Preparation or Inspiration?

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.

Sherman Haywood Cox II

Vanderbilt Trained Minister (MDiv), Univ. of Alabama Trained Software Developer (MS), Author, Blogger (, Husband, Son, Brother, Father.

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