I have a confession to make: I never feel fully prepared to preach. In fact, I’m not sure I know what it would mean to be fully prepared to preach. I suppose it might mean coming to the pulpit with a complete manuscript thoroughly highlighted in several colors. It would mean I had the sermon so internalized and was so familiar with it that the manuscript would be unnecessary. I would have practiced it out loud in the very pulpit in which I’m about to preach at least once. Before all this, I would have studied the text thoroughly. I would have consulted and pondered every commentary and reference book that I deemed important. I would be refreshed by a full night of sleep. I would have prayed as long as I wanted and come away with a sense of the unction of the Holy Spirit. I would have emerged from an intoxicating time of worship. If that is what it means to be prepared, then I’ve never been fully prepared to preach in my life.

There is a broader sense, however, in which the preacher is to be prepared. You could consider it from several perspectives. There is the call of the preacher, there is the education and training of the preacher, and, of course, there is the weekly preparation of the preacher for the pulpit. But I’m not concerned with any of those at the moment. I’m concerned with the ongoing preparation of the preacher. You might say I’m concerned with obeying Paul’s command in 2 Timothy 4:2 to stay ready in season and out of season. How do you do that? How do you stay ready in light of our inability to be fully prepared? How do you do that when people, without consulting your schedule, inconveniently decide to die on Friday or decide to have some major surgery on your most important day of sermon prep?

In answer to that question, I find these words from preacher, college president and hymn writer Samuel Davies to be an encouragement. After hearing the legendary George Whitefield preach, he said,

It became clear to me quite soon in the service that Mr. Whitefield must have had an exceptionally busy week; obviously he had not had time to prepare his sermon properly. From the standpoint of construction and ordering of thought it was very deficient and defective; it was a poor sermon. But the unction that attended it was such that I would gladly risk the rigors of shipwreck in the Atlantic many times over in order to be there just to come under its gracious influence (Lloyd-Jones, Puritans, 123-4).

Davies is not advocating laziness in preparation. In fact, if you plan on regularly slacking in preparation and merely attempting to speak with unction to make up for it, then do us a favor and leave the ministry, will you?

Davies is not advocating laziness in preparation, but there are times when life happens and the preacher is less prepared than he would wish and yet is still able to deliver a powerful sermon.

Unction is neither a reward for hard work, nor something God owes you, but it is good to know how to be in a position where we may, by faith, expect such unction even when our preparation isn’t complete. Paul tells us how to do this in 1 Timothy 4:16, where he exhorts Timothy to “keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” If we obey Paul’s exhortation, we’ll find ourselves in a much better position when our preparation isn’t quite there. The key is to take heed of Paul’s exhortations, so let’s start there.


Donald S. Whitney serves as associate professor of biblical spirituality and also as senior associate dean of the School of Theology at Southern Seminary.  He is the author of six books, including Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. You can connect with Whitney on Twitter, Facebook and through his website The Center for Biblical Spirituality. This post originally appeared in Don Whitney’s chapter in A Guide to Expository Ministry.