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Out of Season

patric henry in pulpit.jpg “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season.” II Timothy 4:1-4.

Why do we always see a beautiful herd of deer running across the road when hunting season is over, but there’s not a buck or doe to be found when it’s legal to take them? Or why do we reel in this fabulous largemouth bass—which we have to release—the day before bass season kicks off, but they all head for the deep water when the season opens? Is somebody sending out Bambi or Nemo alerts? But, we have to be careful. Hunting or fishing out of season exposes outdoorsmen to the penalty of law. The powers that be have determined that certain species of wildlife must be protected; thus no one is permitted to bag or hook these species except during a defined season.

Preaching out of season is not so much regulated by law as it is by opportunity and inclination. In practical terms, preachers do not always feel like preaching. Sometimes we get physically tired and don’t have the stamina to get behind the pulpit and crank out a sermon. Or, we can get so embroiled in a complex church situation or a personal problem that we lose our ability to focus on the Word. The absence of positive results can discourage us and drain us of motivation. But, most of the time, we just can’t get a thought. Mental block. Brain freeze. Nothing. A whole Bible full of sermons and we can’t see any of them. All of us have felt like a dry well, a cloud without water, a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. These are just a few reasons why we preach “out of season.”

Warren Wiersbe says that “be instant in season, out of season;” means “be diligent and alert to use every opportunity to preach the Word, when it is favorable and even when it is not favorable. It is easy to make excuses when we ought to be making opportunities. Paul himself always found an opportunity to share the Word, whether it was in the temple courts, on a stormy sea, or even in prison. “He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap” (Ecc. 11:4). Stop making excuses and get to work!”

He goes on to say that “Preaching must be marked by three elements: conviction, warning, and appeal (“reprove, rebuke, exhort”). To quote an old rule of preachers, “He should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” If there is conviction but no remedy, we add to people’s burdens. And if we encourage those who ought to be rebuked, we are assisting them to sin. Biblical preaching must be balanced. “ True preaching is the explanation and application of Bible doctrine. Anything else is just religious speechmaking.” (The Bible Exposition Commentary.)

How sweet it is when you get a sermon thought several days before you are scheduled to preach! You have time to run the references, research it out, think it through, whip it into shape and maybe even bounce it off of a friend or two. You may even have the luxury of finding just the right illustration that ties it all together at the end. Preaching in season is a beautiful thing.

But the question before us is how do we preach out of season? How do we prime the pump when no water freely flows out of it? What do we say when we don’t have anything to say? Is it okay to listen to CD’s, DVD ’s and messages from the media to get our inspiration? Can we tap into the plethora of material available online and use it, or is that plagiarizing? What about all the books we have in our libraries? Some of the messages by Charles Spurgeon, Clarence McCartney or Charles Finney have been out of print for a hundred years. Can we recycle them for today’s church? Should we insist on our own original thinking for every message or can we draw from many different sources? What about preaching the same message we preached a number of years ago? It is acceptable to pick up the phone and call a preacher friend of ours and ask him for a sermon?

Admittedly, some of these tactics scrape the bottom of the barrel. To one degree or another, however, every preacher wrestles with this challenge every time it falls his lot to mount the pulpit. Nothing is worse than standing before your congregation about to open the Bible and have the sick sensation that you don’t have the right message or that you are about to fall flat on your face. If you’re not excited about your sermon, chances are that the people won’t be too excited either.

I am sorry to disappoint anyone, but this article will not supply all the answers to the dilemma I have just described. All I can do is commiserate with you. I do have a few small suggestions that may help you out in a pinch. In the end, of course, it is your call. I refuse to accept any blame if these tips don’t work for you!

Pray. You know the expression, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” Trees represent problems, the daily workload, the incessant cell phone and the next person in line for counseling. When you pray, you step back from all of that and take a look at the bigger picture. Remember, you may very well be the only one in the church to see the big picture, and without that perspective, you will not give direction to the church. Make prayer a two-way street, not a boring monologue.

How do you pray for a sermon? You don’t. Get that out of your head. You pray for people. You pray for the church. You pray for souls. You pray for the will of God to be done. You pray for the Word of God to prosper. You pray for wisdom, insight and direction. You pray for a move of God, for revival, for specific areas that are not marching in step with the vision of the church. As you interest yourself in the things that interest God, you will begin to pick up heaven’s signals. It’s called being on the same wavelength. Anytime I have concentrated on proper prayer, God had never failed to give me insight. That insight becomes a kernel of truth for a message.

Read the Bible. I don’t mean to make your load any heavier, but… God has commissioned us to preach the Word. Ideas and stories make for interesting speeches, but the only spiritual power and spiritual authority in your message comes through presenting the Word to your people. Read reflectively. Observe background facts, introductory statements and concluding circumstances as well as central truths. As you read, answer the questions of who, what, when, where, why and how in the passage at hand. You will be amazed at how these simple questions will uncover salient points that casual readers miss, and will even lead you to a unanticipated approach to your message. For example, why did the father of the prodigal fall on his son’s neck? What is significant about “Then Peter said unto them?” Why did Jesus say that Simon Barjona was “blessed?”

Define terms. Find out why certain words are used in the scripture. Compare their usage to other places where they may be found in the Bible or even in contemporary literature. You don’t have to know Hebrew or Greek. Enough language helps are in print to get you to the probable meaning of a word. If you aren’t an expert, of course, don’t act like you are. A powerful truth may emerge from the definition of words that most people perceive as common terms. The definition of the word mystery, for example, will keep a careful scholar occupied for a long time. So will Godhead, propitiation, seek and mortify.

Look at yourself. God didn’t call you to preach yourself, but he did call you to preach. Evidently, you have some unique experiences, some validating credentials, some powerful truths sealed up in your bones. Some of them will come forward without much effort. Other things will stay hidden in your mind until you go on a specific mission to root them out. You can remain modest and yet still tell what happened to you. No one is a better authority on your life than you. Think of your childhood, your friends, your hurts, your successes, your learning opportunities, your jobs, your bosses, your family, and on and on. As you tell about your personal experiences, you will have an authenticity in your tone that you can’t conjure up by telling someone else’s story.

Look at your people. There they sit. Inundated with problems, battered by fears, intimidated by circumstances, beaten down by failures, worried about bills, hurt by abuses, wearied by the struggle, and burdened with family matters, they need to hear from God. They know what the neighbors think. They deal with the opinions of carnal fellow workers every day. Their ears and eyes are constantly bombarded by the humanistic philosophies of the world. They don’t need an Oprah rerun or a Doctor Phil rehash. They need a God-called, anointed preacher to address their situations with eternal truths from the Bible. As you bury your head in your hands trying to think of what you will preach, visualize your people surrounding your study desk. That will get you going. Jesus did not tell Peter to cook up a recipe to please his own palate. He told him to feed the sheep. When you let the needs of your people drive your sermons, you are obeying the command of Christ.

Depend on the Spirit. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is forget your notes and let the Spirit of God lead you. If the timing isn’t right or if the people aren’t ready to eat a full plate of spiritual food, don’t force it. You don’t always need an hour to accomplish the will of God. A great message may be preached in five minutes. If all you have is a brief word from the Lord, deliver it and then open the service up for a response. If you stubbornly insist on laboring through your prepared sermon when God wants the service to go another direction, you may forfeit the special blessing that God has for the people in a given service. I have found that when I follow the leading of the Spirit at such times, God miraculously supplies me with some thoughts and words that prove to be far more powerful than what I planned to say.

Preaching out of season demands a strategy to negotiate the turns. It is a mistake to believe that you need no preparation. The kind of preparation you need may not be from a book. It is more likely to be from your heart. It demands an intuitive, sensitive and heartfelt approach. And, a final word of advice: Don’t wait until you are thrown overboard before you learn to swim.

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