No preacher worth his weight enters the pulpit without some distress. There is a heaviness to delivering the word of God that is unlike anything else. Even if the preacher is naturally jovial, the man moved by the Spirit of God will tremble under the gravity of what he is doing.
I do not hold the office of pastor, but I do preach occasionally, and I teach the Bible regularly. Though I do not know the entire burden these pastors carry, I do know, in part, that preaching is often accompanied by a sense of woe that weakens them to their very core.
What causes this? It is the holiness of God. To stand in the pulpit and represent God to His people is a weight and responsibility that can only properly be done in the power of the Holy Spirit. To stand there in the power of the flesh or to trust in our theological knowledge and oratory skills is a sin.
Preaching, when done correctly, almost always begins with anguish. The greatest preachers will always ask, “Who am I to stand and proclaim Your word?” They know they meet the qualifications of pastor or elder as laid out in the scriptures and know God has called them to this, but they also know they need the word of God as much as any person in the congregation. Their sinfulness reminds them their lives depend upon the gospel they declare just as much as anyone to whom they will preach.
This acknowledgment of need is the only foundation for a great sermon. The pastor will often find himself studying the word of God until the passage he is covering begins to feed his soul. He learns the text to ensure he faithfully understands the intent of the biblical writers: the intent of God Himself who inspired those writers. From there, he begins to see the treasure within and how it speaks to the believer’s heart. The Lord uses the passage to lift the preacher’s head, and he begins to look more at Jesus than himself. If the word of God has not fed the preacher’s soul in this way, the preacher will not be able to feed those to whom God has called him to minister.
Oh, but once his soul has been illuminated to the power of the word and God has strengthened his heart, the message begins to burn in his breast until it is able to burst forth in proclamation. Once the message ignites the heart, the preacher is ready to preach.
Though the trembling remains, once the Holy Spirit ministers to the preacher’s heart, the distress is transformed; instead of cautioning him, it now compels him. The fear of the Lord not only causes dread but, as Proverbs tells us, “In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence (Proverbs 14:30).”
This assurance in God is where the preacher finds great delight. He now has complete confidence, not in himself, but in the God who laid him prostrate before His holiness, then brought him to his feet by the power of the Spirit and His word. Here, he can stand liberated from the fear of man and, in total freedom, proclaim the message the Lord has given him. There is no better place to be and no higher calling.
Many of you reading this may never preach a sermon in front of a church congregation. Still, similar distress and delight experienced by a preacher might also be experienced by you. Christ has called us all to minister to those around us. Our sinfulness has broken us before our holy God, He has strengthened us with His Word, and He has called us to comfort others where we have been comforted (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). This distress and delight can occur in a Christian’s writing, music, art, and other acts of service.
With contrition, spend time with Jesus, and He will speak to you through His Word, and once that message begins to burn within you, He will put someone in your path or send you to someone who needs to hear His truth. A voice that trembles before the Lord’s holiness and has found confidence in His Word is a voice the Lord often uses to resonate into the heart of the hearers. In this, God is glorified, which is our greatest delight.