Wrestling with the Word
When you prepare to teach, whether through your own personal study or by starting with a sermon resource, it’s essential to know that you cannot accurately and passionately convey God’s Word to your congregation unless you have grappled with it yourself. No sermon resource is a substitute for personal time in the Word in preparation for preaching. Pastors Edge resources are among those available online and elsewhere that will help you organize your thoughts and draw key points from a passage. Along with that, though, is a time for you, during your study, to answer three key questions in your own mind.
Do I know what God is saying in this text? Often we hear that the Bible means “something to me, and something else to another person”. We personalize the Scripture. In a sense that is true, as God does speak to each of us through His Word. But the greater meaning of a passage is a “face value” meaning. In other words, Scripture means what it says. If God says, “Be generous to the poor”, that means everyone should be generous to the poor. If God says, “Go make disciples,” that’s an explicit command for all believers.
In this sense, then, you must first understand what the passage is saying. What commands, principles or attributes of His character is God communicating through the passage you are preaching from. Context here can help. Read before and after the passage, and consult your reference materials and commentaries. Have a clear understanding of what God is saying—try to get it down to a sentence or two in your own words.
Has this teaching resonated with me? It’s very difficult to teaching as a “third party” in your own church, admonishing others to do what the Word says as you do not internalize the teaching. Take the example of giving to the poor. When you read Matthew 25:40, how does your life and example stack up? Are you obeying this Scripture and leading your own household and church to do the same? Introspection is a part of sermon preparation. There’s an old leadership axiom that says we cannot lead others where we have not been ourselves. And it is true.
Don’t be afraid to allow confession and repentance in your own life to be a portion of your teaching time. Members of your congregation will appreciate your honesty when you come to a passage of Scripture and tell them, “I really had to learn some things and make adjustments in my own life this week as God taught me what I am relaying to you here today.”
Do I find this difficult to understand or accept? Wrestling with God is something we see in the Bible. His chosen leaders were often cagey and difficult. Prophets sometimes ran from Him (Jonah). Then of course Jacob wrestled with God. Struggling to understand and relate a passage, then obey it, is something we see throughout the history of God’s People, from Israel to the church. Often pastors cloak themselves somewhat in a shield of self-confidence. In generations past this air of confidence became an expectation in church leadership. Know that today’s generation, however, respects the struggles of their spiritual leaders and wants to engage in this wrestling process.
This does not mean that we discredit or disobey the Word, or alter its meaning to make ourselves comfortable. Because something is hard to do, or to understand, does not mean that God does not want us to do it or to understand it. God Himself speaks of some aspects of His character and will as a mystery that we must accept. When we say, “This is difficult, but I will obey anyway, and take God at His Word,” that is growing our faith—and leading others to do the same.
Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.