“Upon that law doth he meditate day and night” (Psalm 1:2).
“Abide in me and let my word abide in you.” — John 15:1-10 (spoken or implied throughout these verses)
“Eat this book.” (Ezekiel 3:1)
Get God’s Word inside you.
The best thing you can do to prepare to preach or teach a text is to live in it for many days prior to the moment. This means reading it again and again until you know what it’s saying. After that, read it again until you see even more.
Then, you think about it, reflect on it, meditate on it. You go to bed thinking about it, you mull it over while driving, and you talk to the Lord about it while praying.
Read it slowly. Read it aloud. Read from various translations and paraphrases.
Listen to the text. Listen for what the Lord is saying in that text and then for what He is not saying. Ask yourself what it means, what it meant to the times in which it was spoken/written, and what it means today. Sit in the food court at the mall or in Starbucks at the busiest time of the morning and ask yourself what application this text has to these young adults hurrying through here, most of them with buds and cords up to their ears, the rest staring into their phones. What would be their reaction if you stood on a chair and started speaking the words of this text into the room?
Learn from it. What is the connection of this text with all that has come before and comes after. What do you know about the speaker and the actors in the story?
Think it through. Outline it. Ask yourself these questions about the text:
–What is the single big thought in it? The one big idea.
–How does that relate to your own life and ministry? What is God saying to you in this?
–What is the text not saying?
–What else does Scripture say on this subject?
–What specifically did Jesus say about this? The Old Testament? The Apostle Paul?
–What would the atheist say about this text? Your grandmother?
–What would the modern mind wish this text had said? The liberal pastor of the modernist church across town?
–What is the most difficult thing about understanding it? What do you find hard to grasp?
Read what others say about it. Only after you have spent days reflecting on it, enjoying it, worrying over it, and praying for insight, only then should you open a commentary–not a dozen necessarily but perhaps one or two you have come to value and trust most. Only now are you ready to hear from other teachers.
What this means…
–It means we’re going to start honoring the Lord’s Word by giving it the attention it deserves.
–It means we’re going to start honoring God’s people and quit insulting them by serving up hastily prepared tidbits which we call sermons. We’re going to spend more time in reading the Word, thinking about it, and praying. When we stand before the Lord’s flock with God’s message for the day, it will be just that.
–It means we cannot start preparing this message a day or two in advance of preaching it. For some of us, this means we’re going to have to start planning our preaching well in advance. And won’t that be a great stress reliever!
–It means we may be reading texts for several sermons at a time. And this means we should always have material at hand for jotting down notes, ideas, illustrations, and anything else that comes to mind.
The great pastor and expositor G. Campbell Morgan used to say he never began teaching a book of the Bible until he had read it many times. I think he said forty times, but it could have been more.