Spiritual warfare is a subject that stirs opposite responses. At one extreme we can become paranoid and give Satan credit for every little difficulty, whether the forces of evil were involved or not. At the other extreme we can easily become complacent and act as if the enemy is impotent around someone such as me. Both extremes are unhelpful.
If there is any arena in which spiritual warfare may be a factor, surely it will be in relation to pulpit ministry. The enemy would love to disrupt or damage the proclamation of God’s Word, the presentation of the Gospel, or the encouragement of believers. The worship of God really does get under the enemy’s skin.
So what tactics does the enemy use against us preachers? Here are a few to prayerfully consider:
- Pride. Visible, respected, influential . . . pride is an ever present trap for the preacher. Without fanfare it slips in, we start to believe our self-fanfare and before you know it, we live with a painful lack of dependency on God.
- Temptation. During preparation, perhaps during interactions at church, perhaps the day after. Waves of temptation can feel relentless. Pride, lust, anger, discouragement, etc.
- Distraction. Not every interruption is an overt spiritual attack, but it is amazing how often we can face a pastoral or family crisis at the most inopportune moment.
- Accusations. It doesn’t take much in the way of accusation or lies from the enemy to wear down our heaven-high prayers and lofty ambitions for a sermon.
What attacks do you recognize to be spiritual in nature? When do you often feel attacked?
New preachers my have fears concerning speaking to a crowd of listeners and similar nerves. Those of us that have preached for a while don’t tend to have nervousness to the same extent in those areas, but that doesn’t mean there are no fears. Here are some fears that may have risen in your heart in the lead up to today’s message:
Content Fears. What if I got it wrong? What if I’ve missed the point? Am I going to say something that is actually heretical? Is this message simply too simple? This can lead into…
Passage Fears. Should I switch passage? The meeting is in a few hours, should I switch now? The meeting is in a few minutes, should I switch now?
Listener Fears. He or she will be listening, what will they think? What if so and so doesn’t approve? I shouldn’t be the one preaching.
Personal Fears. Who am I to preach this? Has this really been applied to me first? Why do I suddenly feel so inadequate?
These and many more fears can creep up on a preacher before any or every message. Pray about the fears, bring them to God. Fear and faith fight a battle within. Faith doesn’t require the total absence of fear, but they don’t cohabit well. Allow fear to push your gaze back onto the Lord. Consider whether this fear should be simply resisted and dismissed, or written down to be addressed later in more extended prayer. Briefly consider whether change is needed to the message, but don’t undermine hours of prayerful work because of fear.
Perhaps as you shift your gaze back onto the Lord you will find renewed motivation to preach this message exactly as it is. After all, if the fears are coming from a source beyond yourself, it is worth considering the motivation. Perhaps there is fear of what your message might do, the light it might shine into darkness?
You’ve prayerfully prepared? Step forward relying fully on Him, preach His Word. Preach in the mighty strength of your own weakness – a contradictory paradox, unless, of course, we do not go to the pulpit alone!
We have looked at feedback, both immediate and long-term. We have considered ministry drain and unhelpful comparisons. Here are three more sources of discouragement:
8. Lack of Dream Schedule. Many preachers wish they had a better preparation schedule. Many preachers work another job through the week and are restricted to time grabbed in the early morning, late at night, minutes snatched here and there. If only I had more time to fully prepare! But then “full-time” preachers have their time restricted too: pastoral emergencies, family crises, hospital visits, counseling appointments, committee meetings, etc. We can all plan our schedule, and perhaps many of us could plan a little bit better than we do, but some things will mess with the best of plans. Consider starting preparation earlier, tweak your time management skills, but remember that we preach to people in a less than ideal world. We preach from experience, for our preparation is done in a less than ideal world too!
9. Spiritual Attack. We can’t blame the enemy for everything, but it would be naïve to not recognize a spiritual warfare element in any ministry. The enemy would much rather have a discouraged preacher than a faith-filled, praying, passionate preacher! Surely every category should drive us to prayer, but surely this one calls us to our knees so that we can stand firm and resist the devil.
10. Non-Preaching Issues. Perhaps work is tough, parenting is a struggle, marriage is tense, other ministry is hurting, health issues have emerged. Non-preaching issues may improve your preaching in terms of empathy, relevance, vulnerability etc. But non-preaching issues may add to discouragement in preaching – a time when you give of yourself and personal vulnerability comes to the surface.
Another post to come . . . all in honor of the discouraged preacher.