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Discouragement in Preaching

Discouraged I stood up and began the short walk from the pew to the pulpit. There was a sour taste in my mouth and words of discouragement in the back of my mind, “This is a poor sermon; it is not worth preaching, give up JT.” Doubt had slithered into my mind like a snake.

Preachers repeatedly experience discouragement; it is an inevitable reality. How often we plant our feet one after the other as we climb the steps to the pulpit and hear a nagging word of doubt regarding our sermon, “It is not worth preaching.” Or how many preachers have given the closing prayer only to feel discouraged that their words are not worth remembering as they walk from pulpit back to the pew? How many preachers have sat in gloom on Sunday afternoon and Monday morning discouraged over their sermon?

The Gospel is Worth Preaching If discouragement gets hold of us to the point that we believe that what we have to say “is not worth preaching,” we need to remind ourselves of what we preach. The calling of the preacher is an honored position, not because of who they are, but because of the message they are called to proclaim. This message, the Gospel, the reality of what Jesus Christ has done for sinners like us, is the only message “worth preaching.” We want to remind ourselves of the words of Paul: For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord (2 Cor. 4:5 ESV). Jesus Christ is always worth preaching. At the base of my discouragement in preaching has been a failure to recognize this glorious truth.

Never Settle for Being Discouraged This leads us to the important task of never simply settling to be discouraged, but always in that doubt exploring our reason for discouragement. Why are we discouraged? If we can pinpoint the reason for our discouragement, we can work on remedying it. There are three reasons and remedies for discouragement that I have found to be most common in my preaching and may ring true to you (they are by no means exhaustive):

1) We are Discouraged Because of Pride The main reason for discouragement in my call as a preacher has been my own pride. I often find myself discouraged when I don’t receive a word of “praise” after the sermon, or when I see Harold’s audacity to fall asleep during the sermon I have spent working on all week. Sin produces an innate desire in us to seek our own praise above God’s glory. Pride produces a dangerous discouragement that gets in the way of a Gospel of humility.

Remedy: If we find ourselves discouraged after prepping our sermon for 20+ hours because we receive little recognition of our greatness, we must put pride to death and humble ourselves. We pray for humility and remember that we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord. We preach His glory, not ours. We must diminish and he must be magnified!

2) We are Discouraged Because We Do Not Realize Our Responsibility I often wish I had spent more time preparing Sunday’s sermon as I wrestle with discouragement. “I should have addressed this issue here” or “I wasn’t prepared enough to talk about this topic.” When we do not realize, or forget, that our call to preach is a God given responsibility, discouragement can creep in. I prepare Sunday’s sermon for my congregation, but I also prepare it in the presence of God. God calls me to bring my best in preparing the sermon. This is a weighty responsibility to proclaim Jesus Christ; to forget this persuades us to forget the weight of the call to preach eternal realities. We must be diligent in our study or else we can become discouraged.

Remedy: Perhaps the easiest way to fight this form of discouragement in preaching is to be thorough as preachers in our study of the text and our congregation. Preachers are tasked with an incredible responsibility; this responsibility should make us tremble at the calling God has placed upon us. We want a sober fear of the calling to which we are tasked, it is no mere game but instead souls hang in the balance of the work we do in our office, with our pen, our books, and the Scriptures. It is before God that we preach and so we must pray always the words of Psalm 19:14: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. This kind of discouragement can be overcome by preparing in light of our great responsibility, with prayer and diligence that reflects our responsibility.

3) We are Discouraged Because of Spiritual Warfare If the preacher is the person to which the congregation looks to counsel from the things of God in the Scriptures, it only makes sense that Satan would try to dissuade us in our calling. It’s the trickle-down effect; if the leader is discouraged, maybe the congregation will be too. A good sermon on Saturday afternoon, something we have prepared with great study and are confident of, can have a cloud of discouragement over it Sunday morning as the power of Satan causes us to feel like a failure in our task. One of Satan’s greatest tasks is to prevent God’s children from hearing of His love for them; discouraging the preacher will begin this work.

Remedy: The preacher can combat this discouragement through prayer, In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one…praying at all times in the Spirit (Eph. 6:16, 18a). Ask God to speak through the sermon, to fight for His name; this is the only defense we have against the arrows of discouragement that Satan fires, God’s action. We know that Christ has won and Satan has been destroyed, stand firm in this confidence as you preach.

After Discouragement Comes Hope Discouragement is real in the preaching ministry. We must examine why we are discouraged in order to know the remedy so that the Gospel will not be hindered. We may be discouraged because of our pride, or because we fail to recognize the weight of our call, or because of a spiritual war that is taking place. Whatever the reason we must realize, and continually tell ourselves, that it is not our power to preach that works in people’s lives, but it is God’s power. This is liberating in discouragement; this is our great hope. If we preach Scripture, it is God’s Word that speaks, not ours. Place your hope in God’s power, in God’s words given to us in Scripture. We would do well to memorize and repeat the words of Paul every time we walk from pew to pulpit and back again:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ESV

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