I have preached a lot of sermons. I may only be 36 years old, but I have been preaching for fourteen years. Over those years I have preached multiple sermons per week. It is safe to say I have logged some significant preaching hours.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned over the years with preaching is that I must ignite my heart’s affections with the truths I intend to proclaim. If I stand up and say true things, but I do not say them with the passion and conviction the truth merits, my preaching will suffer. Preaching with inflamed affections is one of the keys to ignite the hearts of listeners.
Charles Spurgeon understood this truth. In a sermon entitled, Waiting Only Upon God (August 2nd, 1857), Spurgeon proclaimed,
The preacher who neglects to preach to himself has forgotten a very important part of his audience. He who never in his silent privacy speaketh a word to his own soul, doth not know where to begin his preaching. We must first address our own soul. If we can move that by the word we may utter, we may hope to have some power with the souls of others.
Spurgeon emphasizes that the preacher must speak to his own soul first, before he addresses others. He must ignite his own heart if he hopes the truth will ignite the hearts of his hearers. If we can move our soul’s affections, we may have confidence the Lord will stir other people’s as well. I believe Spurgeon is absolutely correct. Two preachers can be expounding on the exact same things, but if one is noticeably more gripped by the truths he is proclaiming, that preacher will be more effective. People will be move by not only the content we proclaim, but by the passion we proclaim it with.
How can we work to ignite our own hearts in such a way that our preaching is shaped by it?
1. Meditate on how the truth of this sermon is good news to you.
We need to work through our sermon development with an eye on how our own soul is shaped by its truth. If we are speaking on justification, we need the reality of our own justification to grip our hearts. If we are speaking about the Spirit’s power to help us fight sin, we must personally apply this reality to our own lives being grateful we do not fight alone. In other words, whatever the substance of the message is, we must let our own hearts meditate on its importance for us personally.
2. Remember what is at stake in the lives of those who will gather to listen.
Preaching is warfare. There is more going on than most of us will ever see or dare imagine. Spiritual warfare is engaged every time we stand to preach. The proclamation of gospel truth is a battle for souls. It is a battle for God’s glory in the lives of our listeners. And we have an enemy who would love to undermine our efforts. We sow seeds, but there is one who wants to snatch the seed.
As we prepare our messages and as we prepare to deliver them, we need to remember that eternal things are in the balance. The stakes are sky high; it’s not a game. Preaching brings salvation. Preaching brings repentance for deeply embedded sins. Preaching brings restoration of broken relationships. These things are happening behind the faces staring back us. Do not lose sight of this. Let the reality of it stir your heart.
3. Preach like it is your last time.
If the Lord sent an angel to you before you walked into the pulpit, and told you this would be your last sermon, how would you preach? Would there be a dullness of demeanor? Would you simply throw a few truths and helpful applications out there? No. You would preach with your hair set on fire. You would preach with everything you have. You would plead. You would exhort. You would extol with a gripped heart the excellencies of Christ. Friends, every time you step into the pulpit it could be your last time. Let that move your heart to preach as a dying man to dying men.
Why do these things matter? Because we want our listeners to leave our worship gatherings, not simply with heads stuffed with more information, but with hearts cut open and transformed. We are doctors of the soul, not merely lecturers of facts.
The truth of God is needed in this world and the most effective delivery system of truth is a preacher whose own heart has been gripped by it. So let the fire of your sermon warm your own heart.