I’m not a preacher.
I have no desire to do full-time pulpit ministry. But I do preach on occasion – usually every fourth Sunday night, and I fill in as needed when our preacher is away. I enjoy preaching when I do it, but it is not something I could do week in and week out, as least not right now. I won’t even begin to move that direction unless I hear God calling me there.
I don’t really have a fear of public speaking. I enjoy studying Scripture and drawing out the meanings from the text. I like reading books and commentaries and blog articles to help my insights into God’s word. I listen to sermon podcasts – for fun!
But during my short time in ministry I have discovered something. Most people don’t know this. Most people will never understand this. But for every sermon delivered, there are multiple unfinished sermons that will never be made public.
When writing my sermons, the absolute hardest part for me, believe it or not, is making sure I have something worth saying. It’s not enough to exegete the text, we must also exegete the audience and understand where they are in life and what message the Lord is trying to give them through us.
For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. (John 12:49)
I can’t tell you how many times I begin writing a sermon with a specific premise in mind, a certain end-point that I want to drive home, only to find the text driving me in a completely different direction.
That’s why I thank God for unfinished sermons.
Every preacher has them, and that’s a good thing. Speaking from experience, it is incredibly difficult to get myself out of the way when I prepare a sermon. When preachers begin speaking only the things that make them comfortable or things that interest them or things that concern them, they aren’t leaving any room for the Spirit’s guidance.
The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. (John 14:10)
So I thank God for unfinished sermons because that means He has a hand in the process. There have definitely been some sermons I have started that deserved to be scrapped. Going back to square one is just one way God keeps preachers humble. It’s his way of reminding us that we can’t do it on our own. We don’t have it all figured out. We aren’t up there to spout off our opinion or to get on our personal soap boxes.
For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21)
Some sermons need to remain unfinished.
This is why preaching is one of the easiest professions to fake but one of the hardest professions to do right. But when we do it right, by listening to God, following the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and revealing the Word made flesh, then it all seems to click.
If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. (1 Peter 4:11)
For every delivered sermon there are many that remain unwritten and unfinished. But out of all the unfinished sermons there is only one that really matters: the life of the preacher.
You see, Jesus preached a lot but he also lived out his sermons. “The Sermon on the Mount,” for instance, pretty much sums up his entire ministry on earth. He preached, and then he lived out the sermon. He preached about loving our enemies, and he had compassion on those crucifying him. He preached about not laying up treasures on earth, and he went to the grave owning nothing. He preached about walking on the narrow path, and he showed us how to find it.
Paul says of himself, “Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27).
Ask any athlete if they are as good at their sport as they want to be. The answer? No.
Ask any artist if their work is as perfect as they would like it to be. The answer? No.
Ask any preacher if his life is fully in line with the words he preaches. The answer? No.
There is always work to be done. There are always improvements to be made. There is never a point (in this life) at which a minister can say, “I have arrived.” Even Paul, again, says, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).
My life is an unfinished sermon. I’m still working on it. It’s still being written. I don’t know exactly what the end-point will be, but I bet it’s something much different and far greater than I could have imagined when I started out.
I thank God for unfinished sermons.