Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Paid to Sit and Think
The Scriptures do not yield up its treasures to cursory readings. As it takes work—long, hard, sacrificial work—to mine valuable minerals out of the earth, so it takes work to discover and bring out the Bible’s treasures.
Sermon prep for me starts with reading the passage a few times, slowly and closely. Then I jot down notes about the passage. Writing/typing up my observations and questions help engage my mind with the passage. Then I consult others (commentaries, for instance) for their insights.
At this point I’ve been flooded with a wealth of information (the combination of my observations and the observations of others), and I need time to sort it out in my mind. Were I to write my sermon now, it would be heavy on information, but light on organization and application.
My mind is not ready to preach. It hasn’t processed all the data it’s taken in. At this point my mind needs to marinate in the text and its implications. That’s where thinking comes in—thinking in my office, thinking while I’m driving, thinking during and after visitation. Sometimes I need to walk out of my office and down the hall to my “prayer closet” at the church, and I need to talk to the Lord about the passage and ask him questions about it.
What do I need to process? I need to process what the main burden of the text is and what the relevance of the text is to me and the congregation. I often need to know the true significance and importance of the text. Many times have I wrestled with the “Who cares?” factor, so knowing the true weight of the Scripture—and I often discover this in prayer—is very helpful to me in terms of the unction of my preaching.
I can preach without time to think, but I can’t preach well. (Some might say I don’t preach well now. All I can say is, it would be a lot worse if you didn’t give me time to think.)
There are exceptions. Charles Spurgeon, I believe, often composed his outline the night before, and I don’t gather that D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones spent a great deal of sermon prep. But both of these men nonetheless spent a great deal of time in mind prep. They read all the time, and not the latest inspirational Family Christian Bookstore book; they read theology. The minds of these preaching giants were constantly soaking in the teachings of Scripture. There are capacious minds like theirs out there.
But the exceptions only prove the rule. Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones were both great thinkers; the rest of us slower thinkers need more time for it.