The preacher must read and hear the Word till it engages him in conversation

“Every good sermon has been heard once before it is preached; it has been listened to by the preacher.”

I don’t know who said that; it may even be something I have phrased for myself out of my own experience. For I am profoundly convinced that it is true. Whatever method I have in preparing for the pulpit grows directly out of this principle.

The starting point is the Bible. I cannot conceive of a sermon without a text, whether it be only part of a verse or a larger section. The Word must be read and heard by the preacher. I am not ashamed to say that I usually read it out loud—and read it until I am stopped, questioned, cornered, by, as I believe, the Holy Spirit speaking out of Scripture.

Strange how it works. I am stopped by a phrase today that I slipped right past a month or a year ago without hearing a thing. Or sometimes I am stopped so often in a short space that I cover scarcely a chapter or two in several days. I am not conscious of anything I can do about this except to be still and listen.

Such listening, however, calls for a systematic plan of reading the Word. For a long time, because of the tradition in which I was raised, I found that plan in various lectionaries for the Christian year. I still would not despise that way and find myself using it from time to time. But more recently I have found it more profitable to follow the Reformed tradition of lectio continua, the systematic pursuit of a single book of the Bible. I do not wish to argue for any particular plan, however, but simply to plead that there should be one.

Beside my Bible is a notebook in which I jot down, as they come, the stopping places, the questions, the places where the ...

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