Max Lucado is one of America’s best known Christian pastors and authors. Max has more than 100 million copies of his books in print. He continues to serve in ministry at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, and his latest book is called Anxious for Nothing, published by Thomas Nelson.
Preaching: Your newest book, Anxious for Nothing, is subtitled “Finding Calm in a Chaotic World.” As you and I speak, we’ve just come through hurricanes with damage and dislocation. There are terrorist attacks. There are economic challenges, the opioid crisis. You definitely got the chaotic world part right!
Lucado: Well, there’s no doubt about that. I guess a person could argue that the world is always at some high level of chaos – you know, high alert – but it sure seems like the last couple of years have taken it to a new level.
Preaching: It really does. I think very few people would doubt we live in an anxious age. Max, what does the Bible have to say to people who live in a state of constant anxiety?
Lucado: We do live in an anxious age. I think part of the reason is because we’re bombarded with reminders through our Smart devices of all the bad things that are happening. I think also we’re not able to rest like we used to. There’s a real sense that we have to always be so busy. I don’t think that we replenish just the necessary chemicals in our brain. As a result, we’re on the edge of anxiety.
For Christians I think this is a complicated thing because we’re taught that we’re supposed to be people of peace, and when we don’t feel peaceful then we carry then the added element of guilt. We carry guilt on top of our anxiety. I think the Bible becomes really practical on these kind of topics.
When the Apostle Paul wrote that phrase, “Be anxious for nothing”, he did so in a Roman jail cell. As far as he knew he wouldn’t live much longer. He had many reasons to be anxious himself. He even mentioned in the first chapter that some of his churches were not the way he wanted them to be. There seems to be profiteering going on with the gospel, so he had many reasons to be anxious. Yet, when he wrote the book of Philippians he wrote a book that does not have a single complaint. He modeled for us a lifestyle that is able to find calm in the middle of chaotic times.
Preaching: In the book itself you create an acronym, CALM, with some ideas for living without worry. What does CALM stand for?
Lucado: I guess it’s the preacher coming out of me because I like things to be sticky. When I presented this series to the church, I created an acronym as sort of an outline for the whole series. The book and the sermon series are both based on Philippians 4-step prescription for anxiety.
The Apostle begins the passage by saying “Rejoice in the Lord,” so the first thing we do is we celebrate God. Rather than focus on our problems, we rejoice in the Lord. “Again,” Paul said, “I say unto you rejoice and let your gentleness be made evident to all.”
Then the next thing we do is ask God for help. The next letter is A. We ask God for help. The Apostle says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, make your requests known to God with thanksgiving.” There’s the next letter, L. Leave the concern with God. You do it with thanksgiving. You do it with the relief, with the confidence that whatever you’re facing, you can leave it with God.
Then, now that you’ve vacated all that brain space and you’re not worrying anymore, you can meditate on good things. We’re all familiar with that list of virtues upon which the Apostle Paul calls us to meditate. I sometimes have trouble remembering that list, so I just try to think more about Christ because I know that he embodies that entire list. It’s C-A-L-M, calm. We celebrate. We ask for help. We leave our problems with him, and we meditate on good things.
Preaching: That’s a good sermon series right there.
Lucado: I hope so!
Preaching: What role does prayer play in dealing with anxiety?
Lucado: I think it’s essential. You know, the Apostle says “Be anxious for nothing, but in prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” It’s like he’s saying instead of being anxious, be prayerful. The path to peace is paved with prayer. Then he says, prayer and petition. I think that word petition is an allusion to specific prayers rather than pray just general prayers, “Lord, help me or guide me” – it’s specific.
Tell the Lord exactly what you need, exactly what you’re facing, and ask Him to help specifically. Say “Heavenly Father, I have an appointment tomorrow afternoon at 2:30 and my client is often very cranky or hard to deal with. Would you go ahead of me and open up the door specifically in that way?” This invites the Father to participate with you in that particular source of anxiety.
Then throughout the day when you think of that anxious moment or that moment you’re dreading, you can just say, “Okay, wait a second. I left that with the Lord.” You have a way of dealing with that anxiety. Most of all you have an opportunity to see God at work, because you see him answer a specific request.
Preaching: You know, a lot of pastors and church leaders deal with anxiety, even as part of their ministries. If you were sitting down with fellow pastors who were struggling with anxiety, what kind of counsel would you give them?
Lucado: I can sure understand that. You know, I’ve been in ministry really since 1979, so that’s a long time. I think I’ve felt just about every kind of anxiety that a person could feel.
I would talk to that pastor in this way: “Let’s go to the headwaters of your anxiety. Let’s try to get specific about what causes your anxiety.” A lot of times we have this emotion of anxiety and it hits us like a nebulous cloud. We’re not sure what’s causing it, what’s creating it.
If we can get specific – and I would do this in prayer – I’d say, “Lord, tell me. Why do I feel anxious? What is it?” And I would ask Him to reveal that. Oftentimes we’ll find out that it’s really not something that we could control, or something that’s really not worth our anxiety. If it is something we can control, then we can come up with a plan.
The idea is to learn to talk yourself off the ledge, to calm yourself down, and to treat these sources, these emotions of anxiety with prayer. Anxiety in and of itself is not a sin. It’s just an emotion. The idea is to acknowledge that this is a feeling that I have. The feelings can be managed, not always easily, but they can be with God’s help. I think I would help this pastor who is dealing with this anxiety try to find the source of the struggle and deal with that.
Preaching: You mentioned that this book, Anxious for Nothing, came out of a sermon series. What’s the next series for you?
Lucado: I’m in a series right now on the promises of God, called “Unshakeable Hope”. This is kind of a long series. It’s going to actually last for about 30 weeks, but we’ve divided it up into three sections. I’m really excited about that. I’m looking at a series on the miracles of Christ. That’s an area that I’ve never studied or taught on. I think a good way to approach that might be looking at the miracles in the gospel of John, because it seems to me that the miracles in the gospel of John are put there by the Apostle to serve as guideposts, to help us move from one teaching to the next. I’m not into that yet, but I’ve just begun some initial reading on that idea.
Preaching: When you’re getting ready to preach, as you go about planning an individual message, what does your week look like? What’s your preparation process look like as you move towards Sunday?
Lucado Once I have an idea of the series, then I try to identify what the main text is for each of the weekends. I hope to have that done several months in advance. Then if I have that in the back of my mind, it seems that throughout a period of time before I get close to the sermon series, then I’ll always see ideas or hear stories or come across another verse. I make note of those and I’ll put them in a file, or I’ll put them in my computer so that I have those when I begin really studying for the sermon series.
Then on a given week I’ll start working on a sermon on Monday. I’m usually pretty tired on Monday, but I’m able to summon up two or three hours of good work. Tuesday is meetings, but Wednesday is study again, and most of Thursday. I would say that two, two-and-a-half days goes into a particular message.
In our case I need to finish my messages two or three weeks out, because we try to do some special support with graphics and sermon outlines. Not every preacher does that, but it helps us. I do the same thing each week, but since I am not preparing the sermon on the week that I’m going to preach that weekend, I’ll need to take time on Thursday and go back and read the message that I’ll be preaching that weekend just to get reacquainted.
Preaching: How many hours would you say you typically spend on an individual sermon?
Lucado Probably between eight and 12 hours. It seems like I used to spend more. I think I’ve learned a little bit more about where to go and how to create a message. What’s important to me is if I’ve got the big idea.
If I’ve got the big idea of the sermon series – somebody once said you need to be able to summarize a sermon series in a sentence, and what’s the big deliverable, what’s the promise that you’re trying to deliver. If I’ve got that thought down and pretty clear, then the sermon comes together much easier. I don’t find that I’m chasing rabbits as much.
Preaching: The last time we talked you mentioned you were preaching now about 50% of the time at Oak Hills. Is that still the case?
Lucado: Actually that’s changed. I’m back in as Senior Pastor. I was Senior Pastor for about 20 years, then Randy Frazee came on our staff and served as Senior Pastor for nine years. Then I stepped back into that role last Spring. So over the next year I’ll preach about 80% of the time.
Preaching: Since you were doing about 50% and now you’re about 80%, do you find that changes your rhythm in terms of preaching? Does it impact your preaching to be preaching more consistently versus half the time?
Lucado: You know, not really. The challenge I have now is that I’m back heading up the staff, so the meetings and the responsibilities that brings with it, that’s more the challenge. If I’m preaching half the time or full-time, I really enjoy that part of the ministry. I feel like I can step back into that rhythm pretty easily.
Preaching: In a recent interview Mac Brunson told me, “They don’t pay me to preach. I do that for free. They pay me to go to meetings.”
Lucado: Yeah. A good friend of mine, Robert Emmitt from Community Bible Church, he always says that. He says that as preachers we all preach for free, but we manage the staff for the salary.
Preaching: One last question, Max. If you knew you only had one sermon left to preach, what would it be?
Lucado: John 3:16, no doubt. I’ve always thought that one passage contains every essential part of the gospel. Of course, I’m not the first to come to that conclusion. That’s why it’s such a beloved verse. Yeah, if I had just one more sermon, I’d turn quickly to John 3:16.