4 Ways Praying the Preaching Text Makes You a Better Preacher – by Steve Tillis

People sit in our pews each Sunday dangling by the ends of their frazzled nerves, carrying weights they were never meant to bear. These people are looking for some semblance of hope from our sermons. As a pastor, I know the Spirit and the Word must do the work, but I want to do my best to preach life transforming sermons.

Ways Praying the Preaching Text Makes You a Better Preacher

I’ve used enough stock illustrations from books, exegeted the text at arms distance and given application as a repeat-after-me formula. How do I prepare sermons that have what Calvin Miller calls “deep sermonic inwardness?” That is, how do I prepare transformative sermons that will genuinely help those people whose lives are falling apart?

I’m currently writing my Ph.D. dissertation on the practice of Lectio Divina as a beneficial part of sermon preparation. It’s a touchy subject for some and there’s a lot of misinformation floating around out there. That’s part of why I enjoy reading and writing on the subject. I’ve been using the discipline in my sermon preparation for the last several years and have found it very helpful in developing more transformative sermons.

Lectio Divina just means sacred or spiritual reading. It’s marked by 1. reading, 2. meditation, 3. prayer, and 4. contemplation. These components of Lectio Divina have numerous implications for preaching. Let’s dive into the middle of the practice and I’ll show you how prayer in Lectio Divina helps me be a better preacher.

4 Ways Praying the Preaching Text Makes You a Better Preacher

Lectio Divina involves a praying of the biblical text back to the Lord. I practice this in sermon preparation by spending the week praying the preaching text. I walk through the regular hermeneutical process of study but then I live with the text in my prayer life for the week. Take a look at these 4 ways prayer in Lectio Divina can help you be a better preacher.

  1. Praying the text goes beyond familiarizing myself with it or even memorizing. It helps me to internalize the Scripture. We can know a text backward and forwards and even be able to quote it but only in prayer does the Spirit really massage it into the contours of our lives.
  2. When I pray the text over my own life and that of my family, church, friends, and endeavors I find the Spirit uses that soil to bring about more organic illustrations for Sunday’s sermon. Furthermore, people intuitively sense that I’ve done more than process information, I’ve allowed the text to transform me through prayer. A friend of mine says that praying the text allows the preacher to live and die and be raised again in the preaching text. He then can stand and give people life through the Scripture.
  3. Praying the preaching text helps the preacher feel the genre in which he is working. He learns to live in the narrative for the week, or he becomes a poet before Sunday, a prophet or exegete, whatever he is working in at the time. By praying the text, he learns to feel the emotion of the text. As Augustine would say, “when the text cries you cry and when the text rejoices you rejoice.” Nothing moves the preacher into the biblical world like praying the text.
  4. Praying the text always places the preacher under the text. Surely this is good for our people to see that we don’t merely analyze and report but we have been broken by the Word and restored by the same.

I long to preach sermons that are both informational and transformational. The serious historic practice of Lectio Divina helps me do this. Even if the Latin and the suspicion of mysticism scare you, I hope you will at least try to pray your preaching text over your life and family every day this week.

Steve Tillis is a pastor in Raleigh, North Carolina. He and his wife have one son and another coming in June. By God’s grace, he plans to finish his Ph.D. in preaching from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in December. He has a passion for preaching and encouraging pastors.

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