“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
—Proverbs 16:18 (ESV)
If you’ve preached more than, say, 25 sermons, you’ve almost certainly had the experience. Saturday evening you sit back in your desk chair, look at the sermon you intend to deliver the next morning, and marvel, “Is it possible? Have I really created the perfect sermon?” You begin to imagine the weeping masses falling down at the altar after your sermon pleading, “What must I do to be saved?” You picture J.I. Packer who, for some unknown reason, just so happens to attend your church that particular Sunday, turning to the man next to him in the pew saying, “I’d gladly exchange all my learning if I could move men’s hearts like that simple preacher.” You honestly start wondering, “Let’s just say I’m invited to speak at the next Together for the Gospel conference…”
Sunday morning comes and you bound into the pulpit with a spring in your step, a smile on your face, and confidence in your voice. You’re prepared and eager to be a guide to the blind, a light to those in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children. But then the sermon begins. Ten minutes in, all your deacons have fallen asleep. Fifteen minutes in you’re thinking, “This is not going well at all. I hardly understand what I’m talking about.” Sweat begins pouring down your brow and you’re sure somebody must have forgotten to turn the AC on that morning. A few minutes later you begin seriously contemplating, “Maybe I should just call it quits right here and send everybody home early.” By the conclusion of your sermon you’re hoping your mother will let you move back into the basement since you’re fairly certain the parsonage will be vacant soon. The sermon you thought would ring forth like thunder from the heavens keeled over like a dead duck. What happened? The Lord has simply been faithful to His promise: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
While the scenario I just described is obviously somewhat exaggerated (emphasis on somewhat), I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve had this sort of experience many, many times in my relatively short career as a preacher. The Lord has taught me firsthand that He will not share His glory with another, including those who preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. And while I’m certainly slow to learn, my hope for this post is to communicate some of the lessons the Lord has taught me from these experiences with the goal of saving you, my brother-pastors, from the same humiliating fate.
In no particular order, here are some reflections for fighting pride as a preacher:
Prayerfully examine your heart daily for pride and repent quickly.
Pride is one of those sins that can infect your soul subtly (Proverbs 12:15). You may not realize it is there until you’re doing and thinking grotesque things. This temptation to pride is all the greater for those of us who regularly stand before crowds and congregations. Therefore, brother-pastors, you’ve got to be proactive in the war on pride. As part of your daily prayer time, include maybe two or three minutes of self-examination, looking for expressions of pride in the last 24 hours. Renounce these, repent, and claim the blood of Jesus for forgiveness and cleansing. If I could suggest a resource here, every pastor should prayerfully work through C.J. Mahaney’s Humility: True Greatness. It will give you much food for thought for fighting pride.
Cultivate distrust for your own evaluations of your sermons.
For whatever reason, preachers can be the worst evaluators of their own messages. As I illustrated above, some sermons I thought would change the world turned out to be absolute duds. Sometimes while I’m preaching I’ll think I’m experiencing the unction of the Spirit but afterward the response is, at best, ho-hum. The opposite has also been true: sermons I thought were terrible or incoherent, God chose to bless in a powerful way to the hearts of my hearers. The overarching lesson is to be suspicious of your appraisals of your sermons. By all means, do your best in the preparation and delivery of your messages, but leave the results entirely up to God.