Another week means two more sermons for me to prepare. And that means the weekly ritual of opening my Bible, clicking on the Logos program on the Mac, and grabbing my favorite fountain pen and the familiar canary legal pad.
It’s amazing that after doing this thousands of times, the first thought that comes into my mind as I start is, “Now what am really doing and how am I actually going to do it?”
Word studies, diagrammatical analysis, Greek and Hebrew, homiletical outlines, illustrations, introductions and conclusions, applications, implications, transitions, titles… sermon prep is not for that faint of heart or the lazy of spirit. But I have to admit that I love it. Really, it is my favorite part of my “job.”
But it is far easier to forget what the design of preaching is than I would like to admit. In the book The Salvation of Souls, George Marsden provides this insightful context and quote from the preaching Jonathan Edwards:
In the midst of debates over the Great Awakening, Edwards, made a revealing comment about the effects of preaching. During intense periods of awakenings, evangelists often preached to the same audience daily, or even more frequently. Opponents of the awakening argued that people could not possibly remember what they heard in all these sermons. [Jonathan] Edwards, responded that ‘The main benefit that is obtained by preaching is by impression made upon the mind in the time of it, and not by the effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered.’ Preaching, in other words, should be designed primarily to awaken, to shake people out of their blind slumbers in the addictive comforts of their sins. Though only God can give them new eyes to see, preaching should be designed to jolt the unconverted or the converted who doze back into their sins (as all do) into recognizing their true estate.”
George M. Marsden, The Salvation of Souls (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2002), 11-12.
I think I understand what Mr. Edwards is saying. The moment of preaching that involves a holy and prepared man with a well-studied and clear message is special. It is live dynamic in which the Spirit of God connects His inspired Word with the listening heart through the preacher’s sermon. Remembering the content of the sermon at a later time is important. But not so much as the gravity of the living God and authority of His Truth in the moment of the sermon.
I don’t think Edwards’ words mitigate against listening to recorded sermons or reading them in print. I praise God for these opportunities. But don’t underestimate the power of sitting in church and hearing a sermon. And if you preach, don’t fail to tremble at the awesome privilege of making an impact on the minds of the congregants with the greatness of God, the sufficiency of His Son, and the preciousness of the Word of God. How we listen to and prepare sermons is of the greatest importance.
With these things in mind, sermon prep is scary, amazing, and a thrill. Now, back to preparation…