Yogi Berra said of baseball, "Ninety-five percent of this game is half mental." Preaching is about the same. We learned how to exegete a text, structure an outline, and stand and deliver. But somewhere along the line we need to learn the mental game.
I know it's my God-ordained responsibility to deliver the Word faithfully whether I'm jazzed or not. We preach by faith … even on Sundays when our hearts are heavy or our minds are dull. The Spirit's anointing—his unction—does not always come with an adrenaline rush. But I can still get psyched. Psych is a transliteration of the Greek word psuche—soul. That works for me. Let's say I've got to get "souled up" before I preach. And it's different from the way athletes get up for a big game.
Weight for the words
Usually, the first time I read my text, it seems one-dimensional, flat and light as the paper it's printed on. As I study, pray, and think, it is almost as though, one word or phrase at a time, the sermon grows heavier, as though the very ink gains weight. Gradually it takes on a more lifelike shape, and Jesus himself comes to life in it somehow, and so do the people I will address.
It is tempting to preach a passage before it has fully come to life. It's not that hard, really. You can lay out a solid exegetical outline, explain key words, colorize with good illustrations, but the sermon is too lightweight. Not so much because it is trite, but because it isn't full. Did you ever see an actor on a stage pick up a suitcase, and you just knew there was nothing in the suitcase, even though he leaned into it? He just can't fake the weight, and you begin to doubt the actor. A sermon is like that.
In the Old Testament there were priestly carriers. When Israel moved, priests carried all the parts of the Tabernacle. Ordinary, white-clad men hefting the holy weight of God's household goods. Think of the glory of that weight, the honor of that carrying. They were like anti-pallbearers. Instead of dead weight they carried Israel's life.
The Hebrew word for glory, kavod, carries the connotation of weight. The glory of God is heavy. I get psyched to preach as I feel the heft of the glory of a text of Scripture. Jesus himself is alive in this Word. In preaching we share something with those priestly forebears who carried the Ark of God's glory ahead of Israel. The prospect of carrying the weight of God's glorious Word psyches me up; it stirs my soul to preach.
Power beyond my own
Every preacher who hews to Scripture knows there is a mysterious, holy power in preaching. What we don't know is just how it will come through on a given Sunday morning. It is no small thing to set a passage of the Bible before people vividly and clearly. Simply preaching Christ is powerful. The privilege of simply doing that energizes me on Sunday morning.
What also psyches me up is the possibility—actually, the likelihood—that God will do something in some lives that morning all out of proportion to anything I put in or that they expect. I read recently about a college football player from Florida who happened to be nearby when a Cadillac somehow crushed the tow truck driver trying to move it. This athlete was a big guy, but he said later, "I tried to lift the car, and when I first tried, it didn't budge." [Ever had a sermon like that?] The football player continued, "I backed up. I don't know, but I felt this energy come, and I lifted it. I don't know how. And then somebody pulled him from the car."
That kind of thing happens to preachers. I don't usually "feel this energy come." But for some people sitting in that congregation, a crushing burden is lifted off them, some clear beam of truth punches light into their darkness, some new righteous resolve stirs their will and love for Christ. When they tell me about it later, I think, That happened here? God did that while I was preaching? Where was I?
Believing that such muscular, Samson-like wonders will happen this Sunday gets my blood pumping as I prepare to preach.
-Lee Eclov is pastor of Village Church of Lincolnshire, Illinois. This article is adapted from PreachingToday.com
Copyright © 2012 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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