At a number of conferences, I have had the privilege and joy of sitting in the front row to hear my friend John Piper speak. And a few times I have been assigned to speak after him. It’s never my preference to speak after John. Preaching after John is always a humbling experience.
As you know, I cannot preach like John Piper. But what I have discovered over time is that great preachers like John, Charles Spurgeon, and Jonathan Edwards do model practices all preachers can emulate and benefit from.
At the Together for the Gospel conference, I had the privilege to participate with Mark, Al, and Lig in interviewing John. During the panel discussion, John provided us with a glimpse into how he prepares his sermons, and how he prepares his heart as he prepares his sermons.
: Most of these guys are already in the process of preparing a sermon for this Sunday. If they were to meet with you for lunch, how would you counsel them about both the preparation process and the preaching event?
: The most important thing I want to say in answer to that question is this: There isn’t any technique to preaching. It is not a technique. It is not a profession that you go to a homiletics class to learn how to do.
God is doing sermon preparation when your throat is blazing with yellow pustules and you have a fever and you feel like quitting. He is doing sermon preparation there. Don’t begrudge the seminary of suffering. Don’t begrudge the marriage difficulties. Don’t begrudge the parental stuff that is so hard. He is making you a preacher. He is making you a pastor.
So the main preparation work is walking with him through it all, and going deep with him, and being there and not running away from it into endless food or television. That would be a—very practical thing to do would be to get rid of your television so that you have some time, family time and reading time and reflection time, and basically keep your mind free from pornography.
We were talking about this pornography thing over lunch the other day, and we who are 60 years old were reflecting on how difficult it was to get pornography when we were teenagers. The implication of that is that in my brain I have two pornographic images from my teen years. I found a Playboy
in a Laundromat, and they were passing a really weird book around in the locker room one day. I remember both images like I saw them yesterday. Most of you have a thousand images in your brain. That really makes sermon preparation hard, but not impossible. He died to purify our conscience, although you make your job a lot harder if you keep going to that cesspool.
…Keep your minds from being contaminated, because the preparation moment is a heart/mind thing in which every three minutes you are crying out to the Lord as you are reading your text in Greek or Hebrew or English. You are reading it and you are saying, “God, please. I have got to have a word. I have got to have a word for my people. Let me see what is really here.” That is a prayer for the mind part. My points must be here in the text. I can’t make this up. My people have to see it. I have to see it. I don’t want to pull rank on these folks by quoting Greek—and they say, “I don’t see that,” and I say, “Well, believe me it is there.” I don’t want to do that. I want them to see what is really there, so I need to see
what is really there. So I am pleading with the Lord, “Show me what is there.”
And then I am pleading just as strong, “Help me to feel
what is there. If it is a horrible thing, help me to feel horrible. If it is a beautiful thing, help me to feel thrilled over its beauty. Bring this dead heart into some kind of conformity—moral, affectual conformity to what is really there.”
Those are my two kinds of prayers, light
. If you try to work it up without the Holy Spirit giving it, people will know. They will know. Your people will know sooner or later. “I don’t think that was a real affection. That was planned.”
So there are a thousand details I could say about the preparation moment as far as poking at the text, but the preaching moment is the same. You plead with the Lord.
I do APTAT
, before I stand up.
, O Lord, that I can do nothing of any lasting value.
for self forgetfulness, for fullness of the Holy Spirit, for love, for humility, for passion, for zeal, for prophetic utterance that may come to my mind while I am preaching so that I can say things that I hadn’t prepared that might penetrate where nothing else would.
a particular promise from the Lord that I have found in my devotions early in the morning. So today I read Deborah’s song in Judges 5 as well as Psalm 84 between 6:30 and 7:00 this morning, and pointed out a verse to Mark as we were sitting there. “Oh my soul, ride on in strength.” That was my word this morning.
The Lord gave a word from his Word this morning: “Ride on in strength.” So I take that. That’s my T: trust. So as I am walking up, I am saying, “This is your work. It has come. Don’t leave me here. You have got to do something here. I am counting on you.”
And he is saying, “I got this under control.” He is God.
A—Then you act
. You have got to do it. It is your hands that are moving. It is your voice that is moving. You have got to do this. Walking by the Spirit, putting to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit, being led by the Spirit, bearing the fruits of the Spirit is a mystery. “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10, ESV). That is the mystery. So sermon preparation is: You put out when you are preparing and when you are preaching. You put out, but if you have prayed and done APTAT and God is merciful, you won’t be putting out. He will be putting out.
. And when you have acted and you go sit down, you thank him. He is going to do, and is doing what he is going to do, and he regularly does more than you think he does.
I don’t think after 28 years of preaching that I can correlate with any degree of confidence my sense of effectiveness in the moment and the true effectiveness of the moment. I don’t know any keys to know how to correlate those two. This keeps me from being too excited or too depressed.
The Lord will be sure to put me in my place if I do the one and lift me up if I do the other, because he said, “I am working out there in ways you can’t make happen at all. You thought that was a good thing to say? That wasn’t it. You missed it. That wasn’t what did it. This thing over here that you didn’t even know I gave you did it, and you will find out in heaven that that happened.”
Listen to the T4G panel discussion here