The last in the series looks at the place of commentaries and prayer.
Faithful sermon preparation in busy ministry…
7. PAUSES before using commentaries
When ministry gets busier and busier, it is very tempting to stop thinking and start collating. Instead of meditating on the text to understand it for ourselves, we simply start cutting and pasting others’ thoughts and ideas together from commentaries, etc.
That’s certainly one way to prepare sermons in a busy ministry, but it sacrifices “faithful.” Faithfulness must involve some measure of personally wrestling with the text, wrestling with God, and wrestling with congregational application.
Personal meditation on the text lends freshness, relevance, and depth to our sermons. That’s why we should wait until we’ve milked the text dry before opening a commentary. We ask it lots of questions from lots of angles. We use the mind that God has given us for our time, place, and people and work hard to understand the text in our context before resorting to what God has taught others.
Meditation might seem as if it’s a waste of precious time – it might only yield one or two insights or profound thoughts, whereas you could be cut and pasting paragraphs from the latest expository commentary. But two thoughts that God gives you is worth more than 100 from someone else. We must not measure our sermons by length or density. A little blessed by God is worth more than anything else.
8. PRAYS without ceasing.
Most books and lectures on preaching will emphasize the necessity of a long period of time in prayer before preparing to preach. When I first started preaching, I would not put pen to paper or finger to keyboard without praying for at least an hour. However, this self-made rule became increasingly legalistic and almost superstitious. I increasingly found little or no pleasure or profit in the practice and it became an immense burden and even an obstacle to sermon preparation.
One day I asked a godly old minister about his own practice. He said that he too used to feel that he could not prepare a sermon until he had prayed for hours. However, God had taught him two things over the years.
One was the importance of a prayerful life and spirit throughout the whole week. Secondly, instead of praying for one long period, he began sermon preparation with brief prayer, and frequently called on God throughout the preparation process.
“Often and short” rather than “once and long” was his theme. He said that this helped to keep him in a devotional spirit throughout the preparation day. I also have found this to be a most helpful practice. I try to ensure that I stop frequently to thank God for His help, to seek his help with difficulties, and to give me efficiency, concentration, perseverance, understanding, etc.
Prayer is not an excuse for laziness, but it is a tremendous comfort when we regularly have to preach sermons that are not what we would like them to be. If we have been busy yet faithful, we can pray the Lord to bless our loaves and fishes and multiply their effect far beyond what logic expects.
Previous posts in the series
Faithful Sermon Preparation in Busy Ministry…