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Overcoming Sermon Writer's Block

I am a preacher, and though creativity comes in spurts, Sundays come with great regularity. Some call it writer’s block. I call it the sermon choke: attempting to come up again with yet another message that will inspire, encourage or challenge the loyal congregants who so faithfully fill the pews each weekend.

Whether you are ready for it week after week or not, writing a sermon is just part of the job for a teaching pastor. There are plenty of people who think this job should come naturally—that it shouldn’t be work or shouldn’t require true creativity, research or innovation. You know, it should just be “God-breathed.” This and other myths I had to deal with early on. Here are three, in particular, I had to get over as I honed my skills and became stronger at crafting a weekly sermon.

If you are called to share God’s Word, it will come as an anointing in the night. Not so … but the lack of it will keep you up at night!

The things of God are effortless and they come naturally. If you watch professional golfers or ball players, they make it look so easy and natural. But what we don’t see behind every swing is the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of hours of practice and investing in their craft.

It’s more spiritual to just let the Holy Spirit speak through you. There can be a false sense of spirituality, which supposes if you put too much advance preparation into a message, it must not be “Spirit-led.” Yet God planned redemption before the foundation of the earth (Matthew 25:34). He also planned out Jeremiah’s life while he was yet in his mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:5). If it is godly to plan a lifetime in advance, the least we can do is to try for a week in advance. We cannot start on a Saturday night and then let God finish it on Sunday morning.

So I begin, but not on Saturday night. One of the greatest culprits of imagination and creativity is procrastination. Although I don’t speak until the weekend, the practice must begin daily. The reservoir needs to be consistently replenished, not only when a drink is needed. Message preparation is a daily regimen, not a Saturday night special.

The greatest asset of any speaker is the imagination of the listeners, and capturing that imagination is not a simple task. Solomon’s advice to speakers can be found in Ecclesiastes 12:

 “…the Preacher also taught the people knowledge; and he pondered, searched out and arranged many proverbs. The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly” (NASB).

Did you catch that?

“He pondered and he searched out and arranged many proverbs.”

Pondering, searching and arranging. It requires effort and hard work!

I can’t get ready for Sunday on a Saturday night. I must prepare for Sunday daily. Remember, it’s whatever you do daily that will shape your life. Watch great athletes. They don’t get distracted with a myriad of activities. In order to be great, they do only a few things over and over again. It might be a core set of exercises or a regimen of certain drills again and again. The most illustrative of that discipline is found among the greatest of pianists. They don’t play random songs. Instead, they develop a daily habit of playing scales. Over and over again: major scales, minor scales, Aeolian, Locrian … scale after scale.

Jan Ignacy Paderewski was a world-renowned pianist who played more than 1,500 concerts in the early 1900s in order to raise money for the Polish war effort. When he was asked to help the Polish people gain independence, he replied: “My country before everything else. After that—art.” But he said he’d help only under one condition: that the Polish government allow him to continue his habit of practicing scales three hours a day!

These master musicians didn’t practice scales because they were preparing for a concert of scales. They did so because scales built the endurance, the dexterity and the nimbleness they would need when the concerts arrived.

Wisdom is not built in a day, but it is built daily.

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Whatever I do daily is what will shape my life. If I play tennis daily, it will shape my life. However, if I play it only once a month, it may be a hobby, but it will not shape my future. If I play guitar daily, my life will be shaped accordingly. If I play only once every two weeks, it would not.

So, because I wanted God’s Word to shape my life (and my sermons), each morning for the last 24 years I have practiced the habit of daily devotions. I have followed a reading program to take me through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice each year. Often, as I read, a certain Scripture will stand out above the others. It will capture my attention and cause me to stop and consider its meaning. I then open to a fresh page in my journal and follow a simple four-step process.

Scripture. I write the verse or verses at the top of the page.

Observation. I then write a paragraph to describe the setting and take into consideration the context, describing the scene in which the verse was found.

Application. I give the Word an appropriate claim on my life with an action point. This takes it beyond knowledge and into obedience.

Prayer. I write a prayer to express my thanks and to confirm my commitment to do what the Holy Spirit just said. Watermarked on each page I have penned this reminder: How will I live differently because of what I just read?

Certainly this is but one of many such practical guides to Scripture meditation. But this one simple self-feeding program has helped me build wisdom daily and has influenced every sermon I write.

Creativity takes a significant amount of effort. It will take hard work, homework and heart work. All three will converge to make a message something that’s not only worth listening to, but will impact people’s lives.

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