What Are You Focused On?

Prayer ensures the sermon reflects Christ, and not just the preacher.
by Dave Stone

Rick Rusaw compares preaching to delivering a baby on Sunday and waking up Monday morning only to find that you’re pregnant again. And with recent advancements in technology, it’s only gotten more difficult. Today you find yourself speaking to people who in the previous week may have watched Charles Stanley preach on television, heard a Rob Bell podcast, or listened to Chip Ingram on the radio. And now they sit in front of you, expecting a word from the Lord every bit as compelling and gripping.

With such expectations from people week after week, it’s easy for a preacher to lose sight of what is most important—being centered on Christ. Being Christ-focused doesn’t happen automatically; it takes intentional preparation. Recently retired basketball coach Bobby Knight once said, “Many have the will to win, but few have the will to prepare.” In my years of preaching, I’ve learned that my heart is the battleground, and this is where the most important preparation must occur.

We all know that prayer is an essential element of every ministry, but in the rush to write a sermon every week, it can become an afterthought. Prayer makes certain that the sermon reflects Christ and not just me. I try to pray frequently throughout the week about my preaching, and not just during the offering on Sunday. And I’ve noticed that the earlier I start praying, the better things go. If I fail to pray about my message, I’ve found the writing process goes more slowly and it probably won’t result in life change—for me or my listeners.

Another important way to keep the focus on Christ rather than me is by including others in my sermon preparation. Each Thursday afternoon, six or seven people will read my manuscript. If something is too strong or soft, they tell me. If a section lacks scriptural support, they point it out. If my wording could be misconstrued, they’ll warn me. If they think a joke will bomb—they’ll remain silent and enjoy watching me try to land on my feet during the sermon!

Actually, just as important as these technical details is the spiritual wisdom they bring to the process. This group has the discernment to know if an illustration is too self-centered, or if I appear to be namedropping. Their counsel helps keep Christ, rather than me, the focus of the message.

Finally, to keep Christ at the center, we must remember why we do what we do. In the midst of the pressure of sermon prep, sometimes I have to pause and reflect on my calling. I often think back to a summer camp during my sophomore year of Bible college. I was lying atop a smelly bunk bed in the early morning hours when I scribbled this entry in my journal:

“I preached at campfire tonight—I didn’t get to run through it beforehand. I had notes in my Bible and a flashlight, but I didn’t end up using either. The Holy Spirit was in me, and I could feel Him. I preached with more power than I ever had before. In the background on a hill were three illuminated crosses that everyone could see. Five people came forward and made decisions. There is no doubt in my mind that I will preach the gospel until the day I die.”

I wrote that over 25 years ago, but nothing has changed. I still desire to preach the gospel until the day I die. It is a sense of calling that I can’t entirely explain. As Bob Shank says, “Career is what you’re paid for, but a calling is what you’re made for.” Remembering God’s call helps us persevere in the pulpit, and it keeps Christ at the center.

Dave Stone senior minister of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky.

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