God invites us not only to rest from our work, but also to work from our rest. That is, perhaps, nowhere more crucial than in preaching.
The question is how do we preach from a place of Sabbath rest, i.e. how do we carry over the riches of Sabbath (to stop, rest, delight, and contemplate God for a 24-hour period) into our work of preaching. The following are a few points to consider:
- Say No to Perfectionism. Sabbath is first and foremost a day of “stopping” – even with our to-do lists unfinished. We embrace our limits. And we trust God. Sermons are never finished. Regardless of our preparation, when we step up to preach, we do so in faith. I have never preached a perfect sermon. Even my best sermons remain incomplete. God reserves perfection for Himself. While I believe we need to prepare well, it never exempts us from the hard work of letting go, stopping our preparation, and trusting God with our few loaves and fishes.
- Be Transformed Before You Speak. On Sabbath we receive God’s love. And so in our preaching preparation, we want to first be receiving His love. Regardless of the size of our ministry, the demands on our time are relentless. We need time and space to meditate on the biblical text so that it becomes part of us. We need time and space to hear God speak and to transform our lives through the text. (Note: This is why working towards a preaching team is so important. It is inhuman to expect one person to bring a word from God every week and to lead the church well.)
- Invite Feedback. Sabbath by its very nature humbles us. We become acutely aware of our frailty as humans. In the same way, preaching exposes our humanity in unique ways. As mentioned above, we are a work in progress with enormous limits in our perspective and experience in life. Find a trusted person or two who can give you feedback on your sermons. While it is painful (even with trusted people who love you!), it will accelerate your growth and keep you grounded. After almost 30 years of preaching, I value constructive feedback more than ever.
- Prioritize Your Being over the Doing of Preaching. Sabbath is about being before we do. So is preaching. It is important that we work hard (once we have the revelation of God from the text) to craft a message that is personal, relevant, and applicable. Yet the temptation to work on our “opening” or find a memorable illustration can become a distraction from the Evil One. Why? Your interior life with God — before, during and after you preach — is by far the most important factor if your listeners are to experience the living God. We cannot take people where we have not traveled with Jesus ourselves.
- Prayerfully Cut, Cut, and Cut. Sabbath is essentially about how much we cannot do because we are not God. The greatest challenge in preaching is what we are not going to say. After I think I have “finished” my sermon, I ask God (at least in my better moments): “What is the most important thing You want to say?” Then I wait. That is when another 10-20% of the message is painfully deleted or adjusted. That is almost always a very painful experience.