“A man only preaches a sermon well to others if he has first preached it to himself. If he does not thrive on the ‘food’ he prepares, he will not be skilled at making it appetizing to others. If the Word does not dwell in power in us, it will not pass in power from us.” – John Owen (here)
If Owen is correct, then my sermon a couple of weeks ago must have been a real stinker. I was preaching on 2 Corinthians about not losing heart in the ministry God has given us. And I was preaching while deeply discouraged. As much as I tried to “thrive” on that food I was preparing for others it just wasn’t “working.” I know the problem was with me and my own heart and not the text. But I was in a pit that I couldn’t get out of. It’s been one of those seasons where the darkness feels more pervasive than the light, and I’m just hanging on until morning.
How do I preach in a time like this? How do I preach when I don’t feel like it? And am I being a big ol’ hypocrite to do so?
It’s been my experience that this feeling is what keeps a good many of people away from doing ministry. When our feelings get all busted up and we don’t feel motivated to read Scripture, pray, share the gospel or engage in ministry, we’d rather stop than keep trucking on. We know that such a thing leads to burn out. And we know that this is the land in which hypocrites thrive. It feels so pharisaical to proclaim things to others that you aren’t feeling in your heart. And so, rather than continuing to feel like a hypocrite, we disengage.
Here are a two truths that help when we don’t feel like doing the ministry God has called us to do.
1. It’s true that nobody likes dutiful roses. But it’s better than showing up empty handed.
John Piper has used a helpful illustration concerning what he calls our duty of delight. Nobody likes dutiful roses. If a husband came home and gave his wife roses and coldly explained that he was only doing his duty, then such a thing isn’t going to be received as well.
So what do I do if on a Sunday morning all I have is duty? I don’t have delight. I don’t want to preach. I don’t want to serve. I’m hurt. I’m wounded. I’m battered. I’m beaten up. My discouragement runs deep. How do I ring the door bell and give flowers of delight?
Piper is correct. The ideal would be to “serve the Lord with gladness.” In fact we are commanded to pastor out of joy instead of compulsion. But is it better to show up empty-handed? Is it better to not pastor at all, not serve the Lord at all, if I cannot do it with gladness? Or is the proper response to mourn the fact that in this moment something is broken and I’m not able to show up to the door with joyful flowers? But I still show up with flowers. I still do my duty. I still preach the word regardless of the season. I think that’s the proper response.
I am commanded to faithfully discharge my ministry no matter the season.
2. I am always preaching above my head.
There have been a few times when I’ve felt really confident in the pulpit. Those were some of the worst sermons I preached. We are never in a position to truly master God’s Word. And on this side of glory, I doubt any of us will ever really be mastered by God’s Word either. While I remain a sinner I’m always going to be preaching over my head.
On occasion we’ll feel a bit more adequate. We will feel like the glory of God isn’t so far above our heads or isn’t too far out of our reach. At other times we’ll feel the fact that we are clay pots and nothing more. Proclaiming what we hope to become isn’t hypocritical. You aren’t a hypocrite if you cannot live up to the ideal that you are hoping for. That isn’t hypocrisy, that’s humanity. Hypocrisy is when you are deliberately and deceptively preaching things that you do not believe and do not care to believe.
But preaching above your head, and preaching of that which you have not yet obtained, isn’t hypocrisy.
So knowing these truths, and a few more deeper truths about the sovereignty of God and the nature of preaching, I walk up the steps and get behind the pulpit and open my Bible and give it everything I’ve got. Some weeks that’s not much. But it’s all I’ve got. I’m confident that God delights to use a jar of clay in such a way. And on occasion the very act of preaching will spark faith and delight in my own heart. And I’ll leave the pulpit a changed man.
This article originally appeared here.