Preaching? Drain the Liquid Before You Give It to Others

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By Jeffrey Arthurs, adapted from Preaching Points: 55 Tips for Improving Your Pulpit Ministry.

In an issue of Leadership journal, Lee Eclov tells the story of a researcher named Hillary Koprowski, who was a leader in the search for the polio vaccine in the 1940s. Koprowski and his team had done animal tests successfully, and the next step involved a powerful but unwritten rule of scientific research: Before testing an oral vaccine on other humans, the researcher must try it himself. 

So late one winter afternoon in 1948, he and his assistant whipped up a polio cocktail and the two men drank from small glass beakers. They tilted their heads back and drained the liquid fully. They agreed it tasted like cod-liver oil. The assistant said, “Have another?”

“Better not,” Koprowski said, “I’m driving.”

Lee Eclov says that every preacher has to take the same gutsy step. We have no right to give other people our “holy vaccine” until we’ve drained the liquid ourselves. And sometimes it does taste like cod-liver oil.

As preachers we must drain the liquid. Preach to yourself before you preach to others. Ask yourself, “Am I living the life I’m recommending to others?” “Authenticity” is one of the god-terms of our culture—and rightly so. Of the members of the old rhetorical trio of ethos, pathos, and logos, Aristotle said that ethos is number one. Your character, trustworthiness, experience, and sincerity—your ethos—are the most persuasive tools you possess. 

So this week and every week when you’re doing your sermon preparation, remember to drain the liquid yourself.

***

This post is adapted from “Drain the liquid” by Jeffrey Arthurs in Preaching Points: 55 Tips for Improving Your Pulpit Ministry, edited by Scott M. Gibson (Lexham Press, 2016).

 

Why Haddon Robinson Says Less Is More in Preaching

By Haddon Robinson, adapted from Preaching Points: 55 Tips for Improving Your Pulpit Ministry.

There is an old story that preachers tell: A man came to church one Sunday and the only person who was there, besides himself, was the preacher. The preacher was hesitant to preach his sermon to one man sitting in the front row, but the man said, “Look, I came to church and I expect that you preach. I need to be fed.” So the preacher got up and preached his sermon and he got caught up in the moment.  [Read more…]

The Disease of Modern Preaching That Will Kill Its Power

Spider web

By Scott M. Gibson, adapted from Preaching Points: 55 Tips for Improving Your Pulpit Ministry.

Charles Gore, formerly bishop of Worcester, Birmingham, and finally Oxford, wrote more than a century ago, “The disease of modern preaching is its search after popularity.” [Read more…]

Pastor, Your Empathy Is Not Enough (and That’s Good)

By Harold Senkbeil, adapted from The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart

Over the years I’ve developed, in good Lutheran fashion, ten theses on spiritual cure, the care of souls.  [Read more…]

Preach to One Person at a Time

By Matthew Kim, adapted from Preaching Points: 55 Tips for Improving Your Pulpit Ministry.

Many of us are familiar with the passage in Luke 15. It’s the Parable of the Lost Sheep. It goes like this: [Read more…]

Sermon Preparation Is 20 Hours of Prayer

sermon preparation blog post

An excerpt on sermon preparation and prayer by Matthew Kim, adapted from Preaching Points: 55 Tips for Improving Your Pulpit Ministry.

It’s something that we all know in our minds. We’ve considered it. But it’s often difficult to put into practice. What am I talking about? 

Pastor R. Kent Hughes, who pastored College Church in Wheaton, IL, for some twenty-seven years, once had this to say about preaching: “Sermon preparation is twenty hours of prayer.” 

Twenty hours? What does he mean? How can we pray for twenty hours when we have so many things to do in ministry?

What Hughes means is that prayer is extremely valuable in sermon preparation. Prayer is indispensable. We need to pray, because we’re engaged in a spiritual battle. The moment we walk up into the pulpit we recognize that what we are doing is not something that just any communicator does. We’re preaching God’s Word. And the enemy doesn’t want us to. The enemy doesn’t want us to have power. He doesn’t want us to display God’s power through our sermon.

What we’re doing is bathing our sermon in prayer. How do we do that?

It begins when we select a text. I know that there are moments in pastoral ministry where I just thought, What does the church need to hear? And so I would just simply go to a text or look for a text. But to have this attitude of sermon preparation being twenty hours of prayer means that from the moment I think about a given sermon, I’m given to prayer. I’m seeking God’s guidance. I ask, “God, what do you want me to learn from this particular passage? Which passage should I preach on?” 

As we’re going through the rigors of exegesis and determining what the author is talking about, I’m constantly prayerful. What does it mean to pray in such a way that we’re asking the Holy Spirit to guide us to understand the authorial intent of the passage? What does this mean for the people back in Bible times, and what does it mean for us today? Even in outlining or writing our manuscript, we’re constantly soaking our sermon in prayer. We’re praying through what it means to speak to people in such a way that God’s Word comes alive in their midst.

One of the ways we can do this practically speaking is praying through the church directory. Pray about your congregation’s needs and struggles. What is that family going through at this moment? What does it look like for this person who has lost her job to understand this particular passage? And as we do so, we slow down our preparation. We don’t just rush through it to get the sermon finished. We don’t just go through the exercise of exegesis. But we are prayerful about each moment of the sermon preparation process.

A few years ago I was standing on the curb. I remember it vividly. I was a candidate for a pastoral position at a church. One of the pastors on the church staff looked at me. But he didn’t just look at me. He gave me one of those up-and-down glances which made me feel uncomfortable. He inquired, “Matt, so how many hours do you pray each day?” I thought to myself, Hours? I think in minutes. But what he was really getting at is, “Do you have a deep and profound relationship with the Lord?” D. L. Moody was known to say, “He who kneels the most, stands the best.” That’s what R. Kent Hughes may have in view when he wisely encourages: Sermon preparation is twenty hours of prayer.

This post is adapted from “Sermon preparation is twenty hours of prayer,” by Matthew Kim in Preaching Points: 55 Tips for Improving Your Pulpit Ministry, edited by Scott M. Gibson (Lexham Press, 2016).

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Preachers, Mobilize Your Language and Send It Into Battle

By Jeffrey Arthurs

It was said of Winston Churchill that “he mobilized the English language, and sent it into battle.” I exhort you, send your best words into battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Send language forth like soldiers massing for the charge, cutting the wire, and storming the stronghold. [Read more…]

Biggest Deal Ever on Logos 7—and More Back-to-School Savings

Back-to-school season is here again, and that means a huge sale to help you grow in your studies! Whether or not you’re heading back to school, now’s your chance to benefit from these great deals.

First, base packages are 25% off—the biggest sale ever on Logos 7! There’s never been a better time pick up great resources and features to your Bible study. Plus, if you already own a Logos base package, you qualify for Dynamic Pricing, meaning you only pay for what’s new to you. [Read more…]

10 Sermon Texts That Aren’t Usually Used for Christmas (But Should Be)

Another Christmas, another opportunity to capture imaginations with the beauty of the Incarnation.

While the Matthew and Luke narratives will always be wonderful for this, there are plenty of other passages in Scripture that can draw out themes and nuances often neglected.

Why not explore with one of these texts?

1. Genesis 3:15

Often considered the first Messianic prophecy recorded in Scripture, this verse finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus—the offspring of a woman, who eventually crushes Satan. No more let sins and sorrow grow / Nor thorns infest the ground / He comes to make his blessings flow / Far as the curse is found, writes Watts. Genesis 3:15 predicts the seed who would come to uproot the thorns and break the curse of sin.

2. Gen. 49:8–12

Toward the end of Genesis, Jacob speaks a word of prophecy over each of his sons. He promises Judah, from whom Jesus would ultimately descend, that the scepter will not depart from him. Jacob calls Judah “a lion’s cub,” and Scripture goes on to call Jesus the Lion from the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5). This unique passage offers an opportunity to reflect on Jesus’ supreme authority, which he holds even when he is just a cub.  

3. Exodus 1:1–2:10

There are striking parallels between Moses’ infancy and Jesus’. Both are born in humble circumstances. Both escape murderous plots of evil rulers. Both grow up to lead their people out of captivity. This passage can help your congregation appreciate the way the Bible holds together, as well as see God’s sovereign hand in preserving a mediator for his people.

4. Exodus 16

This is the narrative of God providing manna and quail for Israel as they wander in the desert. God sends bread from heaven, and in John 6 Jesus explicitly refers to this story and calls himself the “bread of life.” God sent eternal bread to hungry wanderers in the form of his Son, making this Exodus event a rich foreshadowing. A preacher can capture the imagination of a congregation—and follow the homiletical example of Christ himself—by drawing parallels between the physical hunger of Israel in the desert and the spiritual hunger of all those without Christ.

 

5. Exodus 33:12–23

In one of the most beautiful scenes of Exodus, Moses pleads boldly and personally to the Lord for his presence. The Lord honors Moses by agreeing to reveal his goodness and glory—but not his face. In the Incarnation, however, God is fully revealed, and his presence is offered to all who receive him. This intimate moment Moses experiences with God is made available to all through Christ—but we will see him “face to face” (1 John 3:2; 1 Cor. 13:12).

6. 2 Samuel 7

In this famous covenant God makes with David, God promises that his offspring’s throne will be established forever. Eventually the kingdom divides and falls, and by the time Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem on a donkey—several hundred years and two exiles later—the throne is still not established. So when the crowds shout “Hosanna to the Son of David!”, they are heralding this covenant: they are hoping in a king. Joy is bursting from under sorrow long held, because Hope has come. The Incarnation offers the same “thrill of hope” today.

7. Psalm 27

At the end of this psalm, David writes, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Christians today can repeat these words only because Christ has come and has promised to come again. Like Anna and Simeon, who in their old age finally beheld the hope they waited so long for (Luke 2:22-38), those who hope in Christ will not be disappointed.

8. Isaiah, various

Isaiah is chock-full of references to the coming Messiah. Chapter 7 speaks of a virgin who will conceive and bear a son, whose name will be called “Immanuel”—God with us. Chapter 9 provides a brief portrait of this Son-King, and it continues all throughout Isaiah, such as in chapters 11, 40–43, 49, and 58. Preachers could do a tour through Isaiah to fill out the portrait of the Messiah, and then juxtapose the majesty described there to the humility displayed in the manger, leading to a reflection on God’s wisdom in working mightily through humble means.

9. Angel appearances

Another interesting choice would be to preach on various angel appearances in Scripture. From the beginning of Old Testament history to its end—from Abraham all the way to Daniel—angel appearances tend to coincide with God’s revelation and rescue. So when angels burst onto the scene in Luke and Matthew, we know from past behavior that God is up to something big, something miraculous and merciful. Preaching through some of these angel appearances would build that sense of anticipation and provide texture to Jesus’ birth story. Consider Genesis 16, 19, 21, and 31–32; Deuteronomy 33:2 (see Psalms 68:17; Acts 7:53; and Galatians 3:19); 1 Kings 19; and Daniel 3 and 6.

10. Matthew 1:1–17 (plus vv. 18–23)

I’ve heard several sermons on this text that draw attention to the scandalous nature of Jesus’ family tree. The attention is justified. For one, it’s not common for genealogies in patriarchal societies such as Israel’s to mention women. It’s even more surprising, then, that when Matthew does, it’s to bring up memories that any family would rather forget, such as incestuous rape (Judah and Tamar, v. 3), prostitution (Rahab, v. 5), and adultery and murder (David and the wife of Uriah, v. 6). What’s the point of recalling such a sordid past? Probably to remind readers of God’s power to work beauty from ashes, to bring redemption from a family—and to the family—that desperately needs it. The genealogy provides an excellent opportunity to proclaim how the Incarnation means all our stories can be rewritten in Jesus.


Scripture is full of rivers and streams that flow to Jesus. These are just a sample of texts you can use for Christmas without bending them to be about the Incarnation. God bless you as you prepare your services this year.

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