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On the night before I preach, I pace—back and forth in my room, mumbling sermonic thoughts, testing them, scorning a hundred thoughts, exulting in one or two that shine like coin, investing those.

I grow breathless when I pace. I make strange noises. But the house must be as silent as death. And the mighty God must stand by to save me, because there surely will come great waves of doubt to drown me, and then I will splutter, “Help me, Lord!” and gasp, “What do you want me to say?”

Not all the scriptural interpretation in the world will save me from this nighttime ride on stormy water: I’m going to preach, and I get scared. In the few hours I sleep, I dream. In my dreams I arrive at church too late, and people are leaving. I can’t find my vestments, my clothes are shabby, and people are impatient. Or (the second greatest horror) smack in the middle of preaching, I notice that I’m in my underwear. Or (the worst) I’ve forgotten totally what I’d planned to say.

I wake at 5:00 a.m. I don’t eat because I can’t. My internal self is as unstable as water. But when I meet the people, my external self has donned a smile, speaks softly, touches everyone, and moves to worship with aplomb. And lo, I preach.

And on any given Sunday, I succeed. No one expects a pastoral collapse. Everyone takes this sermon for granted, while I breathe secret reams of gratitude to God. But when Saturday comes again, I pace again, wild-eyed and terrified.

You too? Does success astonish you as well, since the prospect of preaching had cut you at the gut?

When I was young, I thought experience would calm my fears. It didn’t. For years I prayed God would grant me a pre-sermon peace. God didn’t, and I accused myself of faithlessness.

But now I wonder: Perhaps the fear goes with the office. Perhaps, because this task requires the whole of the preacher, our entire beings become involved in the tension of preparation, and so our tummies start to jump.

It is—but it is not only—a function of our intellects to preach. We are doing more than passing pure thought to the people. Our souls are required of us, that we believe what we say. Moreover, to believe means that we have ourselves experienced what we declare: it’s a part of our personal histories, real in our suffering and joy, real in our sin, real in forgiveness and grace and freedom. So we become a standing evidence of what we preach, and the whole of us—soul and mind and body and experience—participates in the holy moment of preaching.

It is Christ who saves. But in human community, it is this particular vessel whose voice, whose person, and whose preaching proclaim that Christ. No, I can’t hide in my cape of authority and still persuade the people of a dear, incarnate, near, embracing Jesus.

I can never abstract my self from the preaching, nor ever be wholly nerveless before it, since the very purpose and the passion of the task involve my love. I preach because I love, love twice. These two loves define my being.

For I love the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind. I’ve nothing more important in all the world to communicate to anyone than the One I love completely. This is a stupendous responsibility. And it is my own, because I can’t divide my beloved from my loving, nor my loving from my self. When I speak of God, my passion is present: In passion do I make God known! But the glory of the Lord makes me self-conscious. Am I worthy to whisper the name?

I have no choice but to try. For I love these people, too—these faces, these eyes—with a sharp, particular, personal love. The best that I have to give, I must give to them. To them, in their language, for their individual lives.

And on Saturday night, I worry: Will they hear it? Will they let the hard word hurt them, the good word heal them, the strong word lead and redeem them? Will I speak it so that they receive it from me? O, people, people, the depth of my love is the depth of my fear for you!

So I pace.


 

Taken from Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching, The by CRAIG BRIAN LARSON; HADDON ROBINSON. Copyright © 2005 by Christianity Today International. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com

Walter Wangerin Jr. is writer-in-residence at Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana and author of The Crying for a Vision (Paraclete, 2003) and The Book of God: The Bible as a Novel (Zondervan, 1996).

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Keith B

commented on Oct 18, 2011

Good article.

Gaius Robinson

commented on Oct 18, 2011

Oh my goodness! I'm not alone. I never realized that someone else experienced this exact same thing. Thank you for the article!

Dan Nickless

commented on Oct 18, 2011

Thank You. Thank You. A very timely article. God is good.

Matt Krachunis

commented on Oct 18, 2011

perfect. No one but a preacher can fully understand this, or the release once the message has been preached. I'm wiped out after. Thank you Jesus!

Dave Campbell

commented on Oct 18, 2011

Do I not take preaching serious enough? I only pace in my sleep. Is this an ego battle that goes on in our minds or is it a spiritual battle? Or a little of both. It is obviously a battle one way or another. Thanks to our author, the matter is dramatized to a point of humor. It is true enough that anyone who preaches knows what he is talking about. Thanks for this mirror to reflect in.

Bill Leathem

commented on Oct 18, 2011

If you haven't felt this or don't feel this (as described by the author), at least on occasion, I question whether you actually are wrestling with the Lord about what the Lord has revealed to you. Allowing God to work truly through you is what preaching is all about. Just sayin'

Chaplain Shawn Kennedy

commented on Oct 18, 2011

I realize the importance of preaching but Jesus also said "Fear not" and "Be anxious for nothing".

Larry Crismon, Ii

commented on Oct 18, 2011

I showed this to my wife, amazed at how much it sounds like me every week. Thank you for sharing!

Dave Campbell

commented on Oct 18, 2011

come'on chaplain Shawn. Are you saying David's heart didn't pound before he went into the valley with the giant. Of course we feel the stress of public speaking.

Dave Campbell

commented on Oct 18, 2011

come'on chaplain Shawn. Are you saying David's heart didn't pound before he went into the valley with the giant. Of course we feel the stress of public speaking.

Dave Campbell

commented on Oct 18, 2011

fearing would be that the preacher gave into his sick stomach and didn't go to the pulpit to preach

Fernando Villegas

commented on Oct 18, 2011

I think the Chaplain is simply trying to remind us not overspiritualize our fear. I appreciate Mr. Wangerin for sharing with us his experience and I am glad that there are those with similar experiences who have found comfort knowing that they are not alone. But we must not make experience normative, i.e., this is how you will react if you're really taking preaching seriously--which is the impression given off by comments such as those by Bill Leathem. Because there are people like myself, who take preaching seriously, who understand the weight of the responsibility God has called us to, who get nervous before preaching--and yet, we have been able, by God's grace, to "fear not," to "be anxious for nothing." I don't experience fear in the way Mr. Wangerin describes. And that's fine. He is no better, and I am no worse. Every time I stand to preach, I do so with the confidence that I have put my whole self into the sermon, and God will bless his Word. I know that even if it looks like I bomb, even if it seems that no one responds, God will do something. That's my experience, at least.

Oliver Johnson

commented on Oct 18, 2011

Whew! I'm not the only one... I was off this past Sunday and really noticed the difference in my temperment. Although, I kept fighting the urge to give our guest preacher a few tips to improve his sermon. LOL!

Dan Keeton

commented on Oct 18, 2011

I don't pace on Saturday; but I do quit every Monday, only to pick it up again on Tuesday.

Dr. Thomas Norton

commented on Oct 18, 2011

Amen brother! I may not pace, but I pray, reflect, wordsmith, and wait for Sunday morning to come and be able to give birth to what I have been wrestling with God about all week. Yes, it is a relief and a blessing to preach the gospel, but then there is the challenge to do it all over again! I was blessed by the encouragement that I am not alone in my weakness and great need each week. God bless you WW.

Maieane Khaketla

commented on Oct 18, 2011

Thanks God I'm not alone. It is good to know that so many of us react in the same way. Thanks for this wonderful article. God bless!

Chaplain Shawn Kennedy

commented on Oct 19, 2011

Dave, does this sound like David's heart is pounding? 45David said to the Philistine, ?You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I?ll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord?s, and he will give all of you into our hands.? Don't read into scripture.

Dave Campbell

commented on Oct 20, 2011

Chaplain Shawn, I still think you are in denial. David spoke what the spirit of God spoke through him, but he was still human. I think that what our author Walter Wangren is telling us is that he is human, that he still has to master himself before he preaches. Enough said.

Fernando Villegas

commented on Oct 20, 2011

dave campbell, Chaplain Shawn gave you Scripture, and you responded with assumptions. True, David was human; and he may very well have been nervous for all we know. But that's the point. We don't know that he was nervous. The text doesn't seem to give us any indication that he was nervous, and to assume he was is reading into the text. Look, like I said earlier, I appreciate Mr. Wangerin for sharing with us his experience, which is obviously shared by many! I don't know him personally; and I would not presume to judge him based on his description of the fear he faces. As you pointed out, he doesn't let that fear overcome him, but rather he gets up each week and preaches in spite of the fear and nervousness. But Chaplain Shawn is offering a balancing point. The fact is that some of us, while we do get nervous, also experience a confidence in knowing that God will bless his Word, whether because of us or in spite of us. And to suggest that people like him or me are in denial is equally unfair to us.

Gordon Dorsey

commented on Oct 25, 2011

shalom! if you are not a bit nervous before you preach something is wrong.i believe this is Gods way of keeping his pastors humble,it keeps us normal and focused on the task at hand.that we have a serious job to do.peoples lives move forward and backwards on the messages we preach every sunday.every bible study,every sunday school we teach.think about it. SHALOM SHALOM !

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