Do you prepare you sermons in advance or do you rely upon the Holy Spirit?
This statement represents a false-dichotomy that Greg Heisler sought to overcome in his book, Spirit-Led Preaching, writing, “Spirit-led preaching seeks to overcome the false dichotomy between the Word and the Spirit and instead unites them as the powerful catalyst for Spirit-demonstrated preaching.”
Sermons that rely upon God’s Word necessarily involve the Holy Spirit, but there is more to Spirit-led preaching than reading from the Bible, it involves an active surrender to the movement and direction of the Holy Spirit throughout the preparation and delivery of the sermon.
Someone once said preachers should “prepare as if the Holy Spirit will never show up and preach as though they have never prepared.”
Preparation precludes presumption. Nevertheless, preparation should never breed self-reliance.
The preacher does not walk to the podium with a polished manuscript to proclaim for the entertainment and education of his hearers. The preacher must walk to the podium expecting God to work, expecting the Word of God to go forth with power, and praying earnestly for the Holy Spirit do do what weak men cannot do—work with power in the lives of sinners to bring about salvation and sanctification.
If you have preached long enough, you have experienced a sermon where the power of God was especially evident. The Spirit may have worked mightily through your prepared words. You read the words of your outline and discover them to have power that you could not have predicted. You may read the words of a carefully prepared manuscript and realize that the Holy Spirit knew during the preparation just exactly who would be present in worship to hear just the right words of hope and encouragement.
There are other times, however, when the Holy Spirit takes over and your sermon notes go out the window. Part of being open to the movement of the Holy Spirit means preparing to change your plans to suit God’s plans. In these times the Spirit may impress upon you to preach from a different text than you had planned or to forego part of your outline or even to apply the sermon in ways other than you had prepared. The Holy Spirit may wake you in the night to change your plans or the circumstances of the world on a Sunday morning my lead you to lean upon the mercy of God in a different way. Regardless of the reasons, I would like to offer a few suggestions to follow when the Holy Spirit takes over.
- Test the spirits. These words of caution from 1 John 4:1 are especially important to preachers and teachers who will be called to give an account for all that you lead others to believe and do. Do you believe on the spur of a moment that you have a brand new revelation from God or a fresh understanding of a passage that contradicts long-held beliefs? Beware, this may not be the Spirit of God leading you to change your message. The Holy Spirit will never contradict himself and He will never lead you to preach what is contradictory to His word. Learn from the multitudes of pastors who have had to apologize for speaking what the “spirit” told them at the last minute when it is later revealed that what was preached was contrary to the Bible.
- Surrender your pride. Editing is not a strong-suit of preachers and pastors. Your sermon is your baby, it is your personal masterpiece for the week. If God has something else to say, throw away your sermon and preach His sermon.
- Acknowledge the moment. Congregations like to be in the loop. They like to know that they are on the same page with the preacher. Simple statements like, “The Holy Spirit is at work here” are good ways to help everyone know they are on board (But don’t overuse that statement every week).
- Land the plane. Does it seem that the Spirit is moving powerfully during the second point of a four-point sermon? Your last three illustrations will never yield the power of the Holy Spirit’s unction. If God is moving, land the plane. Give people an opportunity to respond to what God is doing. Don’t be afraid to extend an invitation before the sermon is over. Whitefield beckoned people to be converted multiple times in each sermon.
- Eat and take a nap. Preaching is taxing. Preaching under the unction of the Spirit even more so. Know that after great spiritual victories you are susceptible to the attacks of Satan, especially when you are tired and worn out. Some people may want to stay around and talk about the amazing experience in the service. There could even be a person (an emissary of Satan?) who wants to gripe and complain after a great move of God in a worship service. Save yourself the temptation to fail by avoiding confrontation and when necessary, people all together, until you’ve had some time to refresh and recharge.
What have you found helpful in your ministry to welcome the Holy Spirit in your preaching and to respond well when the Spirit takes over?