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Every preacher, every time, speaks with two voices.

The first is the preacher’s audible voice: introduce the sermon, transition to the text, show what the text means, and apply it. A good preacher works to make the message of the text the message of the sermon, and aims to communicate and apply the text to that particular congregation. This is no easy task, and one that requires the best of a preacher’s effort and prayers.

But the preacher speaks in a second voice, this one less tangible: the preacher’s life.

I’ve sometimes heard a pastor preach with both voices. What I’ve heard is not just the message of the text, but that message through the preacher’s own walk with God. The first voice comes from the study; the second voice comes from a long walk with God, the preacher’s prayer life, and suffering too.

The first voice communicates the text. The second voice says something like: I need this. The God behind this text is glorious. I’m not just communicating ideas; I’m worshiping as I offer you truths that I can hardly believe because they’re so amazing. The first voice speaks ideas; the second voice speaks with the authority and unction of the Spirit.

My uncle once said that, if called up on to preach with only one hour’s notice, he would some of his time preparing the message, and most of the time preparing his heart. His statement shocked me. Essentially, he was saying that, if he had to choose, he’d work on the second voice even more than the first.

That’s why prayer is such an important part of preparing a sermon. We aren’t just delivering a lecture; we’re holding out the word of life. We want to be like Paul, who was “ready to share … not only the gospel of God but also our own selves” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). The effective preacher preaches a message from the text that has first been applied to that preacher’s life, so that the sermon becomes the overflow of the preacher’s walk with God.

“My big surprise came when I realized the hardest work a preacher must do happens within the preacher’s own heart,” writes Rick Reed in his book The Heart of the Preacher. “Over time, I’ve found the most challenging part of a sustained preaching ministry is not the rigor required to exegete a text, the thinking needed to discern the main message, the skill involved in crafting a clear and compelling outline, or even the energy necessary to communicate with authentic passion. My biggest challenge is keeping my heart in good order week in and week out. Preaching is not just hard work; it’s heart work.”

John Calvin put it this way: “God’s servants ought to speak from the inmost affections of their heart.”

Paul told Timothy to watch his life and doctrine. It’s not enough for a preacher to have the right doctrine, the right words from the text. The preacher needs a heart that’s prepared and alive to the wonders of God. Both preach.

Preacher: don’t just prepare a sermon; prepare your heart. Walk with God faithfully and humbly, and God will not just speak through your explanation of the text, but through the overflow of your encounter with God in the text. Ask God to strengthen both voices in your preaching.