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.
Of course, this is not only demarcated in Edwards’s writings but many other
great theologians as well.
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.”
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
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
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
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
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
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
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
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.
Hence, prayer is not merely an act of mere devotion; it is “the Christians
vital breath and native air.”
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.
In other words, pastors must not neglect prayer as they prepare their souls and
sermons. Luther was busy and still prayed; so can we.
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.
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.”
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.”
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. Calvin writes that biblical
meditation in the life of a believer is what yields the best and sweetest fruit
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
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.
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,
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
 Dane C. Ortlund. Edwards on the
Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 158.
 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).
 Beeke, Reformed Preaching,
 Carrol B. Freeman, Sr., “The
Spiritual Discipline in Personal Formation” The Theological Educator 43
 Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix. Power
in the Pulpit: How to Prepare and Deliver Expository Sermons (Chicago:
Moody, 2017), 317.
 Eugene Peterson. A Long
Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society
(Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 11. (hereafter, Long Obedience)
 Sinclair B. Ferguson. The Whole
Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, & Gospel Assurances – Why the Marrow
Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 171.
 Bridges, The Christian Ministry,
 David F. Wells. The Courage to
Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 191.
 McGrath, Mere Discipleship,
 Allen, The Preacher’s Catechism,
 Spurgeon, Lectures, 42.
 J. Oswald Sanders. Spiritual
Leadership: Principles of Excellence for Every Believer (Chicago: Moody,
2007), 99. (hereafter, Spiritual Leadership)
 Spurgeon, Lectures, 43.
 Sanders, Spiritual Leadership,
 Beeke, Reformed Preaching,
 Freeman, “The Spiritual Disciplines
in Personal Formation,” 96.
 Bridges, The Christian Ministry,
 James Swanson, Dictionary
of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak
Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
 Calvin, Institutes, 128.
 Robert E. Picirilli, “1,2
Corinthians” in The Randall House Bible Commentary (Nashville: Randall
House, 1987), 28.
 McGrath, Mere Discipleship,
 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).
 Barry Raper, “Sanctification and
Spirituality” in The Promise of Arminian Theology: Essays in Honor of F.
Leroy Forlines (Nashville: Randall House, 2016), 112.
 John R.W. Stott. Between Two
Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1982), 220.
 Oscar F. Reed, “Hosea” in The
Beacon Bible Commentary: Hosea through Malachi (Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon
Hill, 1966), 55-56.
 Vines and Shaddix, Power in the
 Spurgeon, Lectures, 78.