He waited for me to pause from reviewing my sermon manuscript before the service began. As soon as he saw an opening, he asked, “Do you still get nervous before you preach?”
I answered him emphatically with one word: “Absolutely!”
He was genuinely shocked by my answer. You would assume those who have preached for a long time or who preach regularly eventually get to a place where they are no longer nervous about preaching. Yet even skilled, prepared, and experienced preachers get nervous at preaching time. If they do not, they should.
Maybe the most accurate answer to my preaching brother’s question would have been, “Yes and no.”
An unprepared preacher went to the pulpit, asking the Lord to speak to him. As he stood to preach, the Lord spoke to him and said, “You should have studied!” After hearing that story, I determined I don’t want the Lord to speak to me in the pulpit. I want to make sure we are on the same page before I stand to preach.
A prepared and prayerful preacher can stand to preach with confidence. Of course, the preacher should not be prideful, as if he has mastered scripture, is about to deliver the world’s greatest sermon, or can determine the outcome of the message. But if you have done your homework on the text, wrote yourself clear, and covered the message in believing prayer, you can and should go to the pulpit with confidence.
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After you have done all you can do, trust God to do all you cannot do. You should give God your best in sermon preparation, so that you can mount the pulpit with humble confidence. But that still won’t free you from a real sense of fearfulness as you prepare to preach.
No matter how well I have prepared, I cannot escape the reality that the sermon is doomed to fail if the Lord does not help me. It creates a healthy sense of nervousness, even neediness, as I approach the preaching moment. This is one of the reasons why I typically pray publicly before I start the message. I usually cannot shake my pre-sermon anxieties until I have offered the prayer.
Beyond the message itself, the preacher should feel the weight of his duty and privilege to preach the word of God. Christian preaching is not a “talk” given to an audience. It is a call to salvation from the only lifeboat to shipwrecked passengers in troubled waters. We are not “life-coaches” offering people good advice, helpful hints, or motivational speeches. We are heralds on assignment to declare the message of the King. This divine charge should make you nervous to speak the word faithfully, clearly, and unapologetically.
As one of my father’s associate ministers prepared to preach, he confessed he was very nervous. “Good,” was my dad’s reply. “And when you stop getting nervous before you preach, you should stop preaching.”
Do you get nervous before you preach?
The Most Important Commandment
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this:‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. – Mark 12:28-34 Armies win…