By Ralph Walker
Saturday noon. You’re at the office desk. Hair is disheveled. So is desktop. Books are strewn around the room, open and discarded. Electric typewriter hums over a half-page outline that is forsaken. Forehead is bright red from contact with walls and palms of hands. You’re in trouble, man, real trouble. You only have twenty-two hours of life before you step into that pulpit and deliver. And what have you got? Nothing, zero, nil, a goose egg.
You’ve plumbed your resources and come up empty. The seed sermon file is old stuff you can’t bring to life. You don’t feel good about fishing in the sermon outline books. You’re coming down to the wire without a single good idea.
Welcome to the world of preaching. Hasn’t every pulpiteer gone through this misery at some time? Maybe not to that extreme (but how many wait for Saturday night inspiration?), but all of us reach blind alleys occasionally – weeks when you cannot come up with appropriate bread for the masses.
I don’t know that I eliminated the problem in 1982, but I halved it. And it was only a side benefit of a task I undertook. Read on brother for help is here!
Last December I began preparing the church for a new year with some goal setting. I proposed to have us read through the Bible in 1982. I offered three incentives for doing this. First we purchased and distributed to each member a small daily Bible reading ~ chart. These were distributed at the door the day I preached on the subject. The chart has the passages to read each day and a box to be checked off when it is completed.
Second a large chart was placed in the back of the auditorium and all readers were encouraged to sign their names to it. Each week they did their reading they were to check off on the chart and a red marker would highlight their progress. According to testimonies, this peer pressure works great. Few people care to see long, solid “read” lines for others while their own lines remain short.
Third was a task I took on alone. I determined to preach through the Bible as we read, covering in one sermon each week the material we had read. In doing this I hoped to clear up difficult passages, point out truths we can apply today and reinforce with repetition the Truths of the Word we had privately studied.
I mapped out my course through the Bible to coincide roughly with our reading. I am finished with the Old Testament and we are journeying toward Revelation. How has it been so far? Fantastic! I have pushed myself to limits I’ve never known. It has been a challenge, but I have joyfully grown by it.
Some sermons come easily, like Genesis 1-7. Others only come through much sweat, like Leviticus and Exodus 19-40. But let me share the benefits with you.
1. People will read through the Bible more readily if they know they will get help on Sunday to make smooth the rough way.
2. People love being in the know about the sermon before it is preached.
3. More people read through the Bible with this plan. I had little success in the past,) but at present we have 35 readers up to date or nearly so. This is compared to our usual Wednesday night attendance of 45-50.
4. I can plan ahead for my sermons. I already know on January what each week’s study must be. I can gather materials all year long, work on a lesson in advance (even months ahead of time if I want to), read a book in February and file away the material for a sermon in October. Of course this only applies to one sermon a week. I use the other time slot to deal with special topics, problems, issues, things that arise that need consideration. These I usually prepare week to week.
5. I’m forced to preach from texts I’ve never touched before. I am finding sermons in books that formerly remained closed to me. I am finally feeling the truth of the statement “the whole Bible is good for our learning.” I am not searching frantically for subjects, using sermon books, rehashing old sermons or borrowing from other preachers. I am opening the book, reading, digesting and presenting my study to others. The audience is prepared to receive it, having also read. I know where my sermons are headed and what goals are being achieved.
6. Attendance has been helped some by this program. Some members express regret that they have to be absent when certain books are to be covered. Others have mentioned they attended just to hear a sermon on a particular section (though they ought to be present every time regardless).
Have I sold you yet? I hope so. Let me add a few helps I learned by trial. I didn’t preach on a text taken from somewhere in the weeks reading. Rather I preached on the whole text, summarizing the entire weeks material. This does get difficult due to the time factor but that introduces another good benefit – discipline. Imagine covering the book of Isaiah in one sermon. You cannot linger anywhere very long.
I try to pick out and comment on certain passages that I find speaking to me and share them as we travel through our reading. Sometimes I read sections of Scripture without comment only to note their beauty. I try to find gems of truth we can treasure, that might have been overlooked. This is training for the reader to seek such truths in his private reading. You would be surprised at the places one finds great wisdom of God applicable to us today.
I could not preach on the Psalms and do justice to them. I could do little more than state the purpose of each in one sentence in trying to deal with Psalms 22-67 in one sermon. I also lumped the 6 weeks covering the gospel accounts in to 3 sermons on the life of Christ (using portions of all 4 gospels). I felt the repetition would have been detrimental for that length of time.
Finally, I did not preach the Scripture reading sermons all on Sunday morning or evening, but mixed them up. If you preach all the Bible reading sermons on Sunday night, those who don’t participate in reading daily may choose to absent themselves from those studies. By mixing them up this can’t happen.
I am already planning next year’s agenda of sermons. I won’t be covering the Bible again for a few years, but I am purposing my preaching for 1983.1 am spoiled now on the benefits and can’t see why I would go back to that horrible existence described in paragraph one. Why don’t you take some time now to do the same and save yourself the weekly agony of deciding what to preach on? Why not preach through the Bible in 1983? 1 know God will richly bless you too.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 10, pp. 301-302
May 19, 1983