Does God regularly download us with an infusion of information? Or, does God expect us to put in the hard work of studying and thinking? I think that there are times when I just know something and there are other times when things come quickly to me. Sometimes in a matter of seconds it all comes clear. Praching is that way.
When I do sermon preparation for our Sunday service I usually have two weeks to prepare. Typically, on the Sunday I preach I go to my office after all the services and simply read through the three lessons and psalm assigned for the next time I preach. I read them through and underline key words or phrases. It is not uncommon that I immediately know what I will preach about, although most of the time I am not so sure. A couple of days later I re-read all the texts, often times reading the verses and chapters which are the context for the three readings. Then I break out the commentaries. I will read four or five commentaries and also read the original Hebrew or Greek to see about key words. I do a check to see where these words appear eleswhere in the Bible. Several days are spent reading and studying. At some point I choose a theme and begin to write. The writing can go smoothly or be a frustrating struggle with a dozen false starts. I write a sermon three times on average. Often times I am not pleased with the result. I pray that some how it will come together. Then on Saturday evening I preach it the first time. I make adjustments in the early service. Each time I preach it is a little different.
Why bore you with details of sermon writing? Because I think it is helpful for understanding the place of study in a rule of life:
- Study has a purpose. We all don't preach on Sundays, but we are all "preachers" in some sense. The message we are called to share is delivered from the "pulpit of our life." Good preaching is, in part, a function of good preparation.
- We cannot study everything. Each week there are three readings and a psalm. I am a man of big appetite and I want to study it all. A rule of life requires discipline and focus. Learning demands focus. Be aware of your time limts and determine what you are going to study.
- Context is invaluable. If you want to look at a text, see it in the wider context of the chapter, the book, the canon. When we isolate anything we lose a grasp of its true meaning.
- Study builds on previous study. You do not have to get it all in at one time. Insights can come while walking the dog two days after you have wrestled with a concept or idea.
- Engage what you study with love. You cannot know what you do not love. And you cannot truly love what you do not truly know.