So it happened again last Sunday. I wound up preaching while in a mental fog. I don’t understand all the reasons for it – perhaps it was messed up sleep patterns or maybe too much jalapeno beef jerky the night before – but probably 3 or 4 times a year I wake up early Sunday morning and just don’t feel right in the head. It’s sort of that feeling you have when you’ve got a bad cold and take some non-drowsy cold medicine. You’re not drowsy but you feel as if you’re wearing a thick, invisible space helmet. You can’t hear yourself or others too clearly and can’t seem to speak as precisely either. Your words seem to drop out of your mouth like clumsy rocks. Ever been there? If you’ve preached more than, say, a dozen sermons you’ve certainly experienced it. This phenomenon can cause you to panic in the pulpit and in your panic you can make your sermon much worse.
In light of several of these experiences, here are a few things I’ve learned for preaching through mental fog:
1. Realize that things are probably not as bad as you think. In the midst of a mental fog sermon, I begin to imagine that the sermon is completely incoherent and that I should just call it quits and send everybody home early. But what I’ve discovered is that this is more my perception than reality. When I’ve asked others after a mental fog sermon, they almost always tell me that they couldn’t discern any difference from my “normal” sermons (not sure if that’s exactly encouraging). So when in the midst of mental mist, keep going, don’t give up, and realize that it’s probably not that bad.
2. Remember that God is sovereign. It’s odd, but we preachers can actually deny what we proclaim in how we handle ourselves in the pulpit. Worry, fret, anxiety, sweat pouring down our brow over a less-than-perfect sermon denies our profession that the Lord does whatever He pleases. Fight to believe in the sovereignty of God, even in the midst of your lousy pulpit performance. God is still on His throne, the elect will still be saved, the church will still triumph, Jesus will still return, and somehow the Lord will use your atrocious sermon to further His plan.
3. Consider simplifying or editing out some more complicated discussions. This is simply a practical pointer, but if you were planning on going off on an extended aside enumerating the various positions in the Lapsarian Controversy or a lengthy description of Baal worship, maybe consider moving that to a week when you’re more mentally sharp. This could be done during the midst of the sermon on the fly, or preferably before the sermon begins. I could tell my mental engine wasn’t firing on all cylinders last Sunday so I did something like this during my sermon and I’m glad I did. Make the Main Thing the main thing and then get out of the pulpit.
4. Remind yourself that God still uses Bible exposition even when the homiletics are appalling. Now obviously we want to do our best in winsomely proclaiming the unsearchable riches of Christ, but sometimes we’re pretty weak, tired, confused jars of clay. But the beauty of Bible exposition is that the Word is front and center. The focus of attention isn’t the preacher and his eloquence or charisma but the Word of the Lord. What this means is that the Lord will still use ineloquent Bible exposition to save sinners and edify the saints. For an encouraging reminder of this, go read the account of Charles Spurgeon’s conversion. God’s Word never returns void (Isaiah 55:11), and your crummy, bumbling, misty-minded, redundant, semi-coherent exposition of Scripture might be the means of converting the next Spurgeon.
So these are simply some of the keys I’ve found helpful in preaching through mental fog. Now tell us what you’ve found helpful. Leave your suggestions in the comments below and we’ll have a conversation.
Timothy Raymond is an editor for Credo Magazine and has been the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana since April 2006. He received his MDiv from the Baptist Bible Seminary of Pennsylvania in 2004 and has pursued further education through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.