Every time a preacher stands behind a pulpit there ought to be a burden that brought him there. The preacher who lacks a burden in their heart during the moment of preaching is void of a compelling reason for their proclamation. Without a divine sense of urgency in the spirit of a preacher the spoken word will lack the fire of divine conviction and will fall short of penetrating the hearts of people. Have you ever entered the pulpit with fire on your heart, and with the singe marks of God’s red-hot coals that touched your lips at His holy altar? Have you ever felt the fire of God’s passion coursing through your soul, finding words through which you can share this burden with God’s people? There is nothing like this in the whole world! To every preacher who feels “stuck” in their preaching I encourage you to spend time with God till a burden emerges that will compel you to preach beyond your limitations. To every preacher who is wondering why the sermon time lacks the life of God in it and why people are not hungry to come every week to sit at the Lord’s feet and listen to His word, I implore you to get a burden from God and see how things will begin to change!
Getting a burden from the Lord is an important element to effective preaching, but it is not the only ingredient necessary for successful communication to take place. There are many preaches who are very diligent to spend time studying God’s word, devote themselves to prayer and live a life of fasting who as a consequence are marked with a divine burden in their preaching and in their leading. It is amazing to sit and listen to a person speak the Word of God who clearly has given themselves over to the Lord in preparation to preach and carries unction from God for that particular message. The listener feels a sense of urgency and affirmation of the love and purpose of God for their lives that is conveyed through the very intensity the preacher carried. As important as having a burden from the Lord during preaching is learning how to effectively share your burden is of critical importance because the sad reality is that many times the word of the Lord is trapped in the heart of the preacher despite the many words our mouths have uttered. If you have ever left the pulpit with a sense of frustration and a gnawing feeling that you did not fully communicate the Lord’s burden for that moment, then you know full well that receiving a word from God and communicating that same word can feel worlds apart.
Effective communicators are those who know how to skillfully share the burden of the Lord during the preaching moment. The three principles following are some time tested principles that will enhance your ability to preach God’s word with passion and intelligence. Be warned: the simplicity of these principles as well as the common misassumption that we as preachers employ them already may cause some disdain for these suggestions. Be open and willing to refine your gift and you will find that your need for growth as a preacher will be supplied to you by the Lord. Here we go:
Sit where they Sit – Lessons from Ezekiel and the Apostle Paul
In Ezekiel chapter 3, starting at verse 12 we read an account of the prophet Ezekiel receiving an incredible burden from God during his encounter with the Lord. Every preacher that I have ever met would love to enter the pulpit carrying the power of that kind of experience on their heart; however, this is not what happened to Ezekiel. The Scriptures say that upon receiving this incredible burden from God, Ezekiel did not hurry to preach, rather it says in verse 15 that he “sat where they sat”! What a powerful image for us to meditate on if we are going to effectively share the burden of the Lord. Often the preacher is tempted to think that the only thing of importance is what they bring to the pulpit from the Lord, never stopping to think of who waits for God’s word in the pew. Far too often, the preacher neglects to consider the life of the hearers of God’s word in order to understand where they come from, where they are going and what they are going through. If we are to effectively share the burden of the Lord, we must do as Ezekiel did and “sit where they sit” for the sake of God’s word reaching their hearts.
In Acts 17 starting at verse 23 we read an account of Paul’s brilliant message to the men of Athens. The brilliance of this sermon was not just the poignant, sharp truth from God’s word that Paul proclaimed to them, it was also the fact that he took the time to understand the people he desired to reach. Paul understood that as a preacher he stood “between two worlds” to use John Stott’s term and that he needed to bridge the world of God’s reality with the reality of those living far from God. Declaring truth is not enough, if the truth we declare never penetrates the mental objections and cultural mores of people because we failed to first understand them. As preachers of God’s truth, our motivation to know our audience goes much deeper than simply enhancing our sermons, rather it must stem from a burning passion to see the hearts of people transformed by God.
The next time you prepare to preach consider the lives of those to whom you preach. Take the time to consider the various kinds of people who sit in your congregation and ponder their lives in light of the burden God has placed on your heart and ask yourself “How can I communicate God’s word so that it reaches their hearts?” Seek to understand their pain, their history, their joys and their triumphs. Examine the language you use and see if it is lofty and irrelevant to everyday people, or is it abstract and filled with theological jargon that only academics understand. If you as the preacher learn to hear the hearts of your people as you prepare to preach, then you will be empowered to share God’s burden with precision accuracy, penetrating their very hearts for God’s glory!
Think Application, Not Applause
The goal of preaching should be for God’s people to apply and live out His word in their daily lives, but too often preachers only think about the response of people while they are sitting in the pew. When we look at the Sermon on the Mount and parables such as the Prodigal Son we find sermons that must have created an incredible emotional stir while the Lord spoke. In each of these sermons we find imagery and concepts that surely ruffled people’s feathers as they presented a revealing of the Person of God that was foreign to the religious worldview of His listeners. Could you imagine the reaction when Christ declared that adultery was not just a physical act, rather it was a matter of the heart as well? Consider how the audience must have gasped when they heard the Lord speak about a young Jewish boy who disgraced his father, lived with pigs and at the end of the story was found in his father’s embrace? How scandalous was that? It is not too difficult to imagine that those who heard the Lord were likely to be in a state of emotional ecstasy and elation during his sermon and walked away absolutely riveted by His preaching ability. Be that as it may, Christ was more focused on people applying what He spoke than having them applaud when He spoke.
Sharing a burden from the Lord effectively must be measured not by emotional response, but by life application. That being said, if we don’t think about application as we receive God’s word and begin to craft our message, then clear instructions on how to apply God’s word will never emerge in the message. If we are not clear as to how application looks for the burden God has given us to communicate, then the people hearing us will definitely lack clarity. Declaration of truth must have as its aim the application of truth; therefore as you prepare to share the burden of the Lord always think in terms of application.
Strive for Clarity, Not Dexterity
Have you ever asked a churchgoer on a Sunday afternoon “What did pastor preach today?” and received the heart wrenching response “I don’t know, but it felt good!” What a shame! Having heard many people have this response I have pondered as to what is the cause for what seems to be some sort of spiritual amnesia that sets in after the pastor gives the benediction. Of all the possible reasons for this result, I find none greater than the lack of clarity in the delivery of God’s word.
During our time of preparation and especially as we deliver God’s word we must be mindful to fight off the temptation to display our knowledge and skill, for the sake of preaching a clear word from God. People walk away from church without a clear sense of what God was saying to them because preachers often walk to the pulpit without possessing such a clear sense themselves! We give way too much information; go through so many rabbit trails, and spend so much time on details that are not central to the burden God has given us. I once heard someone say “A mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew”, so it is imperative for us to strive for clarity in our preparation and delivery, and not allow the sermon to devolve into an exhibition of our gift.
If you as the preacher can’t summarize the core substance of your sermon in one sentence, then you can be sure that your people will not be able to remember the essence of your message. As you prepare to share the burden God has given you, strive for clarity so that people will remember God’s message more than the messenger.
My prayer is that every preacher would be filled with a burden from God every time they approach the pulpit so that the fires of God’s truth would burn up the chaff of deception and complacency that plague the church today. If it has been a long time since you preached with a burden in your heart, don’t be dismayed because all you have to do is reach out to the Lord and He will fill you with His heart. If you find yourself frustrated in your inability to properly convey God’s burden, don’t lose heart because the God who fills you with His passion will teach you to effectively share your burden with His people.
This article is by guest contributor Rev. Kristian Hernandez