It is Friday evening, you answer the phone, and the pastor on the line says, “Can you bring the word this Sunday? I sure do appreciate you.” These “last minute” calls can invoke a variety of feelings. How do you prepare a meaningful message on short notice?
I suggest that a preacher’s preparation will go a long way in addressing the hermeneutical concern of hearing from God while working on a short-notice sermon. My goal is to share a reminder that short- or long-term sermon preparation depends on the preparation of the heart, the head, and the hands.
Preparation of the Heart
“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Ps 19:14).
To hear the message of God for the people, preachers must have a personal and active relationship with God. A prepared heart is the bedrock of sermon preparation. If one relies solely on persona, theories of communication with a dab of exegetical insight, then the sermon is just another public speaking engagement. Gardner C. Taylor said, “preaching depends so much on the spiritual state of the preacher.” Preachers can maintain healthy spirituality by practicing the spiritual discipline of prayer.
Sermon preparation is a prayer exercise. To prepare the heart, one must constantly remain in prayer. In prayer, the preacher should readily obey God’s Word and model its truth to the hearer during the sermon. Pray for clarity in communication. Pray for the hearers who are carrying a burden. Pray that Christ is exalted as His Word is explained.
Prayer is a salve to reduce the swelling of pride and to revive a dry soul. Give thanks to God for the opportunity to speak for Him. Ask God to reveal the text you are to preach and what to say. Quickly confess sin when convicted from the Scriptures you are studying. Preparing to preach through prayer will help guard your heart as you preach and aid in preparing the head.
Preparation of the Head
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15).
Pastor H.B. Charles Jr. says, “The desire to preach without a burden to prepare is only a desire to perform.” To prepare the head or mind, every preacher needs a system for sermon preparation. Through a study system, a preacher can observe the text, seek application of the text, and identify stories that can help the audience relate to the text. There is no perfect system. However, if one does not have a plan, ask another preacher about their sermon preparation process to glean ideas. Another resource is the book Preaching and Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones or listening to podcasts about preaching. Through diligent study of the text, God will give insight. Thorough preparation of the heart in prayer and the preparation of the head through a study system can aid the preacher in crafting a message that God wants for His people.
Preparation of the Hands
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” (2 Tim 3:16).
Preachers are called to feed the flock of God with knowledge and understanding. Preachers are not life coaches, motivational speakers, or self-help gurus. As Dr. Abraham Kuruvilla states, “Preaching is how we are taught how to be Christlike.” Every preacher should think of themselves as the symbolic hands of God touching His people through the sermon. Preparation of the hands requires a preacher to consider the congregants in their sermon preparation. Samuel Proctor’s The Certain Sound of the Trumpet: Crafting a Sermon of Authority has three significant points to help preachers prepare their hands. First, there must be a sensitive awareness of the audience and its contextual situation. Second, it is good to know where the audience is in biblical knowledge and theological understanding. Third, the preacher must discern what God has prepared for this audience. Here, the preacher must prayerfully open the channel to God and humbly ask what to say to the audience.
The preacher who prepares the heart, head, and hands will minimize fear and anxiety and experience the power of God’s Spirit operating through them. The spiritual ointment of preparation of the heart, head, and hands will strengthen the messenger to “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction”
(2 Tim 4:2).
About the Contributors
Herman Baxter Sr., also known as “Bax,” is an ordained minister with a passion for “ministering to the minster.” Reared in Trenton, N.J., he is a retired Major, USAF, who completed 26 years of honorable military service as a Munitions and Missile Maintenance Officer. Herman received his ThM from DTS in 2017 and is a DTS DMin candidate. He has served in a variety of capacities at DTS over the last 8 years, most recently assuming the title Dean of Students. He is blessed to be married to Brandy, a USAF veteran, and Doctor of Strategic Leadership student at Regent University. They have two daughters, Joy and Faith. “Team Baxter” has a passion for serving Jesus, whom the Word testifies, is the Christ.