This may get me in trouble with dear friends who preach God's word every week. My message to them: Bear with my critique. I pray that my thoughts will be considered as "wounds from a friend"—and a very fallible friend at that.
Let's begin this way. Have you ever heard a preacher or a teacher in church say something like: "I had prepared all week to teach on __________, but the Holy Spirit changed my lesson at the last minute."
I have. Dozens of times. It conveys the idea that the particular message that was prepared was not of God (or was no longer of God) and this new message was most certainly of God. In fact, the new message is miraculously of God! Why? Because the preacher did not really prepare for it. It must have been God who prepared it. "I just step back when that happens and let God do his thing. Who am I to interrupt God?"
Let me—as I conceal myself behind a large object for cover—say something rude: That's a stupid thing to say!
My basic thesis is this: The assumptions required for such homiletic detours are irresponsible both to yourself and to your audience, and they misunderstand the way in which God works in the life of the church.
I see several characteristics in these statements. They can:
Neglect the Holy Spirit. The idea that is conveyed is that the Holy Spirit is not present in the sermon/lesson preparation process. Without God's presence and guidance in the study, does he somehow show up at the pulpit? There is no justification for such thinking. In fact, I would argue that we are in more need of the Spirit's guidance in the study than we are when we deliver. If the Spirit is not present when you are in preparation, how can he be there when you deliver? The delivery is simply the product of your life, study, preparation, and daily walk with God. If this were true, why would God miraculously change what he has been preparing you to present? Can he not make up his mind? Did some new, unforeseen circumstance arise that caused him to adjust, shift, or compensate for? Be careful.
Blame the Holy Spirit. The idea that God changes the sermon or lesson can be an attempt to discount your involvement and responsibility in what is being presented. Maybe you did not prepare and you are seeking someone to blame? Maybe you want to say something that you don't think will gain people's favor? Maybe you are just trying to blame the Holy Spirit?
Be manipulative. The third commandment, in principle, has nothing to do with swearing, but everything to do with protecting God's reputation. When we claim that God miraculously changed the lesson or sermon, we may be manipulating the audience. It may be another way of saying, "This sermon is really from God—so listen up and obey!" In doing this, you are using God's reputation to authenticate your teaching. After all, if God changed your mind at the last minute, whatever criticism someone might have must concede its fury. If you disagree with me, in other words, you are at enmity with God himself. That type of approach is manipulative. The best we can do is prayerfully hope that God has guided our lives, thoughts, and studies to qualify us to represent him when the time comes.
Arise from a gnostic bent. I think that people assume that this is a norm in the pulpit because we have the tendency to separate the mundane from the sacred. We often believe that if something is from the Lord, it must have a halo around it. Halos don't seem to appear in studies that are filled with struggle, doubt, and, often, timidity in our conclusions. We seek the halos to rise above the mundane, to sanctify us in a different way. However, we must live thoroughly converted lives, recognizing that the wall between the sacred and the "secular" is not really present, and it never was. It is no more spiritual to study than to preach.
But, but—I can hear the objection coming from a mile away. "What about Jude in the New Testament? I am just following in his footsteps."
Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. (Jude 1:3)
Does Jude not demonstrate here that he was going to write about something but the Holy Spirit led him somewhere else? Put simply: yes. But this cannot be applied to the subject at hand. Jude is not saying that he was just about to write on the subject of salvation, but the Lord miraculously changed his lesson. He is saying that he purposed to write about salvation, but he was convicted of a greater priority instead.