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I thought I was finished with my sermon preparation.

I had studied the passage during the week, read some commentaries to test my conclusions, honed my main point, developed an outline, and written it out to make sure it was all clear.

Then Saturday morning—as usual—I went over it with my wife.

A long ways to go

But as I read it to her, she looked puzzled. She asked a question—a really good question. Then she asked another question—another really good question. And I could tell I was not really understanding the passage.

My sermon was confusing.  Vague.  Contradictory. And then it dawned on me—I was nowhere near finished with my sermon preparation.

I had a ways to go. A looooooooong ways to go.

And it was Saturday ... and the clock was ticking.

Rising anxiety

So I went back to my office, sat down at my desk, and then it struck me. I have no idea what this passage is saying. And I could feel anxiety rising up in me.

So I opened my Bible again, and slowly read over the passage. I thought of another possible way to understand the passage and jotted it down.

But as I thought about it I could see, that’s not right, either. I did that a couple of times.  Reading the passage—jotting down ideas. But none of them were right.

An hour went by.  Another hour.  The clock was ticking.

My anxiety was turning into panic.

Prayer

Finally I stopped everything and prayed. I folded my hands—bowed my head—and prayed.

Help me, Father.

I have no idea what You are saying in this passage.

I want to feed the flock at Mercy Hill tomorrow morning—but at this point I have nothing.

Forgive me for my concern about my image—my fear of looking bad.

But for the sake of Your glory, for the joy of Mercy Hill Church, for the advance of the Gospel—please—help me understand Your Word.

Calm my heart.  Give me peace.  Give me energy.

Give me the wisdom You promise in James 1:5.

I entrust myself, this sermon, this study time, and tomorrow’s service to You.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Then I quoted to myself the promise of James 1:5:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

I rested in the truth that God would give me all the wisdom I needed.

And then I noticed—the panic was gone.  I felt strangely at peace.  I knew God would help me.

And I got back to work.

And then …

I saw it. Something in the passage I had not noticed—a connection that cleared-up one of the difficult verses.

Wow.  Thank You.

And then—when I understood that verse—the rest of the verses became clear.

Much more clear.

What mercy.  Thank You.

And then, I saw the point of the whole passage.

I saw a better way to communicate the passage—a way that would help people see the point more clearly.

I rewrote the sermon.  Then I went back over it—thinking and praying through it.

And I could tell ... that’s it.  I’m ready.

Thank You.  You are so good to me.

What this taught me

1. Knowing that God can help is not enough. Stopping and asking Him to help is crucial.  “You have not because you ask not” (James 4:2).

2. Asking God for help—and trusting His promises—is more important than working hard (Psa 127:1).

3. But working hard has its place (1Cor 15:10).  As we pray, and trust, we can be confident that God will work through our work.

4. When we pray, God will always give us all the wisdom we need (James 1:5)—including the wisdom to understand His Word (2Tim 2:7).

How does this impact you?

Have you had similar experiences?  Does my experience raise questions?  I’d love to hear. Leave a comment below.

Do you know someone who would be helped by reading this?  Email it to them using the “share” button below or use the buttons to share it on other social media.

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Talk about it...

Charles Wallis

commented on Jun 18, 2012

Asking your wife to hear your thoughts is a helpful idea - we should run our message by someone we can trust before we give it to everyone else. Asking God for help before preparing a sermon is a great idea that I have found really works too. He wants to help us!

Keith B

commented on Jun 18, 2012

Perhaps you need a good Commentary set? Not saying you ought to base your sermons on the Commentaries...but if you are really stuck, it's usually a good idea to go with the teaching that has been generally accepted among Christendom than to come up with your own.

Mark Nielson

commented on Jun 18, 2012

Not necessarily disagreeing with what KB had to say about commentaries...but I am always asking God to show me how the text I am preaching applies to this day and time in which we live! The Bible is a "living and dynamic" document. What a passage had to say 5 years ago...or even 5 days ago may not be what it is saying today. What a text has to say to one local church may not apply to a different local church. I find that preaching is a great challenge and without the leadership of the Holy Spirit we are helpless to communicate truth! Thanks for sharing your experience...we've all been there!

Keith B

commented on Jun 18, 2012

Mark.....there can be a danger in suggesting that a text is subjective. It seems that you're suggesting that the meaning of a text can change based on circumstances. Take Jeremiah 29:11....does that mean that God is really going to prosper us all? Or is that maybe a message that Jeremiah was to deliver to his intended audience? Obviously it was given to a specific target audience---and we're not it.

Pastor Herbert W. Roshell

commented on Jun 18, 2012

I think this is very helpful and useful to an open ear. We all need to ask God (through prayer), but many times we relay on ourselves. Asking a person you can trust is always helpful. I'm concerning about the comment of number two. I think the writer said " Prayer Finally I stopped everything and prayed. I folded my hands?bowed my head?and prayed. Help me, Father. I have no idea what You are saying in this passage. I want to feed the flock at Mercy Hill tomorrow morning?but at this point I have nothing. Forgive me for my concern about my image?my fear of looking bad. But for the sake of Your glory, for the joy of Mercy Hill Church, for the advance of the Gospel?please?help me understand Your Word. Calm my heart. Give me peace. Give me energy. Give me the wisdom You promise in James 1:5. I entrust myself, this sermon, this study time, and tomorrow?s service to You. In Jesus? name, Amen. Then I quoted to myself the promise of James 1:5: If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. I rested in the truth that God would give me all the wisdom I needed. And then I noticed?the panic was gone. I felt strangely at peace. I knew God would help me". He also went on to say that it was prayer that helping him through it. He also said he used a commentary as well! His statement was "read some commentaries to test my conclusions"! Once again thanks for the insight! Pastor Roshell

Derrick Tuper

commented on Jun 18, 2012

Great article. I have found myself in similiar predicaments. I've had times where sermons were not coming together and I was under the gun. I've had times where I was solid on a sermon topic all week and on the last day of preparation God gave me something else entirely he wanted me to preach on and I needed to start over from scratch with only one day to completely prepare! but it worked. That's the point-sometimes God will put us in these circumstances to determine what action we will take. will we pray or rely on our own efforts? Will we trust him to provide what we need? Are we worried about how bad we will look or are we concerned about the proper message that honors God and feeds and motivates his people? "Are you in trouble? Pray" James 5:13. On a different note-K.B. are you insinuating that Jer. 29:11 was meant ONLY for the targeted audience? I believe there was a certain way that God was going to prosper them which may be completely different that how he may prosper others but the message is universal because God does indeed have a plan for all of us and it's not to harm us but instead to give us a hope and future. HOW he prospers us (perhaps just spiritually) may differ but THAT he plans to prosper us is a universal message for all his children for all generations.

Jb Bryant

commented on Jun 18, 2012

K B - I am 100 with you about objective meaning of the Word, and I think you would agree that the relevance of its objective message is contextual to the hearer - that the truths of scripture apply to a range of situations that are as broad as human experience itself. But I wonder from your comments if you may be to quick to turn to commentaries rather than to God when you are stuck on a passage? I can say with certainty that the authors of the historically great commentaries began on their knees rather than in other books. In the end, Steve Fuller understood the passage. And though he had already consulted commentaries, it was on his knees that he finally understood. What, then, is the purpose of advising him?

Myron Heckman

commented on Jun 18, 2012

As Charles (#1) points out, it is helpful to try out a sermon on another person or group live, as Steve did with his wife. (I know this isn?t Steve?s main point.) I?m on a rotation of preaching Thursdays at a nursing home every six weeks or so, and I discovered that preaching a simplified, shortened version of my sermon there helps me test its flow, clarity, and impact. I get pretty good feedback based on attention versus sleeping. Also, I have occasion to summarize my upcoming message to a shut-in, which also helps me test if I can express it clearly and meaningfully in a couple minutes. I can?t say I?ve had an experience as dramatic as Steve?s but these try-outs can send one back to praying. It?s one thing to compose a sermon in the study, another to proclaim it to people.

Charles Mallory

commented on Jun 18, 2012

It's a great reminder to maybe pray that prayer BEFORE Saturday! :) One of the biggest helps with my sermon preparation is to go into the Sanctuary and practice from my notes/script from the pulpit. Running through my sermon several times "out loud" helps me make sure that "what I wrote" is how it should "sound." Plus, new thoughts come to mind and I can stop and jot those down. It really helps with securing a sermon from "draft" to "final product."

Robert Sickler

commented on Jun 18, 2012

A sermon from our heart will always beat a sermons from our head

Annette Johnson

commented on Jun 18, 2012

Thank you for sharing your story, I have found myself in same predicament, once I remove self out of the way and ask God for help, God help me,so I could be a blessing to others through His word. God Bless... Min. A.Johnson

Maryan Maharaj

commented on Jun 18, 2012

Everytime I've sat down to prepare a sermon,i've always prayed and asked the lord to tell me what to write; to reveal to me what He wants me to speak about.During my writing time when I am given new revelations,I am always in awe of the presence of God and I stop and give Him praise and worship Him in the midst of preparation.When I do this, the message just flows and flows.

Mh Constantine

commented on Jun 19, 2012

So many of us have been there, or are there. Thanks, Steve. Personally, I do not think that inviting God into the prep process always results in such a clear breakthrough as you experienced. But He always helps us. Always! I have to hold on to that truth no matter how the prep is going.

Charles Gordon

commented on Jun 19, 2012

I have learned - and continue to learn - to simply ask God to teach me and the people who will be in worship on Sunday exactly what He desires each one to hear and know. Then, after the service, simply be sure to give Him all of the glory.

Gail Cameron

commented on Jun 19, 2012

I had a similar experience this weekend when my computer lost half my sermon 15 minutes before the service... but it turned into a great sermon! Just goes to show that if we depend on God, he has it under control!

Mark Nielson

commented on Jun 21, 2012

Preaching is a humbling craft! Those times when you really think you have the text nailed and it is a powerful sermon you discover that it wasn't as good as you thought it was. Other times when you have prayed and struggled with a text and you still don't feel like you have it nailed down...somehow the Holy Spirit enters the equation and that sermon touches and changes lives. We have a job to do...but in the end God is in control and we are not!

Steve Fuller

commented on Jul 10, 2012

I've been a bit swamped -- so wasn't able to enjoy these comments until today. I loved reading everyone's thoughts. It's so good to hear about your experiences and learn from your suggestions. Thanks, everyone!

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