“But His word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.” —Jeremiah 20:9
When a man is called of the Lord to preach, preaching ought to be the passionate pursuit of that man. Every preacher understands that passion to preach the Word. However, passion is not sufficient by itself to consistently provide the teaching and preaching God's people need. It must be blended with elements such as purpose, planning, and preparation to edify the saints and to enable them to build up the ministry. Let me share seven elements that I have been taught by men of God, gleaned from their writings, and discovered on my own in my passionate pursuit to preach the Word effectively.
Preaching is Discovery
The passionate pursuit of preaching is, at its core, a dedication to discovery. A preacher must have the heart of an explorer, and he must know fully the mountains, valleys, rivers and streams of the Word of God. One of the most fascinating areas of discovery in our lifetimes has been first, the ability of men to fly in airplanes, and then to dare to reach beyond our earth to space.
One of the pioneers of flight was John Gillespie Magee, Jr., a World War 2 fighter pilot. He was born in 1922 in China to missionaries and educated at the American School in Nanking. Before his nineteenth birthday, he wrote these words:
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I’ve tapped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew.
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high un-trespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
That wonderful poem was written not long before Magee was killed in the skies over England in 1941 at the age of nineteen. When he strapped into the cockpit of his Spitfire plane his heart began to race as his mind anticipated the experience soon to come. You and I are not fighter pilots, but we are explorers and we can go places of great heights. We can experience the very presence of God. If John Magee could metaphorically touch the face of God, how close can we draw to Him? Is there a passion to study, to know the Lord and bring back to earth what you learn, and then share the knowledge of the Holy with others?
Preaching is Determining
Though a passion for discovery will launch us into the Word of God, the science of study must determine the meaning of God. Young John Magee could strap into the cockpit of that Spitfire in sheer excitement. But to truly experience the thrill of flight, he had to understand the rules and physics of flight. Scripture commands us to study the Bible.
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”—2 Timothy 2:15
The word study denotes both eagerness and earnestness. A consistently unstudied preacher is an incomplete preacher. Our passion for ministry must regularly be seen in our hard work and study of the Scriptures. We must learn and apply the science of hermeneutics so that we get, not first and only what the text means to me, but what was meant by God to me and those to whom I minister.
It is not my purpose nor is it possible to teach hermeneutics in this article, but I can remind you of the basics. To be hermeneutically prepared is to learn the historical context of the passage which involves its historical events, cultural aspects, and geographical aspects, to name a few. It is to learn and understand its lexical context, the genre of the book, the words, the grammar, and it involves a theological analysis. Some might say, “Preacher, I let the Holy Spirit lead me, not the dictionaries, concordances, and texts.” To them I would answer, “The Spirit did lead you. He commanded you to study.” Study does not lessen passion in our preaching. It brings confidence and light to our impassioned preaching.
Preaching is Devotional
The Word of God is personal. God speaks to me through the Bible, and when I have determined the meaning of God’s message I must determine its application to my life. My congregation is best taught when my example shows the application of God’s message in my life. Listen to the words of our Lord in the Gospel of John.
“For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.”—John 13:15
If I am growing and becoming what the Lord teaches, I will be a far more effective communicator of His message. What a blessing to teach from experience rather than information alone.
Preaching is Developing
After the science of hermeneutics comes the art of homiletics. Our intention must always be to expose God’s meaning of His Word in the chosen text. Though some may disagree with me, expository preaching must always be our method even if we find ourselves preaching on a topic or from a specific text. Our outline must be developed from God’s Word as led by the Author of the Scripture, the Spirit of God. Our thesis, our discussion, and our application must be the intention of God, not our own. We are not orators alone, or philosophers. We are not humorists, nor are we lecturers. We are prophets who speak the Word and give God’s meaning.
We must preach the Word of God and deliver it to the modern mind, not adapt the Word for the comfort of the modern mind. We are to expose the Word, not impose our thoughts. Let us concentrate on content and substance over style. But let us remember that confidence in our content lends us boldness in our style.
Preaching Is Discipling
It is difficult to choose a proper order in these points. Understand that discipline must be found in every area of our lives. But specifically, there are certain disciplines that must be brought to a man’s life in order to preach properly. I am not addressing our personal separation issues. (We know that personal holiness is required in the life of a man of God.) I would suggest two specific disciplines for preaching.
First, we need a discipline of schedule. Study requires time: time to read, to pray, to meditate, to explore. I would suggest that you organize your preaching schedule. (Organizing my preaching schedule by the quarter has helped me.) It allows you to recognize holidays and special days, and allot the study time needed for series and messages on these special occasions.
Second, we need a discipline of mind. Read, read, and then read some more. Know current events, know the classics, know history, and then speak the Word of God in relevance. God uses the Word. He gave us the written Word, and it exercises our minds in a unique way. A habit of reading is essential for a growing and developing mind.
Preaching Is Deliberating
By deliberating, I mean praying—speaking with God and letting God speak to you. Preaching ought never to be a function of the flesh. It must be a product of our fellowship with the Spirit of God who teaches and enables us. Do you remember Paul’s prayer request of the believers at Thessalonica?
“Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you.” —2 Thessalonians 3:1
Pray for us! If Paul knew he needed to pray and be prayed for in order to be effective in preaching, we certainly need that attitude as well. We are not smart enough, gifted enough, or clever enough to preach God’s Word without God’s help and power.
Preaching Is Delivering
With the confidence of knowing God’s meaning, the commitment of seeing it applied in your own life, and a sure sense of being in the presence of God—stand and preach. A passionate, prepared man who loves the God whose message he is delivering and loves the people he is delivering it to will be effective.
We must discover and determine God’s message. We must, from disciplined and deliberate lives, develop the message of God for others to hear. God’s Word is quick and powerful and will not return void.
Know the Word! Preach the Word! And preach with confidence!