I think the post title might be misleading, because I’m not sure that I exactly try to find sermon ideas.
I am in fact highly superstitious about such things, and really wait for sermon ideas to find me. It is rare that I sit down and ask “what could I preach about?” or “what would make an interesting sermon series?” I’m not saying that would be wrong, but it’s not what I do. I like to feel hunted down by a sermon idea. For me, there is something very supernatural about this, although ironically enough the ideas come in the most mundane ways. Taking a shower, taking a walk, driving my car…I feel like I’m especially able to hear God well during or right after an intense workout. I’m not a fitness legalist, I just find that working out clears my head in a way that helps me hear God better. My sense is that often times I am just able to then discern something He’s already been saying that is just easier to receive when I’ve de-cluttered my brain. Of course I can hear God in a proper designated time of prayer or Bible study. But normally, the ideas seem to chase me down wherever I am.
That said, there is literally no arena of my life that is off limits as inspiration for a sermon idea or illustration. I am virtually incapable of shutting off that side of my brain. So the process is not entirely passive, since there is always an active posture of listening.
I don’t claim my preaching to be great, but I do think it’s hopefully interesting at least in that there are surprises. I’d like to think that’s because I get genuinely surprised a lot, and I’m always on the lookout for God to speak in an unusual places and unusual ways. I remember saying one time off the cuff in a sermon, “You look like you are scared of what I’m about to say next. You are right to look that way, because I don’t know what I’m going to say next. So the suspense is genuine.” Now I know that might seem to be about spontaneity in preaching, but that comes out of being spontaneity in living. I’m never satisfied, I’m always hungry, always thinking and praying and seeking. I think people would rather follow a leader who is in a dynamic relationship with God than a static leader who claims to have everything figured out already. Or at least I would.
If I could only give one word of advice to would-be preachers, it would probably be this: Remove every single compartment from your life. When there are no partitions between any part of who you are and what you do from God Himself, everything becomes fair game for God to use or speak through. Preachers who are compartmentalized are, ironically enough, both dangerous and boring. Dangerous because they can easily play the game, and boring because they know what to say no matter what is really going on and are thus predictable.