It has only happened to me two or three times.
In the years I prepared at least weekly sermons as a lead pastor I almost always entered the pulpit prepared. I never “phoned it in” hoping no one would notice it was the same sermon from two months ago. I don’t remember ever calling a “testimony meeting” because I didn’t prepare. I always, always wanted to have the proverbial word from God for the people.
There were Sundays I felt the message didn’t connect, fell flat, landed in the floor just before reaching the front row. Times I felt like leaving before the sermon was over. Why not? Others did. But I preached until the bitter end.
But, this only happened two or three times: It came time to preach and I had no sermon.
I really believe God gives his servants messages for the congregation. Words to encourage, reprove, teach, exhort, and the like. I know from experience he rewards diligent study. But, God is not a genie, Santa Claus, or a computer program. We cannot punch a few keys and demand a specific response. God is God. Preachers are his tools.
On those two or three occasions, I decided not to fake it. Didn’t make an excuse. I just told the truth: “I’ve studied this week, but I don’t have a sermon. I’ll read the passage and let the Holy Spirit lead.”
Just to be clear, this happened to me two or three times in 25 or so years. It wasn’t an attempt to “open my mouth and let God fill it.” I wasn’t trying to shirk my calling or fool my flock.
What happened? Each time God gave me something to say. It wasn’t a sermon with three points and a poem, but it was a message. I do not remember what I said, but I do remember God used it.
Why mention this?
This may have never happened to you. It may be that you’ve won a homiletical gold medal after every week’s training. You may always exit the pulpit to a Holy Spirit high-five. Deep down you may always feel, “That was the word for the day. No doubt about it.”
But, I doubt it.
If you’re like the average pastor you have some home-runs, but also a lot of singles and foul balls. For many of us the singles—after fouling off so many down the right-field line—start to feel like grand slams.
God uses those feeble attempts. When I am weak, he is strong. When I’m as tongue-tied as Moses in the desert, God remains clear. When my words are garbled, his are straightforward.
And even on those rare days when I had no sermon, God still delivered a message to the body. Because he’s God and I’m not.
It’s his word, not our rhetorical prowess, that is the dynamite to hardened hearts. His word, not our self-evaluated brilliant insight, is the sword that divides motives from actions. His word, not our opinion of it, is food for the famished soul. His word is the cool, refreshing stream in a tiring, fast-paced life. His word is the foundation of faith for those with ears to hear.
So, even when you have no sermon of your own, his word is the only message you need.