If sweat were blood, my study would be red. So would yours. As pastors, part of what helps us become good communicators is paying the personal price for being well-prepared. That takes hard work.
“The Preacher,” Solomon tells us, “also taught the people knowledge”—and this occurred by “pondering, searching out, and arranging” his thoughts (Ecclesiastes 12:9). These verbs are in the intensive stem in the Hebrew. In other words, in becoming well-prepared, you have to sacrifice. The cost is high! Both in time . . . and in tools.
Buy books that help you understand the Word of God. Some of my best books are what I call my “blood” books. When I was in seminary, I used to donate a pint of blood and in return receive twenty bucks. I bought the Old Testament series by Kyle and Delitzsch with blood money. I bought Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament with blood money. They were supposed to take my blood only every six weeks, but I’d occasionally go in after five weeks. One time I pushed it to four weeks! Cynthia told me, “I think you’re kind of pressing it on this thing with your library.” And she was right. But hey, where else can you have 100 scholars at your fingertips when you’re stuck away in Fargo . . . or Frisco! Get and use good tools.
You’ll have to deal severely with the temptation to dance around a passage rather than to dig in deeply—especially when time is of the essence. So start early. We both know that Saturday night panic doesn’t yield quality stuff on Sunday. “A mist in the pulpit puts a fog in the pew” is another way of saying it!
I would encourage you to write down more of your ideas. Don’t rely on your memory. Write down those fleeting thoughts that come to you in the middle of the night. Many times I have gotten up to write something I didn’t want to lose. Those times that I didn’t do that, almost without exception, I forgot them by the next morning. I must go through half a yellow tablet of paper per sermon writing things down. I have discovered that it is in the writing of my thoughts that my ideas take shape and narrow into understandable terms. It is in the “pondering, searching out, and arranging” of thoughts that the preacher is well-prepared.
Oh, and please . . . don’t feel bad about taking your notes and outline into the pulpit! (They never told you that at seminary, did they? Me either.) What could be more frustrating than being well-prepared to communicate only to forget half of it after the choir sings? The best expositors I’ve heard use notes.
Changing lives is God’s job. We rely on Him for that—unquestionably. But being well-prepared . . . that’s our responsibility.