Sermon Preparation: When Bible Reading Becomes a Text Message

2 Timothy 2:15
       Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.

A. W. PINK: The Word of God may be taken up from various motives…A few read it professionally―it is their text-book. Their principal quest is material suitable for sermons and “Bible readings.”

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): One of the most fatal habits a preacher can ever fall into is to read his Bible simply in order to find texts for sermons. This is a real danger; it must be recognized and fought and resisted with all your might. Do not read the Bible to find texts for sermons, read it because it is the food that God has provided for your soul, because it is the Word of God, because it is the means whereby you can get to know God.

THOMAS MANTON (1620-1677): Ministers must first eat themselves, then feed others.

THOMAS BOSTON (1676-1732): If this be not, thou shalt be like one that feeds others, but starves himself for hunger.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: Read it because it is the bread of life, the manna provided for your soul’s nourishment and well-being. The preacher, I say, does not read his Bible in order to find texts; but as he reads his Bible in this way—as indeed all Christians should—he will suddenly find as he is reading that a particular statement stands out, and as it were, hits him, and speaks to him, and immediately suggests a sermon to him. Here I want to say something that I regard as in many ways the most important discovery I have made in my life as a preacher. I had to discover it for myself, and all to whom I have introduced it have always been most grateful for it. When you are reading your Scriptures in this way—it matters not whether you have read little or much—if a verse stands out and hits you and arrests you, do not go on reading. Stop immediately, and listen to it. It is speaking to you, so listen to it and speak to it.

GEORGE WHITEFIELD (1714-1770): Be as willing to learn what God shall teach you, as Samuel was, when he said, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.”

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: Stop reading at once, and work on this statement that has struck you in this way. Go on doing so to the point of making a skeleton of a sermon. This verse or statement has spoken to you, it has suggested a message to you. The danger at that point I had to discover is to say to oneself, “Ah, yes, that is good, I will remember that,” and then to go on with the reading. Then you find yourself towards the end of the week without a sermon for the Sunday, without even a text, and you say to yourself, “Now what was that that I was reading the other day? Oh yes, it was this verse in that chapter.” You then turn back to it and find to your dismay that it says nothing at all to you; you cannot recapture the message. That is why I say that whenever anything strikes you must stop immediately and work out a skeleton of a sermon in your mind.

THOMAS COLLINS (1810-1864): Carry paper with you everywhere; and if God gives you a good thought, nail it immediately.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: For many years I have never read my Bible without having a scribbling-pad either on my table or in my pocket; and the moment anything strikes me or arrests me I immediately pull out my pad. A preacher has to be like a squirrel and has to learn how to collect and store matter for the future days of winter.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): I asked my grandfather, who had been in the ministry some fifty years, whether he was ever perplexed in choosing his theme. He told me frankly that this had always been his greatest trouble, compared with which, preaching in itself was no anxiety at all. I remember the venerable man’s remark, “The difficulty is not because there are not enough texts, but because there are so many, that I am in a strait betwixt them.”―If any one enquire of me, “How shall I obtain the most proper text?” I should answer, “Cry to God for it.”

GEORGE MÜLLER (1805-1898): I ask the Lord to graciously teach me the subject I should speak about, or the portion of His Word I should explain. Sometimes I will have a particular subject or passage on my mind before asking Him. If, after prayer, I feel persuaded that I should speak on that subject, I study it, but still leave myself open to the Lord to change it if He pleases. Frequently, however, I have no subject in my mind before I pray. In this case, I wait on my knees for an answer, trying to listen for the voice of the Spirit to direct me. Then, if a passage of subject is brought to mind, I again ask the Lord if this is His will. Sometimes I ask repeatedly, especially if the subject or text is a difficult one. If after prayer, my mind is peaceful about it, I take this to be the text.

C. H. SPURGEON: What is the right text? How do you know it? We know it by the signs of a friend. When a verse gives your mind a hearty grip, from which you cannot release yourself, you will need no further direction as to your proper theme. Like the fish, you nibble at many baits, but when the hook has fairly pierced you, you will wander no more…Know then that this is the message which the Lord would have you deliver; and, feeling this, you will become so bound by that Scripture that you will never feel at rest until you have yielded your whole mind to its power, and have spoken upon it as the Lord shall give you utterance. Wait for that elect word, even if you wait till within an hour of the service. This may not be understood by cool, calculating men, who are not moved by impulses as we are, but to some of us these things are a law in our hearts against which we dare not offend. We tarry at Jerusalem till power is given. “I believe in the Holy Ghost.” This is one of the articles of the creed, but it is scarcely believed among professors so as to be acted on. Many ministers appear to think that they are to choose the text; they are to discover its teaching; they are to find a discourse in it. We do not think so.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: Nothing is more dangerous than the expert’s or preacher’s approach to the Bible. This is so in the case of the preacher because his greatest temptation is to regard the Bible as just a collection of texts on which to preach. So he tends to go to his Bible simply to look for texts and not to feed his soul.

D. L. MOODY (1837-1899): Feed on the Word; then go out to work.


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