT DOES NOT SAY THAT ALL PREACHING IS GOD BREATHE, AND IS USED FOR ! THERE'S A GROSS DISTINCTION BETWEEN WHAT IS " USEFUL " VS WHAT IS USED FOR !! This heresy has caused more emotional bruising through the airways than gracious and spiritual transformation! GOD INDEED USES SERVANTS BUT DOES NOT NEED US TO ULTIMATELY DO THE JOB.. HE SAID TO PETER THAT HE WILL BUILD HIS CHURCH .. SCRIPTURE IS SUFFICIENT! CHRIST IS KING.. HE STARTED IT AND WILL FINISH IT'S PURPOSE! GOD BLESS YOU ALL .. Would love to read your thoughts! Euge

Tim Secrist

commented on Mar 28, 2014

Good article and a good reminder. I also think there is a difference between fear, that is, abject terror, and "fear of the Lord," that is, being in awe of Him. Assuming (and yes, I know what "assume" means,) that all of us have done our best in preparation through study and prayer, and working against time constraints and demands, I hope that when we preach, we are not in abject terror of God, fearing that a slight misstep of some kind will bring down the wrath of God. It is a different thing to be awe and amazement of our holy God then to live in fear of Him as though He were looking for an excuse to punish us. Work hard, prayer harder, and, when it comes time to preach, as a previous article stated, launch the ship! Quivering knees may be more a fear of people and poor preparation than a fear of God (since He is often more forgiving than our church members). I've been in fear of all of the above, and for all the reasons mentioned!

Brad Brought

commented on Apr 4, 2014

I had a VERY WISE mentor tell me something that has stuck with me. "Study like it is ALL up to you but never forget when you step up to the pulpit, KNOW it is ALL up to Him". Just like Mr. Augustine wrote above; "He uses us, but He does NOT NEED US."

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