In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned his followers not to practice spiritual devotion with ulterior motives (Matthew 6:1-18). Do not give to the needy to be celebrated for your generosity. Do not pray to be heard by men. Do not fast so people will consider you spiritual. How do you avoid practicing Godward acts with man-centered motives? Jesus teaches that acts of devotion should be done in private, before God not man.
Preachers also struggle with the temptation to make their charge from God a performance before men. But we cannot overcome this temptation by moving the pulpit to our secret closets. Preaching is a public act of spiritual devotion. We may pray that God would hide us behind the cross as we preach. But there is no place to hide in the pulpit.
Let’s face it. The pulpit is a dangerous place. It can fill the preacher with pride that leads to his downfall. It call fill the preacher with discouragement that causes him to give up. It can fill the preacher with fear that prostitutes his divine message for human approval.
The old story is told about the young preacher who strutted to the pulpit, expecting to wow the congregation. He humbly walked out of the pulpit after the sermon bombed. “What happened?” he asked a senior minister. The wise, seasoned preacher counseled, “Son, if you would have gone up to the pulpit the way you came down, you would have been able to come down the way you went up.”
How can you guard your heart in the pulpit? Consider these recommendations …
Come to the pulpit prayed up.
Sermon preparation is an exercise in believing prayer. We should thank God for the privilege of speaking for him. We should pray for illumination of the revealed scriptures. We should ask God to yield the wisdom of the writers we consult to us. We should confess our sins to God when the text convicts us. We should pray for help to personally obey teachings of God’s word. We should pray the Lord would enable us to speak faithfully and clearly. We should pray for a spiritual burden for those who will hear the message. We should pray that Christ would be exalted as the word is explained. We should even pray as we preach! Coming to the pulpit prayed up will help guard your heart as you preach.