Thoughts On Preparing Sermons…

1. Sermon prep begins with your daily lifestyle.
How are you loving/serving your wife and children, your co-workers and neighbors, acquaintances and strangers? Do you put MORE time/effort/prayer into serving your family as you do writing the message? You should. If you’re a rock star in the pulpit but a criminal outside of it you are merely clanging noise in God’s ears (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
2. Teach not just what the text says but what you have been applying in your own life! A sermon must not become merely an academic exercise, must not remain merely the transmission of facts. How has this passage affected you personally? How has the Holy Spirit convicted you personally with this text? What comfort and/or conviction have you received from God through these verses? Don’t merely tell others what they should do in light of the passage; share with them what you have done/are doing in light of the passage.
3. An audience of One. Whether addressing 10 people or 10,000, whether speaking to atheists or maturing Christians, whether teaching personal friends or total strangers, focus on the fact that Jesus Himself is present, that honoring/pleasing Him is all that matters, and that ultimately you will have to answer to Him (not to the congregation). It is possible for people to “really like” a message that is spiritually powerless, it is possible for people to ignore/disregard/disagree with a sermon that is Holy Spirit-filled (Noah had ZERO converts in hundreds of years of ministry!), it is possible to personally feel great about a sermon that was poor and to feel terrible about a sermon that was amazing (in God’s eyes). Just keep your eyes on Jesus before, during and after the message.
4. Introduce people to the Person of God. This is subtle distinction, but as briefly stated in point #2 above, it is possible for a sermon to merely be an exchange of information and not an encounter with the Living God, it is possible for a message to treat God like a dissected cadaver and not a Loving Father, as if God is merely a great idea and not really a Living Person. Jesus defined eternal life as knowing God the Father and knowing God the Son, not just knowing about them. John Stott summed this up well in his message “Maturity In Research” to doctoral theology students (his quote can easily apply to anyone teaching a sermon or leading a Bible study):
“There is a real danger that a scholar [preacher] may return home after three or four years an academic success but a spiritual failure, a ‘doctor’ (qualified to teach) but no longer a ‘disciple’; possessing a new degree and title, but possessed by no new vision, power or holiness…Helmut Thielicke, in his small but suggestive book entitled ‘A Little Exercise for Young Theologians’, urges us to think about God in the second person (‘You’), and not slip into the third person (‘He’): ‘This transition…from a personal relationship with God to a merely technical reference…is the first step towards the worst and most widespread ministers’ disease.’ My [John Stott’s] own hope is that scholars [preachers], while being competent teachers of theology, will truly know and worship the God they talk about” (John Stott: A Global Ministry, Timothy Dudley-Smith, p. 371).
5. The sermon is not the time for you to put yourself on display. The sermon is not the “weekly Super Bowl” where pastors fill their role as “star quarterback.” My hope each week is that people, after the worship service is over, will forget what I have said and remember specific verses/passages in the Bible. My hope each week is that the LORD has used the sermon to give people a deeper hunger for more time with Him, that people will linger in the church building in quiet prayer/communion with Christ, or go directly to their house and close the door to continue to meet with the Lord Jesus in prayer & Bible reading, in confession and worship, whether the football game has started or not. John the Baptizer’s statement is so powerful for us pastors today: “He [Jesus] must become greater, I must become less.” (This is why I wear outfits on Sunday morning that are plain/boring, utterly un-noteworthy) While it is easy to get caught up in enjoying the attention the pulpit provides, we teachers are wise to remember James 3:1: Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”
6. With God’s help, make sure you understand what you are trying to say/convey through the message. This might seem unnecessary to state but sometimes the simplest things are the most easily overlooked. As one pastor put it, “a mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew.” The gold in some Bible passages will be more difficult to mine/discover than others, but that is why we have time before hand to pray, soak in the text, consult the original languages, reference commentaries, discuss with other Christians, etc. On earth we will probably never understand everything or even most of everything that a passage reveals, but we need to make sure we do understand clearly what we will say and what we hope others to take away/learn/realize from the message. “I’m not really sure where I am going with this” is probably not something we should ever say or think when we are teaching! 
7. The sermon continues after we say, ‘amen.’ The most accurate, powerful, and effective sermons can be undone by our actions after the service is finished. Many people will dismiss what we have said with our words if our actions don’t match up with our message. As taxing as this might seem to some, it is one of the blessings and curses of pastoring/teaching/preaching: we ALWAYS represent Jesus Christ, and thus we are never “off the clock.” To be sure, God brings diamonds out of our coal and the LORD’s overall plan is not going to be thwarted by our unfaithfulness, but nevertheless we are to strive for faithfulness each day with the Holy Spirit’s constant help. Our power in the pulpit is directly tied to our love in the lobby… 
8. The Holy Spirit MUST empower you before, during and after the sermon. While this is admittedly a bit of a mystery, it is terrifically Biblical (please click HERE for 1 Corinthians 2:1-5). God has clearly shown in the Bible that He delights in using the weak, the underdog, the unqualified, the unable, and the broken to display His power (please click HERE for more thoughts on this). Now of course this doesn’t mean that we are not ot prepare or that we are not to use the talents/resources/tools that God has given us. But we must put just as much time in praying to God for His Holy Spirit to empower our sermons as we do in getting dressed in the morning or in even writing the message itself. We would be wise to remember that apart from Jesus we can do nothing…(John 15:5).
9. Be your own ‘devil’s advocate’ as you write. That is, ask yourself challenging questions with the different points you make. Try to imagine that someone is attempting to tear down what the Bible is saying/what you are trying to teach, and then respond to those hard questions/comments within the message. “Now some of you might be thinking…” is a great line to say often in sermons if it is followed up with a loving, humble, Biblical, and clear response. Lee Strobel has said that when he writes a sermon he is writing it to an actual person that he knows and trying to imagine how they would respond if the sermon were a conversation.
10. Remember that you are a link in a long, glorious chain of preachers. From the patriarchs to the prophets to the apostles to Jesus Himself, those of us who are blessed and burdened to teach/preach the Bible are runners in an important relay race of those elected and equipped by God for this very taks. We are privileged to handle, soak in, and unwrap the Truth of the Universe, the very words themselves of the Ancient of Days. We truly are surrounded not only by a great cloud of witnesses but are filled, if we have received Jesus as our Savior, by the Holy Spirit of God Himself. May we, like David, run quickly to the battle line (1 Samuel 17:48), confident that the LORD Himself goes before us.