Put in the work

Put in the work. There is no shortcut. If you want to achieve something worth achieving, you’ve got to put in the work. Whether it’s studying for an exam, writing a book or starting a business, there’s no replacement.

When I first got into ministry, I thought I understood what it meant to write a sermon. The first few months were fine. I studied. I wrote. I rehearsed. The sermons went ok. Sundays, however, kept showing up. It dawned on me that first year. People were going to be staring at me every Sunday of my life. They would sit in the pews needing a word from God from me every week. I was God’s messenger for them. Gulp.

Early on I thought, “God understands how busy it’s been. Maybe God will just give me the words on Saturday night.” I thought maybe the words would fall from the sky onto paper like dust. It would be a dusting of the holy spirit. (I imagine choirs directors feel the same about preparing anthems each week.)

When I tried to write sermons at the last minute, the sermon suffered. The people on the way out would say, “Well, weren’t the hymns just wonderful today!” And I realized that to write a sermon requires preparation, heart, prayer and soul every week. God would not allow for shortcuts.

When I was twenty three, a church welcomed me as their intern. They blessed me with the opportunity to preach. There was this one man named Wayne . Wayne was a bit critical of sermons. Each week, I watched as he rifled through the Bible double checking the pastor’s scriptural references. For my first sermon with this church, I did not put in the work. I got busy and hosted friends. After the sermon Waynes says to me, “Well, I don’t know what the seminaries are teaching our young people these days.” I was discouraged. But I also knew I didn’t work as hard as I should on that sermon.

Several years later, I was invited back to this church for their homecoming. I did not want the same experience. So I busted it. I poured blood, sweat and tears into this sermon. I prayed over it. There was Wayne in the congregation.

I preached and I felt really good about the sermon. Wayne finds me after the service. I braced. He said, “Will, that was the best sermon I have ever heard…you preach.” I was pleased. I was reminded that there are no shortcuts to success. But more importantly it was when I prayed and put the most work in that I witnessed how God’s word could comfort, convict and inspire. 

Typically, people won’t see that work you put in. It’s kind of like an iceberg. People see the tip. They don’t see the rest of the preparatory work below. But it’s that preparation for success that makes the difference. Put in the work.

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