If you have read my full profile, you will have discovered that I am a HUGE fan of the Rocky movies. In fact, I have taken many of my "rules of life" straight from the mouth of the Italian Stallion.
I particularly enjoyed that part at the beginning of Rocky III when Rocky goes to the prison to bail his brother-in-law Paulie out of prison after he had trashed a "Rocky" pinball machine in a fit of drunken, jealous rage. Tiring of Paulie's "the world owes me a living" attitude, Rocky utters these words to him: "You ain't down, and you ain't a loser - you're just a jealous, lazy ... bum!"
But as I sit in my office putting the finishing touches to my sermon for tomorrow, I am reminded of some more "inspirational" words from a Rocky film - this time from Mickey, his trainer. Concerned that Rocky wasn't putting in the training required to get him ready for his re-match against Apollo Creed for the Heavyweight Championship of the World, Mickey admonishes Rocky with these words: "To survive a 45-minute fight, you need to train for 45 000 minutes! Forty-five thousand!"
Our congregations deserve a similar commitment from us when preparing God's message for His people. How many times have you sat and heard a "sermon" that you just KNOW the preacher probably scribbled on the back of a cigarette box (I kid you not) about half an hour before the service started? Is it no wonder that you then leave church feeling as though there is nothing different for having been there? That you've somehow wasted your time?
Now I'm not for one minute suggesting that congregations are to become passive audiences looking for a "worship experience" based on the "performance" of the preacher. But to adequately discharge our responsibility (not to mention high calling) as preachers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, there is an expectation, as stated in our exegesis notes, that we "wrestle" with the Scriptures. What is God revealing to us? Have we spent time delving into them? Have we prayerfully considered what He wants us to share with His people?
Unless we have at least done these things, we don't deserve to stand behind a pulpit. "Cigarette-box" preaching just doesn't cut it. Luciano Pavarotti once said of his need to rehearse: "If I skip one week, I will notice. If I skip two weeks, the audience will notice". When we don't prepare adequately for our services, the congregation notices. And more importantly - God notices, too.