Preparing to Preach
Pastor Jack Hyles
(Loyal Pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana for over 42 years)
It is time to preach. In a few minutes I will be representing God as His man before His people. I am to deliver His message. I am about to walk to the platform. I must remember to walk correctly I must remember to stand correctly I must remember to sit properly I am now walking through the door. I am praying a simple prayer. "Lord, help me to preach today as if it were the last sermon I would ever preach."
I must take time to remember how much I wanted this in days gone by I must remember that I am where I wanted to be. I must remember how I felt when I was sitting in the pew. I must remember that I am God's man. I must realize that I may not have many more times to do this. I must give my best. I must give my all. lam about to do something that angels covet. I am appearing in Christ's stead. I am His representative. I am His ambassador. I must not forget it.
I am now standing on the platform. The scene has begun. In just a few minutes I will be doing~ the most important thing that a human being can do on earth, ~so I must spend the time between now and then to prepare.
1. I must examine the pulpit. I must see and decide where I can place my hands or if I can place my hands on the pulpit. I must decide what to do with my hands before I preach. If the pulpit is too high for me, I would be wise just to stand behind it with my hands beside me or clasp behind me; or' I could use my hands for gestures, but it would not be a help to me to place my hands on the pulpit if it is a tall pulpit and obviously built for a taller preacher than I.
I am about to represent God. I must do it properly I must not be intimidated by a pulpit.
2. I must observe the platform. I hope it is about six inches high for every ten feet of depth in the auditorium. If it is a low platform, I must speak a bit louder, be a bit more dynamic and more assertive because I will be in a position not conducive to leadership. If the platform is too high, I must say something early in my message that will identify me with the congregation so that I will not feel too far removed from them. I am God's man. I must give my best. I must be my best. I must do my best. I am representing God. I am His ambassador. I must be prepared. In a few minutes I will be standing between the living and the dead. "Oh, God, help me to prepare myself."
3. I must check how far I am from the people. I wish that the front row were within seven feet of me as I speak, for it is harder to interact with the people if they are far from me. It is more difficult for the pulpit and pew to communicate if the people are at a great distance from me. If there are more than seven feet between me and the audience, I must realize that I will not be as aware of their response. I must not plan on a response, for distance has divided the speaker from the people. I must remember that I may not be able to hear their "Amens." I may not be able to hear their laughter as easily as I could if they were closer to me. If they are ten feet or more away from me, it might be more difficult for me to preach. Maybe I should consider preaching a familiar sermon, one in which I can totally lose myself and be more oblivious to the audience response and participation. I am God's man. I must leave no stone unturned. The time is getting closer when I am to preach. The choir is singing. Soon will come the offering; then the special number; then I will enter into the holy place and represent my God. "Oh, God, may I give my best, be my best and do my best."
4. I must check the lighting. I wish it were a bright, cheerful auditorium so I could easily see the people and feel apart of them, for when I feel identified with the people, I can best represent my Saviour, for He certainly identified Himself with the common man. I must remember that if the lighting is subdued, I will not be able to see the people as well. I will not know as quickly of their laughter. I will not see them nodding their heads in agreement. I must remember that most of my inspiration must come from within because the dim light has separated me from the congregation. "Oh, God, help me to be Your man today This is the only Sunday morning sermon that these people are going to hear today I am their only chance to receive God's message. Please help me. I yield myself to Your Holy Spirit and present my body a living sacrifice. Please use me."
5. I must check the temperature. If it is too warm, I must realize that the people could become a bit drowsy and they may fall asleep more easily while I preach. They will not be as alert as they would be if the building were not uncomfortably warm. No doubt it will be a little more difficult for me to keep their attention. Perhaps I should use a touch of appropriate humor. I must be a little more dynamic in my presentation and delivery, and maybe I should consider keeping my message a little more brief. "Oh, God, do not let the warm building hinder me from delivering Your message, and do not let the warm building hinder the people from receiving Your message. You have given me a truth to give them that is vital. It could revolutionize their lives. Give me wisdom as I seek to blend and adjust to the various circumstances of the service."
6. I must check the shape of the auditorium. I must decide with which people to make eye contact. I realize that if the auditorium is big, there is no way that I can have eye contact with everybody If the building is very long and narrow, I would be wise to preach mainly to the front half of the congregation. This will keep my eyes pointing toward the entire congregation, but I must be aware mainly of the front half. However, I must be sure to project my voice so that the last row can hear me.
If the building is fan-shaped, my body must not oscillate offensively I must decide to keep eye contact basically with the two center sections, with an occasional glance to the sides. I realize that it would be unwise for me to constantly be oscillating from side to side, but I must make everyone feel a part of the service. However, for the sake of the message, my main contact will be with the two center sections. If there is a center section and no center aisle, I must then give most of my attention to the three center sections.
"Dear God, if I am placing too much emphasis on mechanics, it is a sincere mistake. I want to be today what You want me to be, and I want the people to hear and understand Your message. I have spent hours preparing my message. I have spent hours preparing my heart. Now I must not allow circumstances to prevent the message from being transferred from my heart to the hearts of the people."
7. I must check the crowd. I must watch during the announcements to see if they are responsive. If they are, perhaps we can have some interaction while I preach. I can ask them questions and expect some "Amens" and laughter. I am trying to decide now whether it is best for me to use them to help me in the presentation of the sermon. It may be best for me to realize that they are not responsive and not depend on them at all for help during the message. At any rate, I pray, "Dear Lord, I want my inspiration mainly to come from You. May Your Holy Spirit fill me. May Your love engulf me. May Your grace sustain me, and may Your people hear me!"
If the crowd is small, I must not be discouraged, for it is an honor beyond measure for me to deliver a message even to one person. I must be aware that all of Heaven is watching, that that cloud of Heavenly witnesses is observing!
I must remind myself of what God has done in the past in a small gathering. I must remember that little crowd that gathered in Atlanta, Georgia, many years ago, but one person in that small crowd was named Curtis Hutson, who has become one of America's greatest preachers.
I must remember that small gathering in Kankakee, Illinois, where it would have been easy to be discouraged, but I must remember that one of the few people there that night was a young man named Wally Beebe, who has become one of America's great preachers and has influenced millions to attend church and hundreds of thousands to come to Christ.
I must remember that the great message in John 3 on the new birth was preached to one man. I must remember that the great message of John 4 on the living water was preached to one woman. I must remember the small beginning of the Fulton Street prayer meetings and of Moody's revival in England. I must remember that only 120 prayed before Pentecost. I must remember that the entire destiny of mankind was changed by a little group of disciples who followed Jesus and heard Him speak.
I must not depend on the crowd for my inspiration. If they do inspire me, I must let that be bonus, but I must be inspired by the fact that I hold in my hand the eternal Word of God. There lives in my body the eternal Spirit of God, and I have in my mind and in my heart and in my soul a message from the eternal God, even the true and the living God. I am about to stand between the living and the dead. That is enough to inspire me. If the people choose to add to that inspiration, well and good, but the inspiration of the God Whom I represent, the message which I preach, and the fact that I am standing between the living and the dead is all the inspiration I really need. I must remember not to let the crowd lead me; I must lead them. I must not let them discourage me. I must not let them divide my mind and get it off of my message. "Oh, God, the offering is being taken. The time is getting closer. It is becoming difficult to wait. I long to present Your message. May I do it in Your power, and, dear God, if I am being too finicky, forgive me, but I just want to be sure that nothing distracts or hinders me from conveying the truth that You have for these people to them through Your servant."
8. I must fall in love with these people. I am looking around now. I see down in the front some older ladies. "God, bless them." I wonder what they have done this week. I imagine that this trip to church is the highlight of their week. "May I be what they need." Back in the back I see some teenagers. "Dear God, it will be difficult for them to listen. Please help me to use every tool at my disposal to keep their attention. Some of them may wreck their lives this week if they do not hear Your message. Help me as I present it.
"Dear God, I see numbers of men in this room who are vigorously laboring men. They have worked hard this week. This is their only day off They have chosen to use it to hear me preach. I notice that some of them have greasy hands. They have toiled hard all week. They need to hear from Heaven. May I be the vessel this morning that will allow them to do so.
"Dear God, I see a little crowd of people back in the back who are singing with their hands. They are deaf Tell them that I love them. Near them I see some people who have canes, and they don't seem to be facing me exactly They must be blind. Convey to them my love. Dear God, there are some little children. A 45-minute sermon seems like hours to them. Help me to so represent You that it will be easy for them to listen. Let me be simple enough so that the smallest child can understand me, and yet may my message be profound enough so that it will challenge the most mature Christian. For the next few minutes, God, I will be looking over the audience and loving them. Oh, by the way, I thank You for them. Please help me to be what they need today"
9. I must not be distracted from my message. I must keep on course. I must use that part of the service that will help my message and be oblivious to that part of the service that will not help. I must not allow anything to offend me or upset me. I must not develop a spirit of criticism about any part of the service.
10. I must be careful about my stance. Dear God, sometimes it is easy for me to slouch a bit and oftentimes I shift my weight from one foot to another. I must be careful to stand like Heaven's representative should stand. I must not carelessly lean too much on the pulpit. I am sure that I can better represent You if I stand up straight and equally distribute my weight on both feet.
11. I must be careful with my eyes. I remember how Mother used to tell me to be careful about people who had shifty eyes. I believe that sincerity will care for this, but I must not look to the ceiling while I preach or spend too much time looking to my outline. I must have a straightforward look as I preach.
12. I must be careful about the use of my hands. I must not fiddle with something on the pulpit. I must use my hands for gesturing or keep them comfortably on a part of the pulpit, hold them to my side, or clasp them behind my back. "Dear God, I hope You're not thinking now that I am emphasizing little things too much. I remember reading one time that someone said to Michelangelo, 'You spend too much time on trifles.' Michelangelo replied, 'Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle!"'
13. I hope l am dressed properly. "Of course, God, it is too late now, for I cannot change clothes this late, but I hope that I am dressed appropriately I am aware that young men who are God's representatives must be a bit more conservative than the average young man. Help me always to be appropriate in my dress. I have not worn anything new today because I do not want to have my mind on my clothing, nor do I want my apparel to detract from the message that You have given me for my people today"
I must consider my voice, my speech and my pronunciation. I must remember that the larger the crowd the slower the speech should be. I notice that the song leader makes larger gestures as he leads the singing when the crowd is larger.
14. I must be conscious of my facial expressions. I must remember that the smaller the crowd, the easier it is for me to use facial expressions; but in a large crowd, facial expressions are less effective. I also must take into consideration the lighting and the distance of the people from the pulpit. I also must take into consideration the width of the center aisle. If it is too wide, my eye contact will not be as good. I must be aware of this so as not to be disappointed if the response is not what I want it to be.
"Dear God, it is almost time. The people are waiting. I have prepared my heart and my message through the week. I am trying now to prepare myself so that I may be the best representative for You that I can possibly be."
15. I call on someone to pray, I must remember the size of the audience. Can he be heard if he prays from the altar? Can he be heard from the place where he is sitting? If not, I must remember to call him to the platform and have him lead us in prayer behind the microphone. The same is true with testimonies.
16. I must be proper in my pulpit behavior. I must remember to participate in the singing. I must be careful not to talk to those on the platform. It might show an indifference to the service and lack of respect for others who are on the program and a part of the service. I must stand when the congregation stands or I might cause a distance to develop between us.
"Dear Lord, I understand that You can overcome any circum- stance, interruption or inconvenience. I just want to be sure that I do not cause a hindrance in the service."
I remember when I used to preach on the streets. We had no pews; we had no piano; we had no organ; we had no public address system; we had no pulpit, and I remember how You blessed. I remember how I used to stand in the back of a little pickup truck and preach to crowds. Ah, what sweet memories!
I remember that time when in an evening service all the lights went out; I preached in total darkness, and over 20 people got saved in a small church in south Texas!
I remember the brush arbors with the mosquitoes and the extreme heat with people sitting in their cars around the edge of the arbor listening to the sermon.
I remember the time when the PA. broke when I was preaching to 5,000 people, yet what a good service God gave us.
I remember preaching at the Bill Rice Ranch years ago, back in the days when their tabernacle was open on the sides. As I stood to preach, a torrential rainstorm came. I remember how nobody could hear, but dear Dr. John Rice simply walked outside and lifted his hands up and the rain stopped. I remember how sweet the service was, and then I remember when Dr. Rice came back in, he looked at me and said, "I took care of it while you were preaching, now you go outside and care for it while I'm preaching!" He had that impish, little-boy type grin on his face. God bless him. I loved him so much, and I have so many sweet memories that are built around him.
I remember that tabernacle in Ft. Worth, Texas, that was built just for revival meetings. Dr. Harvey Springer preached one week, and I preached the other. I remember that night when a cold front came through. My, was it ever cold! The tabernacle had no heat, but somebody borrowed a gas heater and placed it in the back in the middle of the tabernacle. Only ten people showed up that night in that 1000-seat tabernacle, and all ten of them were gathered around the heater, holding their hands over the top in an effort to get some warmth! Nothing went right! There was no piano; there was no pianist; there was no organ; there was no organist! Only the pastor, congregational song leader and I were on the platform, and I remember that I was preaching that night on Hell. I thought perhaps that would warm the service up somewhat. Nobody looked at me! It appeared that no one was listening, but I went ahead and preached the entire message as if the tabernacle were filled, while the little crowd of 10 people gathered around the heater in the back. I remember leaving the service thinking I had been a total failure and that I had wasted my time.
Years passed. I was preaching in Birmingham, Michigan, in an afternoon service. A tall, good-looking young man stood to intro- duce me. He said, "Ladies and gentlemen, it is my privilege to introduce you to Dr. Jack Hyles. He doesn't know it, but it was through his preaching that I was saved. Years ago he preached a week of meetings in a big tabernacle in Ft. Worth, Texas. One night a cold front came through. Only ten people showed up, and they gathered around a little heater in the back. I was one of the ten. Dr. Hyles did not think that any of us were listening, because we were all looking at the heater and trying to keep warm, but I'll never forget his sermon! He preached on the subject, 'To Hell and Back.' I got saved that night. I didn't go forward in the service to profess publicly my faith, but I was saved that night. I would like for Dr. Hyles to know that I love him and I would like to thank him for being faithful in preaching in a 1000-seat tabernacle when only 10 were present, and they were gathered around a little heater in the back."
I remember that time in Garland, Texas, when we had a big tent service on a Sunday morning; 3,163 people were there and right in the middle of the sermon the back row of the choir fell off. There had been faulty construction of the risers for the choir!
Then I remember that time when I was preaching to several thousand people at the First Baptist Church of Hammond. It was Sunday night; the building was packed, and suddenly about a third into the message a well-dressed man stood up in the back, ran about halfway down the aisle and made the time-out signal. He called time out! One of the security guards came and took him to the back and asked him what he was doing. He said, "That fellow has preached long enough." In spite of it, God blessed in that service.
Then I remember that tuberculosis sanatorium in Tyler, Texas, where as a young preacher I used to go every Thursday night and preach to the dying. I remember how some Thursday nights we would have conversions and then find them missing the next Thursday night when we returned. They had passed away during the week.
"What I am saying, Lord, is that I know that You can overcome circumstances and difficulties, but in spite of this, I don't want to be a difficulty. I want to be my best. Lord, I have the idea that the only difficulties You overcome are those that are beyond our control. I have an idea that when we cause them You are not as ready to overcome them."
17. I must be very wise concerning any child that might misbehave or baby that might cry. Of course, the best thing to do is to have adequate nursery facilities and ask the people to please leave the babies in the nursery, to have trained ladies in a clean, sanitary place. I must remember not to let a baby destroy the service. I only hope the pastor has trained the people to remove the child immediately when he misbehaves.
I hope that the children have been trained not to walk in and out of the service while the sermon is being delivered.
I trust that the ushers have been properly trained to sit down during the sermon, for they, like all of us, need preaching too. I hope that they will not disturb by moving around during the sermon. I hope they will not be doing such unwise things as counting the attendance while I'm speaking. I trust the pastor has not been so unwise as to have someone out of the services counting money "Oh, God, I want everybody to hear my message, or should I say, Your message."
I hope there is not a telephone nearby that when it rings can be heard in the auditorium.
I hope that the people are trained not to interrupt the service by calling folks out of the auditorium. I hope that they realize the most important thing in the world is the preaching of God's message and that nothing should interfere with that preaching.
"Dear God, I hope that no one is carelessly using a tape recorder that might interfere with the service. Now, Lord, if any of these things do happen, I'm going to deliver Your message anyway, and I believe that You can and will overcome obstacles unless we are the obstacles. Don't let me be a hindrance in any way in the delivering of Your message today, and dear Lord, please help the fellow who has that video camera not to be interrupting during the sermon. Help him to sit down and listen like everybody else. There are so many folks behind him that will be distracted if he moves around during the sermon.
18. I must be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. "Help me to use humor in good taste. Remind me to be proper in every way and not to be presumptuous in my opinions of people in the audience."
I remember that time in Mesquite, Texas, while I was preaching, a lady was grimacing on the second or third row from the front. All during the sermon she made faces and grimaced. I thought she was angry. I told the pastor alter the service to watch her. I thought she was a troublemaker. The pastor smiled understandingly and said, "Brother Hyles, that woman is not a troublemaker. She has a husband who beats her every time she comes to church. Tonight he beat her across the back. While you were preaching, her back was bleeding and her blouse was sticking to her back. The reason she was grimacing was that she was in pain." To think I judged her as being a troublemaker when she was simply suffering for her Saviour!
"Now, Lord, if hindrances come, I will accept them. I will not be offended. If I can correct them, I will. If I cannot, I will do my best through them, but I just do not want slothfulness to cause hindrances. This is Your hour. These are Your people. This is Your Word. I am Your man. This is Your message. I believe I have done my best.
The special music is now over. I am approaching the pulpit. I am now standing behind the pulpit. I am now preaching. What joy! What total joy! What ecstasy! What total ecstasy! "Oh, God, use me just now!"
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