Over the next couple of weeks I want to share some things specifically for pastors and preachers of the Gospel. Today we are looking at part 1 of how a sermon is written. These are things that I have learned over two decades of ministry. What I share is what I wish someone had taught me when I was starting out.
Few things seem more intimidating than a blank page. Whether it is writing a poem, a book or a sermon. The blank page speaks of ideas that have yet to be formulated. This is where pastors begin weekly as they prepare for the coming Sunday and for those of us who prepare twice a week, the blank page comes as double intimidation.
I am in my 25th year of preaching and the blank page no longer intimidates me like it once did. Now it excites me more than ever. Because I love to preach, I know that this page will be filled with what the Spirit leads me to preach.
Again, the blank page is where we begin our message and this should cause us to seek the Lord for what He would have us fill it with. The words or the ideas that He wants to formulate in us so that we can effectively communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The blank page is not a blank heart. What fills the page should always come from the heart!
Our role as a communicator is not to impress with our words or our style but to preach what the Spirit has impressed on us. To communicate what Heaven wants the people to hear. Far removed from our mere opinion, the Word of God is to be interpreted and communicated only by what we believe the Spirit is saying through us.
The sermon is never to be taken lightly nor should our role as a preacher be taken for granted. It is a privilege to stand behind the sacred desk, called the pulpit, and the blank page should not be filled with words that are our own. They should be the outflow of our relationship with Christ and His Word. Words that rightly interpret God’s Word and how to apply them to our daily lives.
There is nothing wrong with borrowing ideas or commentary from others, however, what we preach should be borne out of our experience with God and what He is doing in our lives. We should be sharing what He is speaking to us and communicating what He wants to speak to His church.
To fill the blank page, there are some things that I have learned from preparing 2 sermons a week for the last 9 years, and 3 sermons a week for the 12 years before that:
1. Keep up your devotional life.
A preacher that fails to read his/her Bible devotionally will not be able to burn with passion for the topic or verses they preach. There are seasons where we might read only to find sermons, but we must make sure that we are reading for more than sermon material. We must read to consume the Words of Life so that we may be alive. I often journal and highlight Scriptures that speak to me or arrest my attention. I refer back to many of these for sermons or sermon series ideas. When I read devotionally, I never cease to have sermon material. My devotional reading always leads to having sermons.
2. Pray about what you will preach.
I preach mostly in series. Some say that you cannot be led by the Spirit if you preach in series, but I believe the Spirit can give series ideas just as He can weekly sermon ideas. I have found that people learn better through the series and so I pray about every sermon and every series. I may not know exactly what I am going to preach 6 weeks in advance but God does give me ideas for series and helps me map them out in advance, even if the sermons are not written until the week of. He does this because of prayer. As preachers, if we fail to pray we will not be led by the Spirit. If we are not led by the Spirit then we will preach of our own will and ideas. Prayer and Devotional Life are the 2 most critical components of sermon preparation and how to fill the blank page.
3. Keep a journal or a place to log your sermon and series ideas.
As God speaks through prayer and Bible reading, write down those ideas and put them somewhere. I have a whiteboard in my office that I stick sermon series ideas until I can get to them or feel like it is time to preach them. I write my ideas on a post-it note and stick it to the whiteboard. I also keep a Bible reading journal that I log Scriptures and sometimes brief sermon ideas.
For the preacher, the blank page can be intimidating because the blank page comes so often. Non-preachers would never understand the pressure of the sermon deadline that comes 1-3 times a week for all pastors. The heat is on come Monday morning, because it is just 6 days till the next Sunday. There is no time to dwell on the success of the last sermon because another one is coming so quickly. For those who preach Wednesday evenings, it is just 2 days from your next message. But when we keep the devotional life going it is easier, yet there is still the challenge of having time to study. Pastoral life is busy and many things pull for attention. We have many hats that we must wear, but the greatest calling of the pastor is that of a preacher of the Gospel. I encourage you to take that blank page and fill it with what the Spirit speaks.
Next week, we will watch how the blank page is transformed with ideas from God’s Word.
Without our consent, this life began
With our first breath, unfolds the Master’s plan
A fire was lit, yet it was only a flicker
Then fan the flame, to keep it from going dimmer
As the age grows, that fire is tested
As we fight life’s battles, our attention arrested
Consumed by things that conflict with our Maker
Like fitting a forest, on less than an acre
Deep inside, the fire is growing dim
But yet the Spirit ignites, the fire again
Once again, our love for Him shall soon grow
This little flame, will in darkness glow
One life to live, what shall we do with the light
Hide it under a bushel? Or put the enemy to flight
As our life winds down that narrow road
Our eyes then focus on our Heavenly Home
Pointing others to Him while leading the way
Our mind shall know there is coming a day
When the wind shall blow and that flame grow dim
Then there is a candle that will light again
Night shall come and the darkness invade
At last we shall rest in that cold musty grave
But in the morning, our eternal candle revived
And when on that golden shore, we have finally arrived
Then, we will bow at His feet to forever abide
So keep your candle lit till that final day
And share you flame all along life’s way
Every once in a while, I will go back and read through my grandfather's old Bible. He was a pastor some years before I was born. He was a passionate preacher and evangelist but had resigned from the ministry before I came along. As I was reading though his Bible I came across a sermon he had preached nearly 50 years ago.
These were the words that he penned, "Our Lord has been glorified and the great gift to the church is the Holy Ghost and the one answer to your problems and needs and my needs and that of the whole family of God throughout the whole world is the Holy Ghost.
Oh Breath of Life come sweeping through us,
Revive thy church with life and power.
O Breath of life, come, cleanse and renew us,
Equip Thy Church to meet this hour.”
Let this be our prayer as well. That the Breath of Life would sweep through us church and equip us for this hour.
Has somebody ever done you wrong?
What a dumb question for me to ask! I know that everyone can say a good hearty yes to this, but let me tweak the question just a bit. Was that person who hurt you someone close to you? Someone that you had blessed? Most often it is those that are closest to us that hurt us. Why is that? Because we leave ourselves more vulnerable to those who we are closer to.
Look at the life of King David who could really never trust those closest to him. His own son, Absalom sought to overthrow the kingdom. David ministered to King Saul and Saul tried to kill him. Sound familiar? David wrote in Psalm 35:11-14 we see David's frustration with this problem. He writes, "Fierce witnesses rise up; They ask me things that I do not know. They reward me evil for good. To the sorrow of my soul. But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled myself in fasting; and my prayer would return to my own heart. I paced about as though he were my friend or brother. I bowed down heavily, as one who mourns for his mother. But in my adversity they rejoiced."
David had sought God for the others when they were down and out. He had fasted and prayed for them and mourned with them only to see them turn their back on him. Life is not fair is it? Maybe this is your life story. Maybe you are the one who is there to bless others...to minister to others needs only to see them turn against you in your most vulnerable moment.
Our first reaction is to fight back. Speak against them and lash out at them with our tongue. This is a natural response to hurt. That is why churches today have so much conflict. Because there is so much hurt. When there is alot of hurt, people react by hurting others. Many times people are threatened by the other party and that causes them to turn against them. What are we supposed to do? Fight Fire with Fire? It was Jesus' disciples who were ready to call down fire from heaven to consume their enemies but Jesus stopped them.
David's response was verbal but not in a negative way. In verse 17 of the above text he asks God to take care of them. He says, "Lord, how long will you look on? Rescue me from their destructions, my precious life from the lions. I will give you thanks in the great assembly; I will praise You among many people."
The answer can be summed up in the "two p's". Pray for the offenders and Praise God in the midst of your hurt. By doing these things you make yourself better and not bitter. Pray that God would handle the situation and heal your hurts. Pray that God would touch their hearts and that He would change them.
Then put on a shout of praise. Nothing makes you feel better in the times of loneliness and hurt than to just give God praise. As you lift Him up, He lifts you up. This will cause you to focus on God and not on those who have hurt you.
Friend, hurts in life are inevitable. Life is hard and your spirit will be wounded. You do not have to live with the pain. God will fight the battle for you. Make a decision today to pray for those who hurt you and then give God your highest praise. It will make you feel better.
Do you want to prosper?
I believe within every one of us is the desire to live a prosperous life. To live above and not beneath. To be the head and not the tail. To be blessed and not cursed. Every one of us desires to walk in the light of God’s abundance.
In the day we live we have been taught that the main road to prosperity is through our abundant giving. The more money we give the more we receive from the Lord. If we truly want to abound in God’s riches then we must give more and then some. Is this really the Bible’s path to prosperity?
Now before you stop reading, let me give you a disclaimer. I believe that we are blessed when we give, I do believe in sowing and reaping. There is, however, a broader path to the blessings of God. John said that God wills that we prosper and be in good health, even as our soul prospers. Our prosperity is dependent on our soul’s prosperity. God’s abundance goes beyond finances. God desires to prosper us in every area of our lives. The word prosper in the Greek literally means to succeed in reaching. Therefore Biblical prosperity is success in reaching the best that God has for us. Success in living a fruitful Christian life which displays God’s hand upon our lives.
How do we prosper? How does our soul succeed? II Chronicles 31:21 gives us the path to abundance, “And in every work that he [Hezekiah] began in the service of the House of God, in the law and in the commandment, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart. So he prospered.”
Here we find that prosperity is based upon the heart. Even the great commandment states that we are to love God with our whole heart, soul and strength. In all that we do we must love and serve Him with that type of fervency.
According to God’s Word we must give our all in the following areas if we want to prosper:
1. Serve in the House of God with all of our heart.
God is not looking for half-hearted servants in His house. He is not looking for someone to begrudgingly serve Him because they “have to”. He is looking for someone to sell-out and give everything to the One who gave everything. To prosper you must serve the Lord in His House. Find a ministry and give your all to it and you will prosper.
2. Love the Word of God and live it with all of your heart.
Hezekiah gave his all to fulfill the law and the commandments. His desire was to live according to God’s Word. To follow His commands. If you look at the gospels you find that Jesus said that our soul’s prosperity was contingent on obeying His Word. Do you desire to live according to His Word? Do you line up how you live with how the Word of God tells you to live? Prosperity comes to those who live a holy life.
3. Seek your God with all of your heart.
The path to prosperity is found in your whole-hearted desire to know God and seek Him. Do you pray because you have-to or because you want to? Do you seek to know Him more? Hezekiah wanted to know the ways of the Lord so He sought Him. For you and I to prosper in life we must have a relationship with the Master of our Souls. Seek Him and you will prosper.
These are the three key ways to find prosperity in your life. Make it your goal to focus on these three areas. If you do them you will prosper.
This post is adapted from Danny's book, Thoughts For The Journey.
Ever feel that God doesn't even know your name?
Paul, in writing to Timothy, shared a powerful truth, "Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: The Lord knows those who are His…"
II Timothy 2:19
Need I say more? God who is all-knowing knows your name. The God who is all-powerful has the power to change your life. Too many times we go by our feelings and feel unloved. We may not feel His presence one day, and we think He has forsaken us. The fact is, we do not have to live by feelings but by faith. If He said, "He knows those who are His", shouldn't we take Him at His word? God loves you and cares for you. You are special to Him! He knows the number of tears you cry and the number of hairs on your head (and those that fall off too). We can delight in the fact that God cares for each one of us so much that He knows us all by name.
My comprehension is not capable of grasping the fact that God Almighty can be everywhere at one time and know billions of individual names. Not only that, He knows every detail of those many billions of people. Amazing, is it not? What an awesome God we serve! Paul relates that this is the solid foundation of God, and it stands with the seal of His ownership on our lives. Friend, the next time you feel forsaken, unloved or unmoved, think on this verse (II Timothy 2:19). You are special, you are chosen, you are loved. Jesus said that God knows every time a sparrow falls to the ground, how much more does He know your needs and hurts. Rest assured that you are the apple of God's eye, and He knows you by name.
What are you doing that will last for eternity?
Whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. (James 4:14)
Life is truly precious and there are no guarantees of tomorrow. Our life long dreams and goals are usually for this life, but David said this life only last 70-80 years. Eternity is a lot longer than that. We all want to succeed on our jobs and prosper in life, which is fine, but have we considered that all that passes away with us. The only thing that will last is the eternal things. We spend so much time, even in ministry, trying to get ahead that we neglect the weightier things.
As we try to raise our kids and encourage them to get an education, do we encourage them to have a relationship with Jesus Christ? When is the last time that you read the Bible as a family?
You see, greater than your kids succeeding in life is them succeeding eternally. I would hate that I never took the time to train up my son in the eternal things, and when it comes time for us to stand before Jesus, him be turned away. Even as a pastor I have to invest in him, even as you should invest in your children. What are you doing outside of your home for eternity? Do you serve the Lord through your church? Are you willing to take someone under your wing and disciple them or even teach a Sunday School class? Have you invited someone to church lately? When is the last time you went to visit someone in the hospital or the nursing home? Have you called those that you noticed missing from church on Sunday, just to check and make sure they were alright?
There are so many things that hold eternal weight that we neglect to do because "That's the Pastor's job." You will stand at the same judgment seat and answer what you did for eternity's sake. I challenge you today, invest in someone that needs an extension of God's love.
Have you ever bought something and tried to put it together without the instructions?
A few years ago, we bought a file cabinet, and I ventured to put this together all by myself. I got the whole thing put together, and the time came to put the drawers in. They wouldn't fit all the way in. As I evaluated the situation and my ability was questioned by my helpmeet, I had to go back to the instructions to see what I did wrong. I eventually got the drawers in, after noticing my extreme ignorance, and now have a beautiful file cabinet.
What is the moral of the story? Many of us go through life without regarding the instructions. We feel like we can do it all on our own and never look at the guidelines. In our walk with God, He has given us a magnificent set of instructions. They are very clear, precise, and up to date. As a matter of fact, they are infallible and without error.
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (II Timothy 3:16-17)
Going through life without ever looking at the instruction book, the Bible, will cause us to go through life with ignorance. You see, there are things written, that if abided by, would save us a lot of heartache. The Bible clearly gives us a map of the things that should be done and shouldn't be done. It also gives us examples of men and women who tried it the right way and those who chose to do it the wrong way.
The old saying goes, "A dumb man never learns from his mistakes, a smart man will learn from his mistakes and an extremely brilliant and wise man will learn from others mistakes." Why is it that people choose to do it their own way without following the instructions? PRIDE. It is manly to be able to put together a file cabinet without the instructions, right? Wrong! I challenge you to indulge in the instruction manual; learn it, study it and know it. You will never regret having learned the greatest book of all, The Word of God.
For months, this thought has been on my mind. How are we living our life? Are we living to make a difference? We are all born and one day we will all die, so how do we live life in the in-between? Compared to eternity, our lives are short. 70-80 years is a good long life but compared to eons, our life is like mere seconds. So why do we not take more time to think about how we are living? Why do so many tend to waste their lives on vain pursuits?
My challenge to every person is to evaluate your life and determine if you are living your dash well. Are you making an impact on other's lives? Are your pursuits truly God's Will for your life? When you stand before God will He be pleased with the way you lived your dash?
Last night, we started a new Bible Study called the Fasted Life. It has been something on my heart for a couple years now. I believe God is calling believers to a life of fasting and prayer. What power could we walk in if we took serious the Scripture's mandate to fast and pray. In the message last night, I shared a writing from about 20 years ago that I wrote after my first full fast from food. Below you will find the full article, written some years ago, describing that fast.
From the book Thoughts For The Journey:
What is it like when you try to fast?
As the death angel loomed over my bed, I could sense the end of my short life drawing near. My head wracked with pain and feeling nauseated, I pled with God to take me home. I then drifted off to sleep and awoke in the morning, to my surprise. What happened to me? Why was the death angel at my door? It is called fasting. Though I exaggerated a great deal, I did experience a great deal of hardship. After all, crucifying the flesh is not easy.
For all of you super spirituals out there who can fast without it even affecting you, you might not want to read this. For those of us that it does affect, take cheer; it is natural. Fasting is helping to subject your flesh in order to give God more control. Do not get this confused with punishment.
A fast is where you decide you are going to give up food, in order to draw closer to God and seek Him. It is not an easy doing. It was always easy for me to fast two meals, but to go for three, it was like pulling teeth with no anesthetic. I LOVE TO EAT and so does my body, however, by fasting you show God you mean business. Now I don't suggest to anyone fasting a whole day until you can fast a meal. Likewise don't go on a forty day fast unless directed by God Almighty. This is serious business. As I awoke that morning somewhat refreshed but weak, I wondered why did it affect me like this?
My conclusion is that we are so used to food and all the preservatives, caffeine, and much more, that our body has withdrawals. The more you fast the more your body will become adapted to doing without those things. It should never become easy lest it lose its meaning. It should get to the place that it can be more spiritual. It is tough for me to pray with a migraine and hunger pains. I pray better when I have eaten. We should never fast out of ritual but always with a goal of what we want to see accomplished. Do not fast just to fast. Fast for a deeper knowledge of God. For all of you who can sympathize with these same traits of fasting, can I get an AMEN?
Here is the video from the Fasted Life Intro Message.
Watch more messages here.
Seated around a conference table in a dimly lit room, were gather several men. All of them were there for the same purpose. The leader of the meeting was assessing each person’s worth. On the table in front of each man was an application and a spreadsheet with many calculations. Each paper was different. Each man flipped through his paperwork as the “boss” discussed an all-important subject: Worth. What was each man worth?
The thing I noticed about each man was that they were all about my age. They were in the same age bracket I was. As each of us looked at our spreadsheets and figures calculating our worth I noticed that most of us had the same figures. Basically the same worth. Yet, among our group, was one man who stood out. When I noticed His paperwork, it far over-shadowed each of the other men. One’s worth recorded 92,000, while another was 111,000. I wasn’t allowed to see my own figures but I noticed the other man’s. The boss was looking at his figures. 17,000,000.
I thought to myself, “He’s the same age as I am. How could he have built up such a figure in his short life? What investments did he make? What did he do that I didn’t and what could I do to be where he is?” Then I noticed his spreadsheets. Where most of ours had a few pages of investments made, his read like a book. Page after page of investments.
It was then I noticed the heading above our figures. It wasn’t how much money we were worth. The heading read simply, “Spiritual Life”. This man was rich spiritually and we were lagging way behind. As soon as I noticed the heading on each of the papers, I awoke from my dream.
Instantly, the Scripture came to mind, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” 3 John 2
I asked myself the question as I awoke, “If I prospered as much as my soul did, how much would I be worth?” I believe it was intentional that I was not able to see the figures of my “spiritual life” chart. Perhaps it was the mercy of God saving me from the shock of deficiency. Or maybe God was just speaking to me about the pursuit my life should be taking. If this text of Scripture is interpreted correctly, prosperity is linked to my soul’s prosperity. You can be wealthy financially and be spiritually bankrupt. You can have a nice home with all the amenities while your spiritual house is crumbling.
What matters at the end of the day is not how much we have in the bank but rather what spiritual investments we have made. So often, we are adamant to make investments that will ensure us financial security, but forget about the investments that will help our soul to prosper. I am stirred that my life must have investments of prayer, God’s Word, sharing Christ and serving Him fully. Yielding in obedience. When the “boss” looks over my spreadsheet of investments, I want it to read like a book.
One last note: the fact that everyone in the dream was my same age, reveals that spiritual life is not reserved for those who are older in the faith. It all has to do with how we invest in God’s Kingdom. No matter our age, our soul can be as prosperous as a saint who has walked with God for 50 years. It is all about the investment.
What are you worth spiritually?
An excerpt from Danny's Book, Thoughts For The Journey.
In Don Ross' book, Turnaround Pastor, he had a chapter that spoke of the power of prayer in the life of, not only the pastor but of the church as well. For years, I have been on a journey to have a dynamic prayer life and have always desired to help our church discover the same for their lives. In Ross' book, he gives a pattern for prayer. Not a formula but a plan that will help people keep focused on the different aspects of prayer.
I have noticed through my 20 years of pastoring that people have a difficult time praying at length. Not because of a lack of desire, as much as it is from a lack of know how. How do I pray for an hour, thirty minutes or even ten minutes?
This 10 minute prayer plan is broken down to go through these 10 points and spend a minute each on them. Once you have prayed for 10 minutes, if you want to increase, spend two minutes a point. By increasing the amount of time per point, you have increased your over all prayer time.
We should never be afraid of using a plan when we pray, however, we should also allow the Holy Spirit to lead us. If He wants us to spend more time on one part or even skip another, there is freedom to do so.
Here is Don Ross' plan for prayer:
This weekend was Back to Church Sunday and a great deal of preparation went into getting things ready. As we were picking up supplies at Sam's, we ran into a gentleman who struck up a conversation with us. Apparently, people take notice when you have nearly 400 hamburger and hot dog buns. He asked if we were running the concession stand at the University of Arkansas Game and we shared with him what we were doing.
I love how God opens doors for us to share about what He is doing in the Kingdom of God. This gave us an intro to talk about church. We let him know that we were hosting a church service and car show and would be feeding everyone for free. Sometimes people don't associate free with church. Too often, the church asks the community for things but the church doesn't always give back. We invited him to church and to the car show. We talked a few more moments and parted ways.
About 5 minutes later, this same gentleman tracked us down and found us. He said, "I can't make it to your event because I have other things at that time, but I would like to give you this to help with your costs. I like what you are doing." He handed me $40.00. I was blown away by His generosity. I was left thinking, "Here is a complete stranger that is giving money to a church and a person that he knows nothing about."
For me, I left that encounter with a couple of things running through my mind.
1.) I believe God was smiling on our event. This man's gift was a validation that God is paying attention to what His church is doing.
2.) It challenged me to be more generous. To think that a total stranger sowed into God's kingdom stirs me to give more.
How often do we overlook needs? Worse yet, how many times do we fail to heed God's nudging to bless someone else or their ministry? I believe this gentleman in Sam's was just following the leading of the Holy Spirit, even though he may not have realized it. What blessed me more than anything was the fact that this man had received a huge blessing from being generous. The look on his face told the story of a heart that was touched by God because of his giving.
When we learn to be generous, we will find a greater joy, a more permanent happiness. I have rarely seen I generous person who is miserable. But Misers? Well let's just say they are MISERable. I leave you with the words of the Apostle Paul who wrote about having the attitude of generosity. "You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” 2 Corinthians 9:7 NLT
Thanks for stopping by. I am looking forward to sharing with you what God has laid on my heart and what He is doing not only in my life but also in the life of His church. For many years, I have wanted to redirect my blogging to focus, not only on those in my church family, but also to reach out to those in ministry. Especially, those who pastor smaller churches, like mine. Keep checking back for things that might interest you. Whether you are a pastor, church attender or someone who is interested in the topics on this blog. Also, feel free to comment. I would love to here from you.