Wrestling With the Text

January 1, 1970

I can’t believe how much I love preaching. I alwasy knew I wanted to be a pastor and I always enjoyed the few times I had to preach, but the opportunity and privelege it is to stand in front of God’s people and preach God’s Word–there is an unexplainable exhiliration and rush. Now I know why my retired pastor friends will do anything to get back into the pulpit. I understand now.
That being said, preaching is really a lot of work. I didn’t understand this until I became a preacher. I feel bad now, having grown up under tremendously great preaching my entire life and not really appreciating the hard work my pastor put in week in and week out.
Preparing the message each week is a demanding excercise. Its like a holy sweat, if you will. Especially if you preach expository–which is it to say–you preach thru a book and plow thru it. Because every week you’re confront with a new text and you are forced to grabble with that text. That’s not to disparage who consistently preach topically, but expository preaching really forces you to dig into some very difficult texts.
As a young guy, I get overwhelmed sometimes as I face a new chapter. We’re going thru John and now we’re facing chapter five. Chapter five has some of the most profound theology and doctrine in all of the Scriptures. How do I explain it? How do I understand it? How do I personalize it so that its not just academic transfer of knowledge?
Here is my system. Its admittedly a work in progress. At the beginning of the week, I begin to study. I really like to study a lot because I feel that I need to know that text up and down and sideways. But in this study period, there is a lot of angst, a sort of wrestling with the text and with God. You’re confronted by an overwhelming sense of inadequacy about your self and your ability to communicate the deep truths to a new generation of God’s people. But I just keep studying. I study the text. I read it over and over. I read sermons from preachers I admire, past and present. I study commentaries, both on my computer thru Wordsearch Bible Software (In my mind the best Bible software out there), I also pull books from my library. I don’t read the same set of stuff every week. It just varies. I also burrow into some of the harder words. I try to get a feel for the background, the context the setting.
I just pile all of this knowledge into my little brain. Then I absorb it and chew on it and pray on it and sleep on it for a few days. Then, remarkably, the Holy Spirit just clicks that light bulb on in my head and helps me put it all together so that I communicate the exact Biblical truth God wants communicated to those people, where they are, at Gages Lake Bible Church. I’m thoroughly amazed and humbled at how God works in the life of a preacher to make the message his own. At this point, I sit at my computer and write out my message. When I’m done, I feel a sense of relief and joy.
This week we’re preaching, "Are You Ready to Be Healed?" We’re going to break up this chapter into several weeks. This week is specifically the miracle of the healing of the 38-year lame man at the pool of Bethsaida by the Sheep Gate and what this miracle meant to the nation of Israel and to you and to me. Its profound and convicting and exciting.
I’ll leave you with a gem of a quote by Charles Spurgeon from his sermon, "The Hospital of Waiters Visited With the Gospel." Spurgeon writes at the close:

I would put it in the simplest way I could, for I was, myself, waiting when I was a child. I heard much preaching that led me to wait—and I think I should have kept on waiting had I not heard that poor Primitive Methodist Brother cry,“Look, young man, look now!” I did look, then and there, and I found salvation on the spot—and I have never lost it. I have nothing else to say to you, but, “There is life in a look at the Crucified One,” and every man that looks shall have it there, now and at once. O, that many would look! Do you understand it? Christ bore the wrath of God instead of those who trust Him! Jesus Christ took the sins of all who trust Him and was punished in the place of every Believer, so that God will not punish a Believer because He has punished Christ for him! Christ died for the man who believes in Him, so that it would be injustice on the part of God to punish that man, for how shall He punish twice for the same offense? Faith is the seal and evidence that you were redeemed 1,900 years ago upon the bloody tree of Calvary! And you are justified and who shall lay anything to yourcharge?