Almost every time a service concludes, I wonder if I preached the sermon or taught the class in a quality manner.
Not sure if I can help wondering about it, although as I’ve grown older, I do find peace and reassurance knowing that God can take my feeble attempts and do miracles with them.
So in the end, it’s not my ability that matters most, but it is Him. Having said that, I’m a big believer in preparation and effort, and I am most often down on myself when I feel I haven’t given enough in those areas.
I always feel better about a sermon when I put in the time, had it organized very smoothly, and was able to fill it with lots of Scriptural insight and truth. While there are those who believe in winging it and relying almost entirely on the move of the Holy Spirit within them, my campus minister at Missouri State was fond of saying “God can work through preparation and planning, too.” And I agree. But these are probably not the main points to make.
Some of my least prepared sermons have had huge impacts, and some of my best prepared sermons have landed with large thuds. It’s gone the other way around too, but why is it that sometimes at least, my unprepared sermons sometimes out-perform the ones I spent hours and hours working up?
Unprepared sermons often rely on favorite verses, miss key points, and can more easily come from the speaker’s personality instead of the Scripture. Watch some of the guys on tv, and you’ll figure out who is preaching from self, and who is preaching selflessly. Doesn’t take long.
But maybe where the sermon is coming from is more important than how long it took to get it ready? In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that not only is prayer important (duh), but also my attitude matters. More specifically, my attitude toward God and the Word of God. Whether the sermon has had all 15 hours of prep or just 2, am I saying and teaching as a servant of God trying to relay information, or am I teaching as if I have all the answers myself?
What I mean is, my “unprepared” successes are due (in my opinion) to the amount of prayer of course, but also because of earnest attempts to listen to the Holy Spirit during my short preparation time, and during my delivery of the lesson or sermon.
My desperate reliance on God, which resulted from my lack of time to prepare, or my lack of preparedness in general, made me seek God’s help intensely, and well… God came through. A servant’s attitude made all the difference.
Oh by the way, can I have a servant’s attitude when I’m putting in the preparation time like I’m supposed to? Well sure. In fact, if I keep a humble attitude toward God, recognize that my sermon or lesson won’t be what it should be without Him, AND put in the preparation time, not only will the lesson or sermon succeed, but I’ll have less stress and hopefully fewer grey hairs.
So that’s what I believe. Reliance upon God, and a servant’s attitude when preaching or teaching, is where the real power comes from.
Just one more caution. You can’t judge a sermon or lesson by how many compliments it receives from people. For instance, some people always say they like it, even when it wasn’t very good. And other people weren’t listening in the first place, and still other people might not like you very much and won’t like hearing you speak no matter what you say.
In fact, a popular sermon might even be a bad sign. The Bible says, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. –II Timothy 4:2-4
So just because people compliment your sermon or lesson, doesn’t necessarily mean you had a good sermon or lesson. What matters is whether or not God liked it. I have sign over my computer which reads, “You don’t preach or teach for the approval of human beings. You do so for the honor and glory and pleasure of a living God who chooses to speak His ways through you.”
Which means the best question to ask yourself is not “Did the congregation enjoy the sermon?” The best question is: “Lord, did I say what you wanted me to say?” Not that I always hit that target. I don’t. But I’ll keep trying.