A Simple Formula for Effective Preaching
See and Savor, Then Speak
It is an amazing thing that the God who spoke the world into existence has spoken to his people in a book. Think about that. The invisible God has revealed himself through the writings of men who were moved along by the Spirit (2 Peter 1:19–21). What grace! If you are not astonished by this, please do not become a preacher.
A riveting conviction that the Bible is God’s direct, personal communication to his people is the fountainhead of effective preaching. Indeed, the man who answers a call to preach undertakes a massive responsibility that should be laced with holy fear. It’s not something we should go into casually.
This Is Not a Game
I did some amateur boxing when I was in my twenties. The gym where I trained was on a university campus, and with each new school year a parade of fresh young faces would come through the door eager to “give this sport a try.” Many of them had watched Mike Tyson or Roy Jones Jr. or replays of Muhammed Ali, and thought boxing looked like fun.
Those of us who had been around a while especially enjoyed it when the bodybuilders swaggered in. I’m sure our motives weren’t very good, but we found it amusing when they seemed to assume that their bulging arms, chiseled chests, and washboard abs would make them instantly fearsome in the ring.
They didn’t, and they weren’t. Some of them were simply impatient — unwilling to put in the time necessary to learn the basics. These were the guys who just wanted to pull on some gloves, climb through the ropes, and begin to spar. And in my youthful arrogance, I was only too happy to oblige.
Typically, within about two minutes they began to realize that, without the proper training and skill, big muscles don’t mean much in boxing. It’s not something you play at, whatever your physique. Boxing is serious stuff. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can get hurt.
In much the same way, preaching is serious business, too. It isn’t a game. On the one hand, it really can help people. But preaching that isn’t informed by biblical wisdom, faithful exegesis, and homiletical skill can cause massive damage. Get in the ring without grasping the basics, and the risks are high. Before we walk to the pulpit and unleash big ideas or rhetorical flourishes, we have to learn how to do what we are called to do.
See, Then Savor, Then Speak
All that being true, preaching is not fundamentally complicated. Yes, there are numerous factors to consider when thinking through what to say and how to say it, but I would like to suggest that all faithful, biblical preaching shares a single characteristic. It flows from the heart of a man who has seen great things in the Bible, has savored what he has seen, and stands before God’s people to say what he saw. Faithful preaching can be much more than this, but it shouldn’t be less.
If all great preaching flows from seeing great things in the Bible, then preparing to preach can often be a relatively simple process — intellectually difficult, yet practically simple. If you want to preach well and safely — in a way that helps your hearers rather than harms them — you must read, pray, study, and think over the Scriptures until they yield sight. You need to see, by the power of the Spirit, what God has said. And because this sight comes through the Spirit, by God’s grace you will also savor what you see: when you truly see, your heart will sing.
So here it is in a single sentence: After you have gone to the Bible and it has yielded sweet and glorious truths, you must take time to think over how to tell others what God has shown you, and how it applies to their lives. That, simply put, is the process of preparing to preach, and it all begins with seeing.
Remember the Goal
Now, there are good and wise strategies that we should employ in order to see. There are ways we can help ourselves savor the eternally glorious truths of the Bible. And there are good homiletical practices that inform how we can most effectively say from the pulpit what ought to be said.
But all our strategies and methods must serve the same goal: We want to see, savor, and say what God has said so that God’s people may themselves see, savor, and be further transformed into the image of the beloved Son. All the exegetical and homiletical tools we utilize are simply means to facilitate our seeing, savoring, and saying what God has revealed in his word, for the good of God’s people and the glory of his name.
Preaching is weighty. You will need to work hard in order to preach well. But before you get bogged down in the details, before you begin translating, tracing arguments, and reading commentaries, make sure you are clear on the basic idea of your task. Preaching flows from the heart of a man who has seen great truths in the Bible, has savored what he has seen, and cannot wait to share with others what he saw.
So, preacher, go to the word of God. Ask God to open your eyes to see great things in his word. Plead with him that what you see would set your heart aflame. And then, for the joy of his people and the fame of the name that is above every name, stand and say what you saw.