Sermons are easy; the hard part is having a word from God.

“Is there a word from God?” (Jeremiah 37:17)

Any one can “get up a sermon.”

When you are first beginning in the ministry, the “art”–if you want to call it that–of finding, creating, and building sermons seems mysterious and difficult.  In time, however, you work out the formula for sermons and your life becomes less stressful, sermon-building easier.

“What is the formula for sermons?” someone asks.

There’s no one formula, but each preacher works out his own according to his own style.

It goes something like this…

Take a random verse of scripture: “Some of the scribes answered and said, ‘Teacher, you have spoken well.” (Luke 20:29)  Can we build a sermon on that?  You bet. Nothing to it, if all we want is a sermon.

Start with the scribes. They are scriptural authorities, experts on the law as a result of their history of copying manuscripts for use by individuals and congregations. Because they had hand-written everything the Scriptures had to say, people came asking what the Word says about this or that. If anyone knew, they would.  So, when the scribes heard Jesus teaching, they recognized He was right on target with His teaching, and they said so.  So, we have (our first point) The testimony of the scribes.

Then, there is the matter of what our Lord was saying to them that evoked this compliment. Jesus is addressing the matter of the resurrection to the Sadducees, a religious group that took only the first 5 books of the Old Testament as their Bible and were smugly convinced that no teachings, nada, zero, about Heaven and hell were to be found there. Jesus gave them two things: a teaching right out of Heaven itself for which there were no scriptures and He alone was the only Source, and an insight from their own Scriptures that was so perfect even the scribes applauded Him.  So, second point, we have Truth from the Lord.

And finally, because every sermon needs at least three points, we can ask, “What more needs to be done?” because the very next verse says, “They did not have courage to ask Him anything else.”  So, perhaps the third point could be: The courage to go forward, that is, to act on what He has said.

That was strictly a randomly selected verse. And, with a few more hours of study, prayer, and reflection, we could end up with a fairly decent sermon.

If that’s all we’re looking for.

Or, here’s another very quick take on the verse right before that one, Luke 20:38. “Now, He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to Him.” Three possibilities are: 1) a common misconception–the dead are dead and that’s that; 2) a scriptural revelation–God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and 3) an incredible interpretation–He is not the God of the dead but of the living.

It’s simple once you get the hang of it.


Is that the Word from God your congregation needs to hear and which you need to deliver?

Just because it’s from Scripture does not mean it’s God’s word for the moment.

That, incidentally, is the problem I personally have with preachers deciding to “preach through the Bible.”  It assumes that any sermon you bring from any text is God’s Word for your flock for that Sunday.  And that, I venture to say, my friend, is sheer foolishness.

Spending years preaching verse-by-verse through the entire Bible will keep you in the Old Testament far longer than you will want to stay. You will struggle to find pegs on which to hang the gospel. You will be tempted to strain at metaphors and types and images and to spiritualize stories in order to bring in Jesus. And–strictly my opinion here, now–you will forever burn your people out on a large portion of Holy Scriptures. Some of those stories and prophecies and teachings they will never want to see again because you simply could not handle them.

Don’t be insulted, please. It’s a rare preacher who can preach an interesting sermon from certain chapters in Leviticus or Judges or Isaiah.  Put another way, not all preachers can preach everything in the Word. Some of it requires far more in-depth study and mental skills than most of us have.

Having gone out on a limb here in urging preachers not to “preach through the Bible” as though each part’s preaching values were equal to all other parts, I might as well go the rest of the way….

The reason many preachers decide to preach through the entire Bible on a verse-by-verse basis is strictly ego.  They want to say they have done it. They want to stand before a gathering of other preachers and orate about the power of God’s Word and announce that they themselves spent a full five years (or more!) preaching through the Word, and that God blessed their church in unusual ways as a result.  Personally, I’d want to get the testimony of some of his deacons as to the truth of the last statement.

I cannot find anywhere in Scripture where we are commanded to preach everything else in Scripture.  We certainly do not see Paul preaching Esther or Song of Solomon. There is no indication Peter or Timothy ever preached through some of the more obscure Old Testament books.

Do not read something into this not intended. I believe all the Bible is inspired of God and thus profitable, as Paul told Timothy (II Timothy 3:16-17).  But inspired not in the same way or for the same purposes.

Let the Holy Spirit lead you. If He says to preach verse-by-verse through the Bible and He will make it fit the needs of your people, go for it! But don’t do it to prove a point, to satisfy some urge within you, or to show up a critic.

Rather than try to turn your Bible into a magical one-size-fits-all book of sermons, pastor,  try seeking out God’s message for your people one day at a time.

1) Ask the Lord.  “What do you want me to preach on the 21st of the month, Father?” Or, one that I have prayed: “Lord, you have heard every Mother’s Day sermon ever preached, and inspired most of them. Show me what you would have me to say to my people on that day.”

2) Seek His will.  Read Scripture with your heart tuned to getting His answer.  Read the newspaper, listen to the news, observe goings-on around you every day alert to the messages the Lord is sending your way.  Stay logged on to Him.

3) Humble yourself.  You may know the original languages, you may have incredible oratorical gifts, and you may be gifted at eliciting responses from your people. But the question is not can you do this without Him, but “What does the Father wish to say to His children?”

4) Wait on Him. To get the answer, you might need to quieten your spirit and shut down your systems and be still before Him.  Make up your mind you are through preaching “nice little sermons you carved out of Scripture all by yourself,” and from now on you are going to preach only the messages God gives you. And if you cannot tell the difference, your problems are bigger than we can address here.

5) Be willing to adapt.  God is a lot more skilled at sermon-building and interest-creating than we preachers will ever be. He is the Creative God. So, once you know the text and the basic message, ask Him how He wants it preached.  And once again….

Be willing to wait before Him.

The problems with this kind of sermon-building  (and the reason some preachers do not take this route) are numerous…

–it takes time. You cannot start this conversation with the Lord on Friday night before you are to preach it on Sunday.  (The problem there is not God’s; it’s ours. It takes us time to think through these matters, to process what He says, to get our own preconceived ideas out of the way, to listen to the Spirit, and then to rehearse the preaching of this message repeatedly until we can do it well and faithfully.)

A popular preacher once told a large gathering of us pastors, “We hear of preachers who spend an hour in preparation for every minute they spend in the pulpit. Not me! Give me a Bible and a notebook, lock me in a room for two hours, and I will have you a sermon!”  Naturally, he received a chorus of amens for that bit of foolishness.

All that preacher did was to say he had mastered the art of sermon-building. But God does not give His specific messages for specific congregations to preachers with a formula.

The Lord gives His message to those who seek Him, who wait upon Him, who are willing to do His will.

About the lazy prophets of Jeremiah’s day, God said, “If they had stood in my council, then they (could) have announced my words to my people, and would have turned them back from their evil way and from the evil of their deeds” (Jeremiah 23:22).

Getting specific direction from the Lord for a message may mean a little more work, requires a little more humility and prayer and study, and takes a little more time than “two hours with a Bible and a notebook,” but the end result is far more wonderful, more inspiring, and more fruitful.

You end up with the kind of fruit that lasts (see John 15:16).

Finally, let’s note the difference in a “sermon” and a message from God…

They may look and sound just alike. In fact, the average layman will not know the difference. (Pray that your pastor search committee can!) Both celebrate the Word of God and may honor the Lord Jesus and be used of God. But one is special….

–It has an edge to it.

–It connects with people at their deepest level.

–It provides an intersection in their lives, forcing them to take a good look at themselves and make a decision about God.

–It leaves them forever changed. Even those who reject the Lord’s message will know they have heard from God and will not soon forget this experience.

Brethren, let us go for the gold. Let us aim for sermons that deliver the message of Heaven to earthbound men and women in need of salvation.  Let us settle for nothing less.


5 thoughts on “Sermons are easy; the hard part is having a word from God.

  1. As a major in Religious Education, I took no courses on prep in Seminary. I have managed to read portions/articles on the subject. I did manage to take all elective courses in either Bible or Theology courses knowing in all likely hood after my days as a M.E. I was headed toward smaller churches where I feel a proper understanding of Christian Education is a must along with a proper understanding of the total purpose of Church work. I say that to say, as I prepare each week, I ask God to help me not only understand the passage I speak from but to also bring adequate application to the passage covered. If all I do is explain the passage I have only done half my job as a preacher. To me I must make it applicable to the needs of God’s people as well as be used by the Spirit to draw the lost to Christ. In my assessment my word from God comes at the point of, am I to challenge the church, correct the believer, comfort someone in need, teach a principle, or evangelize the lost.Am I off base in my assessment. My heart’s desire is each Sunday when I am finished people God’s people can say they have felt the presence of God in all of the service from the Call to Worship to the last Amen!

  2. Hi Brother Joe;

    I find myself torn on this post. Most of it I agree with but the implication I am getting is that you feel the only proper way to plan a sermon is to prayerfully pick a passage of scripture for each sermon and then preach on that passage.

    Does this not run the risk of people only sticking to the parts of scripture which they think they know and avoiding the various bits which they might never wish to preach on?

    In our church the Pastor and the Elders decide in advance on which book of the bible we are going to preach through, and then look at how the book should be divided into pieces. The pieces are then placed into a weekly framework and a rota is generated for those who are able, willing and called to preach – this rota is then circulated so everyone is aware of what passage they are due to be expositing.

    The significant advantage that I can see of this approach is that each sermon builds on the one before it. As an example we are currently working through Esther in the evenings and as we work through the book we see the themes of the book (for example God’s provision in difficult circumstances) being reinforced and restated as the book goes on. This feeds back into the application which we are bringing to those listening to the sermon and means that there is a consistency of application and consistency of exposition across a period of a few months, really reinforcing the message.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts Brother!

    God Bless;

    John Vinall

  3. Pastor, I don’t usually write in blogs or forums – I don’t like to distract from a message over any minor disagreement. Add to that, I have found your material to be loving, winsome and spot on very consistently. Truthfully though, this article seemed off that normal standard. I read it in sermon central, but wanted my comment to be somewhat more private. There is not one tiny part of me that wants to distract a man of God from doing his work with minor disagreement. Here is my problem. I teach through the Bible to students every year using the premise that the library of the Word is the irreducible minimum of God’s principles on life and godliness – cover to cover. In the first week, the students are sequestered to read the Bible aloud beginning to end together. They are taught to study carefully every line of every page.

    In my preaching I seek to do the same. I believe every passage IS a topic, and every issue of the text models principles that affect all believers. The Law explains what my Father cares about, even though it was given to my older brother Israel, and so forth. I am not pressing a peripheral – I was trained to see all the text not only as inspired, but essential. I believe the reduction of the text from the pulpit is one of the essential undoings of our churches – because it contributes to the sentimental Christianity that doesn’t address the questions many young people are asking.

    I am not sure that reducing that training to “ego” – even with the caveat of excluding a few “more intelligent” among us is a fair evaluation. In a time when the people of God have more tools than any time in history, and spend more on the education of our clergy than any time before – is it too much to ask men to stretch themselves to find sources that will guide them through difficult texts? Why should I trust myself to know which principles are less important when they were included and preserved in the text by God?

    What I have read of yours is normally both fair and (dare I say it?) fun to read. I don’t want to unduly criticize you or your ministry. I offer this short note as a sincere disagreement with the strategy, in the hopes it will prod you. Please be assured of my continued joy in seeing your name on articles – I deliberately go out of my way to read them because I find wisdom in them.

    Randall Smith (

    • Now, writing such a gracious note, how can I take issue with you!? (smiley-face goes here) — You will (perhaps) be glad to know that a number of my friends have been prompt to take the same position as you on this, and I have no problem with that. This is “just Joe’s thinking.” — I was not an “Old Testament major” in seminary, but have a deep appreciation for the OT and its multitude of teachings and insights, many of which I love to bring into play in sermons. So none of this was meant to disparage teaching/preaching the OT. Surely, you will agree that the food value is not the same in all parts. And that was much of what I was trying to say. — Anyway, thank you! Every blessing to you and upon your ministry!

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