Disciplines for Expository Preparation – Part 1

Although the primary spiritual disciplines – Bible intake, prayer, meditation – are biblically warranted practices, there are other disciplines in the life of the pastor that must be typified for the pastor to prepare to preach. Preparing one’s self to preach is, most definitely, a spiritual priority because the ill-prepared preacher is not only lackadaisical in his sermon preparation but is also in danger spiritually from lacking to discipline himself for godliness. Thus, both spiritual and homiletical preparation is necessary for these two reasons.

First, both correlate with the pastor’s soul. In his work, Edwards on the Christian Life, Dane Ortlund declares that Jonathan Edwards expressed the soul as active, not passive. In other words, Edwards summarizes one’s soul as the human itself, not merely one part of the human.[1] Of course, this is not only demarcated in Edwards’s writings but many other great theologians as well.[2] When a pastor prepares his soul for the task of preaching, he disciplines himself by the spiritual practices warranted from the Word of God. Nevertheless, when a pastor is pursuing the construction of his sermon through hermeneutical techniques, he is also disciplining himself for godliness by using his skillset to prepare his sermon adequately.

Second, sermon preparation should be an outflow of the pastor’s soul care. The spiritual life of the pastor should be the source from which the sermon obtains its content. Of course, this does not indicate that pastors must only preach their Bible reading plans each year, but the vitality of their spiritual life permeates the content of their sermons. Grace received always results in grace given. Therefore, a pastor’s sermon preparation is to be an overflow of his spiritual life because it transfers the truths of Holy Scripture from his heart to the heart of the congregation. Joel Beeke writes that preaching “often grows out of the preacher’s own experience of Christ in the midst of his sorrows and sins.”[3] Beeke indicates that the pastor’s own life experiences are what fuel his preaching. Thus, a pastor’s ministry is to be an overflow of his spirituality. This chapter, then, will be an examination of disciplines regarding the pastor’s sermon preparation.

The Disciplines of Expository Preparation

Pastors need not only focus on the spiritual nature of sermon preparation; they must also not fail to neglect the homiletical characteristics of sermon composition. Although these disciplines do not fall under the category of “spiritual disciplines,” they are, however, disciplines of which pastors must prioritize in order to prepare their sermons for the glory of God. Thus, this chapter demonstrates nine different disciplines for the pastor to apply in his method of preparing his sermons.

Submission to Christ in the Preparation of Sermons

Because the pastor is first a believer, his vocational undertakings begin with his submission to Christ. In other words, what pastors devote themselves to is what will be made manifest through their lifestyle and conduct. This is a foremost perspective for all pastors to understand – their values and beliefs dictate how they live and what they do.[4] Therefore, the pastor’s submission to Christ must be of first importance because how pastors act are the results of what they value, to whom (and to what) they are loyal, and what they believe. Thus, pastors must do as Jim Shaddix recommends – they must never lose God in the sermon preparation process.[5] Losing God in one’s sermon preparation is the result of a lack of submission to Him. Eugene Peterson declares, “God doesn’t change: he seeks and saves…we listen and follow.”[6]

If a pastor begins his preparation faithfully and thoroughly, he must begin in submission to Jesus Christ. Jesus entreats all people, especially pastors, to come to him and find rest.[7] Submission to Christ is not only resulting from respect, reverence, awe, and worship – although all there included in as much. Submission to Christ also comes when we cast our cares at his feet to find our identity and rest in Him (Matt. 11:25). Charles Bridges explains that for ministers to be involved in such a spiritual task (pastoral ministry), they must possess spiritual character to administrate such duties.[8]

Therefore, pastors must submit themselves entirely to Jesus Christ, the author, and perfecter of their faith (Heb. 12:2). The pastor’s faith is rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ through his submission to him. So, the question of how to submit to Christ must be addressed. 

The pastor’s spiritual life is based solely on his union with Christ. Therefore, the pastor must actualize his spiritual life in two ways. First, submission to Christ involves devotion. God’s desire is for us to know him (Heb. 4:12). So, it is not possible to know God if one is not devoted to God. Knowledge of God does not come from sporadic interaction with His Word, nor does it come from one’s own experience or reason. Knowledge of God comes from one’s absorption of God’s Word.

Second, submission to Christ means forsaking all sinful activity in one’s life. Human beings definition of themselves is at odds with the way Scripture defines them. In the words of David Wells, “Americans, as we have seen, do not believe in original sin.”[9] Otherwise, humanity often discovers that sinfulness is the problem that keeps all believers from submitting their entire selves to Christ. The apostle James writes, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Therefore, when submission to God is a foremost priority, one finds a new perspective on life.[10] When submission to God is the essential facet of the pastor’s life, nothing else is of any value, for God becomes all that he values. Thus, when God becomes all one values, the pastor’s life is marked by the overflow of such values.[11]

Hence, submission to Christ is the first and necessary step to disciplining one’s self for expository preparation. Preparing one’s soul to preach begins with Christ, but it also extends to actions resulting from one’s devotion to the Lord himself.

Prayer in the Preparation of Sermons

 The most critical element for the preparation of sermons is the pastor’s prayer. This section will address the importance of prayer and its nature in the pastor’s preparation. Spurgeon notes that if a pastor prays with any other attitude other than an ordinary Christian, he is a hypocrite.[12] Otherwise, pastors are to pray as ordinary people, for that is who they are. The most elemental purpose of this ordinary type of prayer is to understand the necessity of utter dependence upon the Lord Jesus for pastors as they prepare and as they preach. Preaching, though done through human effort, is never done only by human effort, but by divine empowerment. Thus, pastors ought to outperform every person in their church through prayer.[13] Hence, prayer is not merely an act of mere devotion; it is “the Christians vital breath and native air.”[14]

Prayer is more than an act of mere devotion or spiritual habit; it is the most vital element of any believer’s life, and especially the pastor’s life. Prayer is petitionary, intercessory, communicative, and, most importantly, indispensable for all people who claim to be in communion with the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, as they prepare to preach, pastors must be people of prayer. The preparation of sermons – following the care of the pastor’s soul – must be bathed in prayer. Spurgeon taught that the prayer closet is the best place for study because the Author of Scripture is the most profitable teacher, even better than those who comment on such truth.[15] In other words, pastors must not neglect prayer as they prepare their souls and sermons. Luther was busy and still prayed; so can we.[16]

If pastors, through their submission to Christ, are dependent upon Christ for their strength to preach, they will understand that the power of Christ living within them is the only means through which ministerial accomplishments are made manifest. Joel Beeke looks back in time to Thomas Boston, a Puritan theologian, who advises that if pastors want to follow Jesus’ example to be fishers of men, they must first follow his example of much prayer.[17] Thus, pastors must be on their knees in prayer long before they engage in the duties of pastoral ministry. This is the attitude of Jesus and must also be the attitude of all pastors.

Therefore, prayer is more than mere communication between you and God. It is “a relationship which cultivates an awareness of the presence of the Heavenly Father.”[18]

 Nevertheless, an awareness of the presence of God during prayer should lead the pastor to devote himself to the Lord through profoundly thinking about the truths of God Word.

Scriptural Meditation in the Preparation of Sermons

Scriptural meditation is another discipline that must manifest itself in the life of the pastor and his sermon preparation. Charles Bridges states, “It is important also to cultivate this habit in the bent of our own work – that is, that a Preacher should think as a Preacher – marking everything (like any other man of business) with the eyes of his own profession.”[19] To “think like a preacher,” as Bridges would suggest, is to consider what biblical meditation is, then to apply these types of habits to your life.

The definition of biblical meditation comes best from the prophecy of Jeremiah: “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jer. 15:16). This eating is metaphorical of someone consuming physical nourishment.[20] Calvin writes that biblical meditation in the life of a believer is what yields the best and sweetest fruit spiritually.[21] The question, then, is how pastors meditate on the Scriptures that produce the best and sweetest fruit. Here are two considerations for such a question.

First, meditation is necessary for sermon preparation because it prompts the pastor to indulge his mind and heart in the Word of God. Meditation begins with the pastor’s pursuit of Christ through submission to Christ and prayer, but it also extends to the pastor’s consumption of the Word of God. A desire for the Word is necessary for pastoral ministry (1 Tim. 4:13), but it is also necessary for the preparation of sermons. This is what Paul meant when he writes that we are to “know nothing more among [us] except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). In other words, the content of our preaching is to be nothing more than Christ Jesus and his crucifixion to save the world from sin. Robert Picirilli notes that this is the only topic worthy of emphasis in Paul’s preaching, and must be the case in every pastor’s preparation.[22]

Hence, a pastor only knows and emphasizes Christ and him crucified when he is engrossed in the Word of God, for it is the sole means through which pastors can know Christ Jesus. The Word of God is also how our minds are challenged and shaped to think biblically.[23] Therefore, pastors must actively be pursuing knowledge of the truth that can only be found in God’s Word, for it is the foundation of their ministry.

Second, after immersing one’s self in the Word, a pastor must internalize the truth in which he finds. Biblical meditation is not achieved unless the truths considered are internalized and lived out. In summarizing the spirituality of Leroy Forlines,[24] Barry Raper notes that little familiarity with truth does not sanctify one’s life, but “truth must be understood by the mind, embraced by the heart, and obeyed in life.”[25] In other words, the way the Bible is lived out is through the means of meditation. Meditation leads to an internalized faith that characterizes itself through the life of an individual. Therefore, pastors must probe the text as John Stott recommends – like a bee with spring blossom, a hummingbird and nectar, a dog with a bone, and a cow chewing his cud.[26]

So, meditation is more than merely reading and re-reading a text, for many can read a text and gain nothing from it. Instead, it is the internalization of the Word of God in the life and ministry of the pastor so that when he preaches Christ, lives can be changed by divine power. This internalization, however, cannot be undertaken unless the pastor has a specific time and method for Bible intake.

Bible Intake in the Preparation of Sermons

The pastor must be consciously aware of his Bible intake, for it is the source in which he can attain godliness; one cannot attain godliness unless one knows God through his Word. Thus, the pastor must be consistently engaging with the biblical text to know God. Hosea writes that he desires “the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hos. 6:6). Burnt offerings, in the Old Testament, were heartless sacrifices from the children of Israel in place of faithful obedience.[27] God delights in his children faithfully obeying him rather than them offering up burnt offering-like actions out of mere obligation. The psalmist echoes such an idea in Psalm 147: “the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love” (Ps. 147:11). Those who truly fear God will obey him out of reverence and awe and will seek to know him rather than do merely what is commanded in Scripture. Thus, pastors must look unto the Lord for godliness and growth that one achieves through faithful obedience

The pastor’s Bible intake, in specific regard to his sermon preparation, plays an intricate role as well. Jim Shaddix and Jerry Vines proffer that preaching is not a sermonic option, but a sacred obligation because God has spoken through his Word. Therefore, we must preserve the spoken word of God that is contained in our Bibles, so pastors might proclaim it correctly to those who listen.[28] Thus, without the foundation of Holy Scripture, pastors have no basis for proclaiming the Lord Jesus to their congregants correctly. Hence, a consistent Bible intake is necessary. The only content worth sharing in a sermon is the Word of God. It is sufficient to change hearts because it is God’s authoritative Word that is inerrant and infallible. Thus, the preacher must impregnate his sermon with the content of the Word of God because the Word alone is powerful to save sinners (Rom. 1:16-17). Unless the sermon is full of the Word of God, it is not a sermon at all. Spurgeon posits that if pastors would give their people the complete, raw truth of the Scriptures, their fruit will soon be actualized because pastors are faithfully shepherding the flock of which they have been entrusted.[29]

[1] Dane C. Ortlund. Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 158.

[2] For further study on the soul as the full human being, see Sinclair Ferguson. Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).; C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity (Nashville: Harper Collins, 2001).

[3] Beeke, Reformed Preaching, 39.

[4] Carrol B. Freeman, Sr., “The Spiritual Discipline in Personal Formation” The Theological Educator 43 (Spring:1991), 94.

[5] Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix. Power in the Pulpit: How to Prepare and Deliver Expository Sermons (Chicago: Moody, 2017), 317.

[6] Eugene Peterson. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 11. (hereafter, Long Obedience)

[7] Sinclair B. Ferguson. The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, & Gospel Assurances – Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 171.

[8] Bridges, The Christian Ministry, 26.

[9] David F. Wells. The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 191.

[10] McGrath, Mere Discipleship, 4.

[11] Allen, The Preacher’s Catechism, 36.

[12] Spurgeon, Lectures, 42.

[13] J. Oswald Sanders. Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence for Every Believer (Chicago: Moody, 2007), 99. (hereafter, Spiritual Leadership)

[14] Ibid.

[15] Spurgeon, Lectures, 43.

[16] Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 100.

[17] Beeke, Reformed Preaching, 81.

[18] Freeman, “The Spiritual Disciplines in Personal Formation,” 96.

[19] Bridges, The Christian Ministry, 209.

[20] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[21] Calvin, Institutes, 128.

[22] Robert E. Picirilli, “1,2 Corinthians” in The Randall House Bible Commentary (Nashville: Randall House, 1987), 28.

[23] McGrath, Mere Discipleship, 10.

[24] Forlines has much to say regarding the spirituality of one’s life through the mind, heart, and will – what he calls the “total personality.” To further review Forlines’s theological approach to spirituality, see Forlines chapter on Sanctification in The Quest For Truth (Randall House, 2001). 

[25] Barry Raper, “Sanctification and Spirituality” in The Promise of Arminian Theology: Essays in Honor of F. Leroy Forlines (Nashville: Randall House, 2016), 112.

[26] John R.W. Stott. Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 220.

[27] Oscar F. Reed, “Hosea” in The Beacon Bible Commentary: Hosea through Malachi (Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill, 1966), 55-56.

[28] Vines and Shaddix, Power in the Pulpit, 60.

[29] Spurgeon, Lectures, 78.

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