What to do when you feel empty

Every pastor I know considers it an honor to preach God’s word to God’s people and to those who are not yet His people. Every pastor also knows that preaching involves much more than the Sunday morning delivery of a message.

There is a great deal of preparation that goes into preaching. Many hours of labor over biblical exegesis, reading commentaries, sermon structure, and even gathering helpful illustrations. Reaching the moment of having a message to deliver is a chore. Yes, it is a labor of love but a labor, nonetheless.

Once the preacher is finished preaching, he can then take a break. Hopefully he will make time to relax with his family, enjoy a good meal, and close his eyes at the end of the day on Sunday. All is peaceful until he realizes on Monday morning that he needs to begin the whole wonderful process over again for the next upcoming Sunday.

Sometimes preachers become tired in this ongoing routine. Not tired of it but tired in it, and there is a difference. Occasionally a preacher will feel that his mental and emotional well is empty and that after having given out so much to so many that he is more than a little dry.

What can preachers do when their mind is blank and the preparation for the next message feels like too much? Here are some suggestions to consider:

1. Talk to God: One of the most liberating realities for followers of Christ is the ongoing realization that God knows our circumstances and needs long before we do. Jesus said as much in Matthew 6:8. We just need to vocalize in prayer what our Father already knows is true.

2. Talk to a friend: When I say friend, I do not mean the kind of friend who has a ready cliché for every difficult encounter. That friend has his place, but this is not the best place for him. Talk to the friend who knows the ins and outs of a minister’s life and who will listen. Talk to the friend that you enjoy being around, the one that leaves you more refreshed than he found you. See if he is available for lunch or coffee and watch what God does through a good “iron sharpening iron” friendship.

3. Take a break: Sometimes what is needed is a little fresh air or rigorous exercise. An hour or two on a bike, or in the woods, or with a rod and reel in your hand at a neighbor’s pond can be life giving. I carry a folding chair in my car for just those occasions when fifteen minutes, a shade tree, and a cup of coffee is what is needed most.

4. Take time away: Look ahead on your calendar and see if there is room for a day off. Most of us do not schedule vacations, or personal days, until we really need them and often by that time it is too late.

5. Take a nap: I remember hearing Dr. Charles Stanley describe a time when he was laboring over a message and it just would not come together. He described lying prostrate on the floor praying to God over the message and then accidentally fell asleep. When he woke up later his mind was clear, and he was able to finish his work and deliver the sermon. Sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is take a nap.

The reality I am describing may have never been an issue for you. You may be one of those rare people who face each day with great energy and vigor and never tire of studying and preparing to preach. Praise God for you. For the rest of us, however, just know that God can help you even when you feel dry and can restore you so you can continue to refresh others through His word.

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