The pianist played the final notes of the offertory hymn which meant it was almost time for me to preach. Like so many Sundays before, I bowed my head and uttered a quick plea for the Holy Spirit’s help. But instead of peace, I felt conviction that this was one of the first prayers for my sermon or congregation the entire week. Despite spending hours preparing my sermon, I neglected the most important part: prayer.
Every pastor knows how important prayer is, especially when it comes to preaching. However, knowing the importance of prayer and prioritizing prayer in our preaching are two different things. It pains me to admit how often I push prayer to the back burner in my ministry. I wholly believe that apart from God’s help, my sermons lack any power to bring lasting change. Yet, even believing this, I still struggle to prioritize prayer the way I should.
As pastors, if we want to remain faithful and effective in ministering the Word, we must strive to saturate our preaching in prayer. When we step back and consider all that preaching requires, we can see some clear and simple steps for prioritizing prayer in our preaching.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to planning out our sermon calendar. Some pastors prefer planning their sermons a year or two in advance while others take it week-by-week. The most important aspect of sermon planning is not the approach you use, but how you include prayer in the process. Whether we plan our sermons months in advance or one week at a time, we desperately need to pray for the Spirit’s wisdom and guidance.
Knowing your congregation is essential to preaching effectively. Maybe most of your congregation is made up of new and immature Christians who need assurance of their salvation from 1 John. Or maybe your community was devastated with tragedy and a series on God’s presence in suffering would comfort their grieving hearts. While we can certainly learn what our congregation needs from shepherding them well, there is no substitute for the wisdom the Spirit provides us. The Spirit knows our people and what they need better than we ever will. Therefore, we can’t afford to neglect prayer as we plan out our sermons.
No matter how much we enjoy preparing sermons, it can be exhausting work. Every week, we exegete Scripture, consult commentaries and other relevant works, search for lively illustrations, and wrestle with how best to apply our passage. Depending on our experience and familiarity with a passage, a sermon might take anywhere from five to twenty hours to prepare. But in the midst of so much time preparing our sermon, where does prayer fit in?
My most common excuse for neglecting prayer during my sermon prep is that I assume I’m too busy to pray. With so many commentaries to consult and sermons to listen to, I end up jumping straight into my sermon prep without ever pausing to ask the Spirit for help. But how sad it is when we forget to include the One who actually illumines the text for us! Prayer must be an essential part of our sermon preparation time.
Dedicating just ten minutes each day to asking for the Spirit’s help is more valuable and productive than hours in self-dependent study of God’s Word. Regardless of how experienced you are, you need God’s help in your sermon passage and how to applies it to your people. From the first time you read through your preaching passage until you apply the finishing touches, you need to saturate your time of preparation in prayer.
But once your manuscript is complete, the need for prayer is as important as ever.