Discouragement. That feeling you get immediately after delivering a sermon you spent all week preparing. If it’s not there Sunday afternoon, just wait. It’ll be waiting for you on Monday morning.
So how does a pastor prevent the discouragement that too often follows him on his descent from the pulpit? I believe it is through better preparation. I don’t mean that we should spend more time preparing our sermons, though that may be the case. I mean we need to spend time preparing ourselves. I’ve found that preparing my soul to preach can stave off discouragement in several ways. Below are a couple steps I take to ensure my soul is ready to preach Sunday’s sermon.
Remind myself of the Gospel
I don’t know about other preachers, but I have a sinful tendency to equate my significance with my ability to preach. This is one reason why I need to remind myself of the gospel on Sunday morning. When I rehearse the gospel, I remember that my worth is not found in my performance, but in the performance of Another.
My heart desperately seeks the acceptance and approval of others, especially my audience, but in the gospel I find something greater: the approval of a holy, glorious, and mighty God. I know that because of Jesus’ perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection I have God’s unwavering love and blessing. Once I am reminded of this, it is difficult for critical comments and discouraging thoughts to linger in my heart and mind.
Reminding myself of the gospel also warms my cold heart, giving me a passion to preach God’s Word and tell of his glory and marvelous grace.
Recognize my dependence on God
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a sermon is merely an intellectual exercise. “Success” in the pulpit cannot be reduced to merely the exchange of biblical information, polished verbiage, and captivating illustrations. Sermons are successful when they are fruitful. And only God can produce spiritual fruit. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” (1 Cor. 3:6)
This reality forces me to pray and plead with God to work through my sermon because I know that if God does not act then his people will not be transformed into the likeness of his Son. Even when my sermons aren’t as ‘good’ as I would like, I know that God is powerful enough to effect change in our. Recognizing this forces me to focus less on me and more on him and this in turn helps ward off discouragement.
In addition to extemporaneous prayers, I have been using a written prayer from The Valley of Vision, entitled “A Ministers Preaching”. I use this as a prayer guide about 15 minutes before corporate worship begins. Here are a few excerpts from it:
“My Master God,
I am desired to preach today, but go weak and needy to my task...Give me assistance in preaching and prayer, with heart uplifted for grace and unction...Keep me conscious all the while of my defects, and let me not gloat in pride over my performance...Attend with power the truth preached, and awaken the attention of my slothful audience...And help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way, or bear a broken testimony so worthy a Redeemer, or be harsh in treating of Christ’s death, its design and end, from lack of warmth and fervency.”
My Sunday morning routine includes several cups of coffee and more than a few reviews of my sermon notes. However, my primary goal is to influence the posture of my heart. I want to be able to say, along with John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). I need to be reminded that preaching, just like life, is much more about Christ than it is about me. And once I have adopted that mindset, my soul is prepared to preach.
Nathan Rose is the senior pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Liberty, Missouri and a National Replanting Catalyst with NAMB. His love for the local church propels all he does, including his current pursuit of a Ph.D. in Historical Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and his role as the Director of Church Vitality for the Clay-Platte Baptist Association. He is also a regular contributor to For The Church, a gospel-centered website from Midwestern Seminary. He and his wife, Rachel, have three young children. You can connect with him on Twitter at @nathanrose33.
 Arthur G. Bennett, Valley of Vision (leather): a Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, Deluxe ed. (Charlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2003), 348-49.