Please resist being hoodwinked. No matter how intelligent you may think you are, or how many people have acknowledged your intellect, you don't measure up - to the Bible. The wisdom in its pages surpasses any human gray matter. Some would say, "Yeah, yeah. We all know that."
"No, we don't all know that." The evidence from too many pulpits screams of a misplaced trust in man and a lack of appreciating the Bible's sacred role. It is appalling to see how the Book is misused. To some, the Bible is really just a springboard into some "great ideas" that the speaker has in his own heart. I assume the thinking might follow this line. "I'm a Christian and I love God. Therefore, if I feel something very deeply, it must have been put there by the Lord," they think, "there is a text that will undergird my convictions." Or, perhaps it goes, "I prayed before I bought this book. The author is a genuine Christian and has shared some terrific thoughts. God wouldn't mislead me to buy something that wasn't right. I prayed, God gave me this book, and I must share what God has put before me."
In answer to this pseudo-reasoning, I hold before you the Book. Becoming a Christian doesn't make you omniscient (all-knowing). How can you know for certain that it was God who impressed you to buy a certain book? How do you know the thoughts that came to you during prayer were from His throne? Should you make a habit to always speak your impressions?
Becoming a Christian means warfare with one's self. Our sinful nature will battle for supremacy so long as we live in this world. The Bible doesn't say "trust unto yourself," but "trust in the Lord." Is your conviction from God? Are the thoughts you want to share with the congregation from God? Is it your reborn nature that is speaking to you? Or is another clever entity whispering to you? How can you know for certain?
America's Ministers Missing the Mark
Ask God! Doesn't this seem obvious? Ask His Word! I know it's much easier to go with your own juices and raw impressions. Resist. Get your nose in the sacred pages and study. Remember, you're not looking to justify your own thinking or beliefs. You are searching the Scriptures' depth for light to share. Make notes as you attempt to understand. Write down your own questions. Your listeners will have many of the same questions. Some of these notes and questions will find their way into your Sabbath message. At present, however, you're not concerned with putting together your message, but rather in digging for treasure, for understanding what the Bible says.
There is another temptation to be avoided. When you've discovered the crux or theme of the passage of Scripture you've been studying, please don't close the Book and allow yourself to free-wheel. Your message will have a semblance of being Biblical, but you'll probably stray from the essentials of the passage. Make sure your main points are God's main points. How? Be certain those principles you're going to stress during your presentation are to be found in your study of the Bible. Don't tire of study and place human reasoning upon its undeserved throne. There is a time for story, for historical implication, for individual impact. But those things should only be born from a good understanding of what God is saying.
If you make the commitment to always mine for treasure, your listeners may not be equipped to point to specifics as you speak, but they'll know something has changed. They'll be getting a spiritual meal that brings satisfaction. What happens to you as you make time for study? You'll be like a person who has just discovered a hidden vault full of bags of gold. I hope each time you study in preparation for speaking, there is always a moment when you catch your breath. You will be in awe as understanding comes. In those magical moments as you experience them, you'll exclaim out loud, "Wow! That is just beautiful. I can't wait to share this!"
Now you are focused. Now the illustrations, the literature you've read, life experiences, and all the commentaries in your library are allowed to flood into the message. With that indescribable understanding that comes from study, you will be driven, excited about sharing what you've discovered. Now is the time to incorporate your own questions, what you thought as you first read the Bible passage. You can share the questions that came to your mind. Be honest and open. Had you correctly understood or were you mistaken? What did you learn? This brings your listeners along for the journey.
Being a good speaker is fine, but you must hold yourself to a very high standard. What you'll find is that your excitement to share your discovery will bring renewed animation and sincerity to your pulpit. The people will experience something akin to hearing an old hymn sung with incredible sincerity. It's almost as though they're hearing it for the first time.
Rarely should you ever step into the pulpit and speak on a New Testament passage without having studied deeply. Unlike those who have perfect members in their congregations, a few ministers have more than their share of obstinate people who have their own reasons for also studying deeply. They will dissect your words with a view to finding fault in your sermons. It is extremely satisfying and reassuring to know you have those hours of study to rely upon when those challenges come.
This is why many fall short and others rise to success. This is why one group of people refuse to arise on a rainy Sabbath day and others drive through busy traffic and a snow storm to get to the church. Members want, need, and should expect to hear a "Biblical message." Look what happened when Jesus spoke! So many walked to hear Him that there was no building large enough to hold them. Isn't that what we're supposed to be delivering from the pulpit? His Word?
I'll concede that Christ's character was a major draw for His audiences. I'll also admit that my character is terribly flawed. But, at the same time, this should tell us that we must immerse ourselves in pursuit of the Truth. The less reliance upon injecting our puny ideas and feeble learning as the cornerstone of our sermons, the better. Intellect and study come to our aid in helping our audiences understand the Truth we've discovered. The focus of the sermon is that divine Truth. Our work is to share our discovery. The greater we strive to unveil the Truth, the greater will be the riveting power of the message.