While on a return with the hearse driver the other day, I was asked a question about my day ahead. When I told him my next task that Saturday was a revision toward greater clarity of my Sunday sermon, he wanted to know what that meant. I explained to him the pattern of setting a series well in advance, then the weekly research and study Sunday afternoon – Tuesday, setting the outline by Tuesday night, the first draft writing on Wednesday – Thursday. The day off to let it “marinate” on Friday and back to Saturday revision. I then summed it all up with a Latin quote ars est celare artem (I did translate it), “true art is to conceal art.” Unsatisfied to finish with that, I went further to explain how I did not keep these disciplines to respect the art of preaching, but that I kept them to respect the Word of God itself that was preached. It is not the power of my preaching, but the power of the Word of God, preached.
Preaching is, as John Stott put it, “between two worlds.” It requires you to stand up and speak with authority and pointed passion to people who may well be your intellectual and spiritual betters or worse, you may think that you yourself are their intellectual and spiritual betters. But a man who has confidence in the word of God has everything he needs for the task. Here’s how Herman Bavinck put it in his magisterial and now every volume available in English, Reformed Dogmatics:
For if a minister is not convinced of the divine truth of the word he preaches, his preaching loses all authority, influence, and power. If he is not able to bring a message from God, who then gives him the right to act on behalf of people of like nature with himself? Who gives him the freedom to put himself in the pulpit [a few feet] above them, to speak to them about the highest interest of their soul and life and even to proclaim to them their eternal weal or woe? Who would dare, who would be able to do this, unless he has a word of God to proclaim?
Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1 (p. 461)
Indeed, “Who would dare, who would be able to do this, unless he has a word of God to proclaim?” Confidence in the power of the Word of God preached will, as you love your Savior and you love your people, automatically raise your intensity and your standard of preparation like an unintentional by-product.
In every biography I have read of the great pastor-preachers of the past, I have noted how all were unsatisfied with their preaching. That’s not ego, that’s humility. When you become aware how deep, deep down a sinner you really are and how deep, deep down your Savior had to reach to pull you from the pit and set you on a rock, you are not the same preacher. It is amazement, awe, and gratitude in your own redemption by grace alone that pull you toward preparation and the pulpit, “…we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ…” (2 Corinthians 5.9-10a).