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Just recently I had the great privilege of preaching to a group of ministry students at Nebraska Christian College. We were there on an official recruiting trip for our residency program here at Element and as part of being there I got a chance to speak at one of their weekly chapel services. Outside of the sermon that day, the entire chapel was student led. Worship, production, the whole bit. Right before the service I joined worship and tech teams as they gathered together for prayer. We asked for God’s presence to be made known and for Him to be glorified then we headed out for the service.
There were a few minutes before we would begin and I was standing within ear shot of a couple of the band members. One of them was the main worship leader that day and another was in the band and I heard one of them say to the other, “Man, I’m really nervous today. It’s been a while since I was up here doing this.” I just felt led to interject myself into the conversation. So that’s what I did.
I walked over and I said, “Hey, I heard you say you were nervous. Can I tell you something?” I was going to whether they wanted to hear it or not. I said, “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I still get nervous every time I preach. I’m nervous right now, and that’s ok.” I proceeded to tell them that what we are doing is not “just” singing or “just” speaking. As a worship leader you are leading people to the throne of God in worship. As a preacher I am communicating truths from God’s own Word. I said, “If we don’t have a little bit of nerves about this then we aren’t taking seriously enough the weight of what we do.”
But it got me thinking… How should I handle nerves. Obviously, we don’t want to be so nervous that we can’t lead. We also better make sure those nerves aren’t carnal in nature but spiritual. So here are a couple questions on getting nervous before I preach.
1. Are my nerves from arrogance or awe? — Nerves from arrogance are born out of the fear of what people will think about me? I’ve been there before. I preached a sermon in the hopes that people will compliment me. I’ve been afraid of saying something because of who it might offend. It’s very easy to lead from a position of arrogance that creates nerves about what people will think about me. I want to lead from a place of awe. Awe in the God I am communicating about. Awe in the Word of God coming alive. Awe that God would choose me to do this amazing task.
Ezekiel 2:6-7 says this, “Son of man, do not fear them or their words. Don’t be afraid even though their threats surround you like nettles and briers and stinging scorpions. Do not be dismayed by their dark scowls, even though they are rebels. You must give them my messages whether they listen or not. But they won’t listen, for they are completely rebellious!
Mark Batterson said, “If I say what God wants me to say then all the criticism in the world doesn’t matter. But if I don’t say what God wants me to say then all the compliments in the world don’t matter either.”
2. Will I focus on my nerves or have faith? At some point I have to make a choice. I’ll either be overwhelmed by my nerves, which can happen, or I’ll be overcome by my faith in God. It’s ok to be nervous, what is not ok is to be controlled by nerves. I have to rest in the fact that I’ve done everything in my power to pray, plan, prepare and practice what I am about to speak to these people. I can wax eloquent for 35 minutes but if the Holy Spirit isn’t on this thing, I may as well give up. I have to choose to have faith that God is going to do the work I cannot do. God is the one who convicts. God is the one who cleanses. God is the one who heals. God is the one who saves. For some reason He has chosen me for this task. I need to do my best, but ultimately I have to trust Him to do the work!
3. Will I give my all or will I give up? I love what I do. One of my greatest joys in life is being called as a preacher of the Word of God. Have I made mistakes? Many! Do I get nervous? Every week. But each week I make a conscious decision to walk out to that pulpit believing that God is waiting there for me and preach my guts out for 35 minutes. Each week I try to remind myself that this could be the last sermon I ever preach or the last sermon someone ever gets to hear. That fuels me. It puts a fire in my bones. Like an athlete says, “I left it all on the field” I want to say, “I left it all at the pulpit.” Nerves will either drive us or destroy us, we have to choose which one that will be.
Each Sunday before I preach I try and pray several verses over myself and over our congregation. One of them is Jeremiah 20:9 But if I say I’ll never mention the Lord or speak in his name, his word burns in my heart like a fire. It’s like a fire in my bones! I am worn out trying to hold it in! I can’t do it!
My prayer is that God’s Word word burn so hot in my heart that it would come bursting out of my mouth as if it were pent up inside of me. I will either give my all or I may as well give up! There is too much at stake to take lightly God’s Word and the role I’ve been given of preaching it! Eternity is on the line. With that in mind: If I’m not nervous before I preach God’s Word then I have a real reason to be nervous.