Perpetual Preparation

Preachers never truly quit preaching, or thinking about their preaching. There is always another sermon to preach just around the corner and there is always something happening that will remind us. preparation

We never turn the preacher switch off. Some snipet of a song reminds of something from our next week’s sermon text. A seemingly unrelated conversation with a friend turns our thinking in a helpful direction as we think about our exposition. We’re always ‘on.’

I am thinking, however, that this might actually only a problem if we have over-professionalized our approach to preaching. If we see our preaching as a function of our employment – a burden we bear to sustain an income, or to service our sense of professional obligation – this always-on approach will make our preaching feel like work and will deaden our ability to know joy in the patterns of our living.

If, on the other hand, preaching is not just what we do, but who we are, we might find that preaching-as-a-way-of-life could actually be life-giving.

I am not saying that as preachers we must always be looking for someone to preach at, or that we derive our sense of identity or worth from the preaching that we do. I am actually calling for a healthier view of preaching altogether.

Preaching is the privilege of sharing life from the perspective of the gospel. It is about constantly and consistently listening for the voice of the Spirit and hearing that voice everywhere and in everything. It is about learning how to process the stuff of life from the prospective of God’s Word, and understanding how all we see and find can be expressed or addressed from a godly perspective.

This is an incredibly fulfilling way to do life. The fact that we will then have the opportunity to share what we have been learning with others in formal and informal ways only deepens the benefit.

This is not always looking to get a sermon. This approach to preaching is a trained way of appropriating life. I have had some of my best sermon ideas come to me while lying on a beach while on vacation, or while picking through the stalls at a farmer’s market. This is not because I am unhealthy or because I am not properly engaged in the practices of rest and sabbath. It is because I am at rest that I am well prepared to hear something profound from God.

Preaching, then, is more than just the precision of particular texts and pericopes. It is bigger than that. Preaching does not live within the pages of a commentary. You have to let your sermon out into the world so it can breathe. Only then will the sermon be fully filled with the inspired breath of God.

Paying Attention to Life

I heard a sermon this morning on the famous “Widow’s mite” narrative. The preacher took care to tell us the story in a way that had us leaning forward. We were completely gripped by his imaginative handling of the details of this woman’s story. From there he moved directly to a personal story about his three-year old son who was willing to part with his hard-earned money to help a homeless man that he encountered in the street. You kind of had to be there to appreciate the power of these two stories told in parallel. I know that I won’t soon forget it.attentive

We might want to say that this was one of those almost-magical moments where the story of our lives and the story in the text matched perfectly. I suspect, however that this kind of opportunity is there for us more often than we think. The Bible is written to address the stuff of life. If we can’t see the connections to the lives we lead, it is only because we haven’t been paying attention.

Paying attention to life is a significant preacher-skill. It is important that we be attentive to the things that are going on around us, which might offer examples, metaphors, or clues to the meanings that we want to preach. When our sermons can be seen in life, they take on an increased power.

This means we can’t start preparing just the night before. If we want to notice these illustrative and applicational opportunities, we need space in life for these connections to be recognized. A longer gestation period for our sermons will be helpful so that there is time for us to pay attention. Our minds focused on the direction of our sermon will be able to find those points of connection if we are able to give it just a little time.

The preacher I heard this morning, might never have noticed anything special in his son’s response to the homeless man, if it were not for the fact that he had his sermon on his mind. For days he had been contemplating the deep truths of his text such that when he saw an example in life, the connection was readily evident.

I have written before that one way to manage this sort of thing is to work on more than one sermon at a time. For example, you could do your exegetical and interpretive work for the next week’s sermon and also your sermon construction work for the current week’s sermon in the same week. In that way, you can give your sermons a longer gestation period without adding any hours or minutes to your preparation.

If we had time to pay attention, we might find a great number of things that can take us deeper into the truth of our sermons. It only takes intention – and attention.