The greatest sermon they ever heard: Top preachers recall the moment they were inspired

Updated 3:07 AM ET, Sun December 23, 2018

Chat with us in Facebook Messenger. Find out what's happening in the world as it unfolds.

(CNN) Athletes call it being "in the zone." Psychologists describe it as a state of "flow." Musicians say it's like being "in the pocket."

It's that transcendent moment when time seems to slow down for an artist or performer. The ego evaporates and everything clicks. Pastors say it's that magical preaching moment when the "spirit is moving" and their words sync with souls.
"It's like being on the sideline watching you play your best game, where you're saying, 'I know that's not me doing that.'" That's how the Rev. Ralph Douglas West, founder and senior pastor of The Church Without Walls in Houston, Texas, describes the sensation.
This is the time of the year when people are looking for such inspiration. Millions of people will flock to church this holiday weekend, hoping their pastor will say something to provide comfort and meaning.
But pastors need inspiration, too. Just as musicians have their favorite songs, most preachers have an internal playlist of the most unforgettable sermons they've heard. And at the top of the playlist is a sermon that stays No. 1 -- it still speaks to them year after year. These are the pulpit gems that go beyond eloquence; they leave a mark on the soul.
I asked some of the nation's best preachers to talk about the best sermon they ever heard. The pastors who responded know something about the power of the spoken word. All three are homiletic heavyweights. Each was selected as one of the 12 "most effective" preachers in the English-speaking world in a prestigious list released this year by Baylor University in Texas.
    Each of their handpicked sermons comes with a story. One helped a pastor cope with a lingering sense of failure. Another taught a preacher to take pride in old-time religion. And a third caused a son to see his father in a new way.
    The Rev. Joel Gregory says a remarkable sermon he heard helped him cope with loss.