When you struggle to preach

By Nathan Loudin

It is 8 a.m. on Sunday morning. I open my Bible, look at my preaching notes, and feel like the well is dry. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to get the words into my heart — the very words I prayed for and wrote down a couple of days ago. This thought floods into and occupies my mind: “How am I going to preach this?”

The words are true. I believe them. But I don’t feel like preaching.

Have you been there? In moments like these, I realize that I have three options:

Stop preaching

It is possible that you should stop preaching. No, don’t leave your congregation hanging today and never come back. You should spend time thinking through your struggle by asking: Is this a normal Sunday dilemma? Do I feel discouraged and drained on Sunday? Is every weekday tainted with the dread of preparing a sermon for Sunday? Am I regularly forcing my sermons?

It could be your lack of desire to preach the Word means you should critically examine your call to preaching.

In his book, Dangerous Calling, Paul Tripp described his troubled state: “My calling had become my identity, and I was in trouble, and I had no idea.” He could not see his own spiritual troubles because his identity had become fused in his preaching and pastoring, and not in Jesus. It was impossible to imagine he shouldn’t be preaching because … he is a preacher, after all! His personal life and his marriage were a disaster. But he kept preaching anyway. While there is not enough room here to address this in full, it could be that you should not be preaching (maybe for an intentional season, or maybe not vocationally at all). Seek the counsel of trusted pastors around you. Share your struggle with a confidant. Don’t ignore this “check engine light.” Ask the Lord to test your heart. Maybe you shouldn’t be preaching.

We can step down from preaching without shame because our identity is in our being called and united to Christ, not in being called and united to preaching.

Preach in the flesh

You can preach in the flesh. Just pull your boot straps up, tighten your fists, and head to the pulpit. Preach louder and stronger to overshadow your apathy. Pound the pulpit with a little more authority to distract from yourself. Change your tone to sound more passionate and caring. In essence, cover it up. Fake it.

Preaching in the flesh can be quite pleasing. When you preach in the flesh, the appreciation your congregation shows is all the more immediately enjoyable. They are truly praising you. You did it again. Youpreached an amazing sermon!

If we are preaching in the flesh — in our own power, will, and motivation — then we are in serious trouble, and we need to go back and consider “stop preaching.”

To preach in the flesh is to trust your own ability to get this thing done. It’s the impulse to simply power through on your own. Preaching in the flesh is like the carnal infants in 1 Corinthians 3 who are void of all spirituality. How much worse when the preacher is carnal and preaches with no thought of the Spirit of God? When he speaks without faith or has no communion with God? When he has not first run to God before he has run to the pulpit? The preacher in the flesh may utter God’s name, but it will be God-less preaching.

Preach in the flesh and you will begin to preach to the flesh. The flesh and the Spirit have set their desires against one another. (Galatians 5) What is your desire? Do you preach for building the maturity and faith of the hearers? Do you preach in order to be seen preaching? Preaching is often received favorably when it includes morsels of moralism, entertainment, funny stories, and enough worldliness to make hearers in the flesh comfortable. We may feel appreciated and affirmed when the congregation is responsive and accepting, but we may not be preaching God’s word fully. God is not pleased when we preach in the flesh, God is pleased when we preach by faith. (Hebrews 11:6)

Preach by faith

There is only one way to preach — by faith. Our faith should be a specific and informed faith, based on God’s Word. What does preaching by faith look like?

— Preach in faith by praying. Start praying the first moment your eyes open on Sunday. Respond by prayer every time you hear yourself say, “I don’t want to do this today.” Pray while you walk from your office to the sanctuary. Pray between every greeting and every hand shake. Pray during the pre-service song. Pray during the singing. Pray every step you take toward the pulpit. Ask God for strength and energy.

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me. (Col. 1:28–29 ESV)

— Preach in faith by preparing. Pray all week as you prepare. Don’t let the first moment you’ve cried out to God for help be 10 minutes before the start of the service! I saw a quote this week, “Don’t pray for a hole while leaning against the shovel.” Ask God to help your preparation every day as you work to prepare. Settle your heart and mind on the message by Friday. Spend enough time in preparation so you can work through “I don’t feel like I can do this” feelings that come early in the week.

— Preach God’s Word with faith. It is God’s Word that is able to “cut as deep as dividing soul and spirit, bone and marrow, and is able to make known the motives of men’s hearts.” (Heb. 5:12). When God speaks, men fall to their faces, and men are made alive. At the Word of God, the world was created. At the Word of God, Lazarus was raised. Preach by trusting God’s Word.

As preachers, our hope is that God is at work through his word in those who believe. Paul said, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” (1 Thess. 2:13).

Recently, I heard a long-tenured pastor describe what he is looking for in young church planters and revitalizers. Personality types are important. Calling is important. Biblical qualification are non-negotiable. But this experienced pastor said to a group of pastors, “I’m always looking for one thing: fire.”

That sounds like Jeremiah who said: “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it and I cannot.” (Jer. 20:9 ESV)

Brothers, when it comes time to step to the pulpit, and there is a whispering in our ear, “I don’t feel like doing this,” we can either confirm we should not be doing it, or we can once again find that fire in our chest and preach by faith!

Published March 29, 2018

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Nathan Loudin

Nathan Loudin serves as Sr. Pastor at Milwood Baptist church in northwest Austin, Tx. He and his wife, Colette, served in Hong Kong, China for four years before moving to Austin in 2011. They have four children at the ages of 8, 6, 4, and 2. Follow Nathan on Twitter: @loud_in_out.