Dr. Gardner Taylor, in How Shall They Preach wrote:

Most of us discover that sermons are born of a mysterious romance between preparation and inspiration. Dr. Paul Scherer used to say that inspiration is 10 percent genius and 90 percent firm application of the seat of the pants to the chair.

Others have said that preaching is a combination of inspiration and perspiration. By perspiration they mean the hard and tedious work of exegesis, assembling a sermon, and attending to the other matters of sermon construction. My homiletics professor, Dr. Brad R. Braxton, told me that you should labor over every word of the sermon before you are ready to preach. Words coming up over and over again are “Labor,” “Perspiration,” and “Preparation.”

Should Sermon Preparation be Hard Work?

Someone told me once that their best sermons are born of inspiration and not preparation. They are the ones where they simply sit down and the sermon falls into place. They read the text and the sermon virtually writes itself. The preacher is finished, the people are edified and the kingdom of God is advanced. Then that preacher said that he wished every sermon were that “easy.” Other weeks he labors, the preacher struggles with the text. And then a hard won prize of a sermon is squeezed out of the text.

Why is it some weeks the sermon flows out like water out of the rock that Moses struck and other times we have to squeeze it like the lemon when we are attempting to make lemonade?

Labor and Preparation are Never Lost

The answer is that preparation, perspiration, and labor are not done on each sermon independently. Each sermon is a component or a part of your larger preaching ministry. When you labor and struggle with a text you are putting money in the vault of preparation. The more you struggle the more money you have in that bank. Then sometimes you cash out here and there, but you should regularly put money in the bank.

Some preachers specialize in trivial and trite preaching. These preachers become less and less able to struggle with the text for an effective sermon, until they totally lose that ability. It is a sad thing to see a preacher that is presumed great who has to resort to tricks and games. So my fellow preachers, let us struggle with the text regularly. Sometimes the truth will come easily and quickly. Other times we will have to struggle all night long like Jacob and the Angel. But in every case, it is worth it. Your people deserve it, and your God expects it.

19 thoughts on “Preparation or Inspiration?

  1. Rev Williamson says:

    I asked my mentor in the early days of my ministry, if he prepared his sermons or just allowed the Holy Spirit to give him what he needed at the time. He told me to always prepare, but leave room for the Holy Spirit.

  2. I believe preparation is important. The Holy Spirit can also lead, guide, teach and give you FRESH revelation during the preparation. I agree with Rev. Williamson. All have a great day!

  3. Min. J. T. Nelson says:

    I have found first the Holy Spirit must speak a Word to your soul. Once you have that Word, and begin to struggle with that Word (i.e. exegesis, meditation, researching, etc.) the more the Holy Spirit pours into you regarding that Word. The message becomes clearer. The struggle is there to keep His ministers relying on Him!!!

  4. Sherman Haywood Cox II says:

    As we study the Word, we have more raw materials for the Spirit to use in the Spirit’s orchestration of the planning, preparing, and presenting of the message. Min, Nelson, I like how you emphasize that the Spirit is there with us as we struggle to hear the voice the Spirit gives us more…

    And yes as we leave room for the Spirit, we have an opening for that Fresh revelation that is based in the Word, but sometimes even catches the preacher by surprise…I realize that may be a bit controversial, but it does happen, the Spirit can use our preparation to decide to take that truth somewhere that was not fully anticipated by the preacher…

  5. Sherman Haywood Cox II says:

    Hey Seed planter,

    Not sure what I can do to push it. Maybe I will add it in an email…Please add your pic.

    It does help the community atmosphere when we have pictures…

  6. I love the gravatar.com feature because I never have to upload my picture. Not sure if anyone is a social entrepreneur or have a message for the masses therefore uses the Internet to get the message out but if so people do like seeing who they are dealing with…I know you know this but it is that KNOW LIKE TRUST concept. I just thought I would throw that in there…great for church growth too.

    Ok to get back on topic do you think not preparing opens the door up for too much whooping instead giving the flock the “meat” of the message? You know kind of like when we use the “ummm” word…when we can’t think of anything else to say.

  7. Sherman Haywood Cox II says:

    yes SeedPlanter…whooping is sometimes used to hide a lack of preparation…I am sure that some of these “slothful” preachers listen to the inevitable “good” response and say “the spirit really moved…”

    But plenty of folks who don’t whoop do the same thing…

  8. As an Associate Minister I have struggled to prepare some messages and some have flowed like the water out the rock moses struck. I mostly preach from a script but as I am growing, one must still leave room for the Holy Spirit. I have shortend some messages on purpose because I needed to allow room for the Holy Spirit. Sometimes you can have too much material. But it is both preparation and inspiration. The congregation can tell when a minister hasn’t taken the time to thoroughly prepare a message. But it takes preparation and most of all inspiration. If one doesn’t have inspiration then there is no preparation. Be Blessed.

  9. Rev. Kenneth Taylor says:

    I think preparation without preparing to inspire is simply an imformation overload that the people have trouble processing for a clear understanding of what God is conveying through the preacher.

  10. Elder Cox,

    I appreciate your insight in this area. Laboring over the text has helped me in more ways than one, but not necessarily the way I first expected it. I preached a sermon last week and I noted in my sermon that too many churches are presenting a low quality Jesus to the people. I suspect, though I cannot say for sure, that a lack of preparation plays a roll in that in some cases.

    Rev. Kelly

  11. Sherman Haywood Cox II says:

    “Low quality Jesus”…Lord help us to never preach in such a way to deserve that designation….

  12. Pastor F.A. Forney says:

    GOD uses the vessel of the minister when HE speaks to HIS people. Therefore, it is vital that the move of the spirit and preparation are present twice. These earthen vessels should seek the move of the Holy Spirit when through prayer when identifying scripture(s) for their sermon topic (and scriptural illumination) and in their sermon preparation. The presentation of the prepared Word is then again enmeshed with the move of the Holy Spirit during the time of teaching and preaching. The Holy Spirit teaches and guides us into all truth. For that reason, vessel must rightly divide the Holy Scripture, the Word of Truth with precession through accurate and exact study and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

  13. Roger B. Abuloc says:

    Greetings to everybody. Just like in sports, examinations, contests, sermons, etc., the participant is required to prepare, practice, and deliver your best on game time. Of course, some inspirations come into play during the preparation and delivery particularly of a sermon. Your inspiration may be your life’s experience that you had overcome triumphantly. The Holy Spirit then leads you to something else to make your message touch your congregation vibrantly.

  14. Rev. John Carroll Travis says:

    Good morning to everyone!

    I just want to remind us all as Paul the apostle in writing to his son in the Lord’s ministry Timothy stated: (2 Timothy 3:16) (KJV) 16 “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Now since all Scripture is inspired, that let’s us know that the inspiration is already present. Our job as preachers is to supply the principle of (2 Timothy 2:15) (KJV) 15 “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

    I would admonish us all to do a word study on this verse. Especially the words in the KJV text study, workman, and rightly dividing. Many of us have heard the phrase “Now that will preach.” Too many preachers are delivering what they believe to be “inspired” messages to churches all over the world, and fail to realize where their inspiration comes from. You can preach it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that “it” will preach, for every sermon does not come from the Holy Spirit’s inspiration! Some get their messages from billboard signs, song lyrics, catchy phrases, etc. However, if we show “diligence” in preparation, we should be able to take any text from God’s Holy Word and develop a message.

    We need to stop hiding behind, and lying about and be honest about what we call “inspiration.” Please don’t sit around and wait to be inspired by the Holy Spirit before you begin to prepare, the words themselves are inspired. If not we will resort to preaching what we feel at the time, which may be the result of anger, anxiety or just plain laziness. Or what’s worse, we end up with the infamous “Saturday Night Special.” And it has been stated concerning Saturday Night Specials – you are never sure if they will fire; or they may blow up in your face; and in either case they will not hit what you are aiming at!

    We supply prayer and preparation; the Holy Spirit supplies the purpose and the product (disciples with changed lives who in turn want to disciple others).

    Let me conclude with this; the Lord declared Isaiah 55:6-11 (KJV) 6 Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:
    7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
    8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
    9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
    10 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:
    11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. And Isaiah 40:8 (KJV) 8 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.

    God Bless You All,

    John Carroll Travis

  15. Rev. John Carroll Travis says:

    Oops! I just noticed that I should have definitely added this verse in my comments on inspiration and preparation: 2 Timothy 3:17 (KJV) 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. Please except my apology for the oversight.

    Thank you much,

    John Carroll Travis

  16. Sylvester Warsaw, Jr. says:

    When I was in seminary at the School of Theology at Claremont, I, had the privilege of listening to Rev. Dr. Gardner Taylor in an informal setting addressing the Black seminarian students. Dr. Taylor gave us this gem that night when he said the preacher must be a good listener for your parishioner will tell you their struggles and it’s up to us, the preacher, to take it to God in prayer and allow God through the power of the Holy Spirit give you what’s needed to address the concerns and needs of the parishioners. He also said sermon preparation started Sunday and not Friday. Because God through Jesus Christ is the Shepherd and the head of the church and we’re the undershepherd, we, must not only pray but wrestle with the scripture so that people can be liberated from self and become more effective servants for Jesus Christ our risen Lord and Savior. Issues of the heart must be addressed Biblically and not philosophically.

  17. Sherman Haywood Cox II says:

    Yes the sooner you get started on the sermon…the more time you give the Spirit to “inspire” the process….

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