When I first saw little Michael, I could barely make out his form because of all the wires, tubes, probes, heaters, and diagnostic equipment. Michael was so small he could have comfortably fit in the palm of my hand. Machines were helping his underdeveloped lungs breathe and were recording his every heartbeat. The family and I gathered around the incubator and committed little Michael to God, praying for his survival. God answered those prayers. Michael remained in the hospital for several months, at first barely clinging to life. His parents grew spiritually before my eyes as they loved that little baby toward health. I’ll never forget the day his parents brought him home, or the day we dedicated Michael in church one Sunday morning. Michael beat the odds. Premature babies that are delivered that small are so very vulnerable and at risk; many do not survive.
Once something new and alive has been conceived, it is by no mean ready to be delivered. If a new life does not have sufficient time to grow and mature in the womb, its potential for viability is greatly diminished or lost. So it is with sermons. The core of a transformational sermon begins with truth illuminated by a work of the Holy Spirit in the preacher’s heart. However, that truth is not yet ready to be shared with others—it must be nurtured like a growing baby in the womb so it can become viable life before its delivery.
What does viable mean when we’re talking about a sermon? A word that is revealed to us must become very personal to us first—before it is shared with others. Balaam’s jackass preached the word to Balaam without benefit of any inner transformation, but do we really want her to be our role model for preaching? Excitement tempts the young preacher to create a sermon for delivery, but the word still lacks the transformational power that comes from a deeply changed life. If preached prematurely, the word may make intellectual sense to the hearers and sound good, but it often lacks life and depth. At worst, a premature sermon can be destructive if words spoken from the pulpit don’t match the preacher’s life.
God is always at work in the preacher’s life, using circumstances to grow and mature the word. God’s Spirit is constantly speaking. The question is do we have ears to hear and eyes to see? The experienced preacher uses life as a living laboratory to experience the Word. God is very efficient and wastes nothing. As God illuminates truth’s meaning through life circumstances, truth comes alive to us. It becomes experiential truth that can be given away to others—as Augustine of Hippo once said, “What I live by, I impart.” The word begins to tinker with my attitudes and motivations, exposing them for what they really are. I begin to see where I am wrong in my beliefs, perspectives, and in what I value. I am confronted with the need to change so that I can come into alignment with the word. When adequate time is given to the growth and maturing of the word, the preacher’s thoughts, attitudes, values, and actions begin to change, and the word becomes flesh. What was abstract now becomes visible. The preacher is ready to preach the word, because his or her life is already preaching it.