The Preacher in the Study
The importance for the preacher to study the Word of God can never be overstated. As with anything in life, the longer and more often one does a certain task, the more skilled they become in performing the task, and so it should be for the preacher. But what can so easily happen, and every pastor must guard against it, is that his time in the study of the Word is squeezed out by "good" things. We mask our lack or laziness in the study with excuses like, "I am trusting the Lord to provide," or, "I am relying on the Spirit to give me the words to speak," when the reality is that God has already provided. He has given us His Holy Word and His Spirit to reveal His Word, and our task as a preacher is to faithfully and carefully study, practice, and preach it.
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
The things that rob our time in the Word can be obligations we put on ourselves, or they can be put on us by others, but the result is the same: a famine in our pulpits, and spiritually unhealthy, starving congregations. It does not matter what "good" tasks we allow to fill our time, nothing can make up for the lack of time spent in the study of the Word of God. So let every pastor guard against the pressures of life and ministry that rob his time studying the Word.
What does it look like to study God's Word?
For every pastor, it will look a little different so I will give you a glimpse into what it looks like for me in hopes that it may encourage and help you. Peter says in Acts 6:4, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." This is a good order for a preacher to remember. I have made it a habit that every time I enter my study, I begin with prayer. The length of prayer will vary greatly, but I have learned that studying God's Word apart from the wisdom of the Holy Spirit is a futile task. It is essential to implore God to prepare our own heart to receive His Word before we teach and preach it to others.
So what do I pray? Early in my ministry as a pastor, I was helped by one of Steven J. Lawson’s podcasts where he gave direction to pastors on what to pray as they prepare to study and preach, and I have used his model ever since. It begins with praise and adoration to God. Then, the focus turns to the preparation of my own heart: confession and repentance of my own sin, and thanksgiving to God for His forgiveness, grace, and mercy.
I then ask God to guide me in His Word, specifically in the passage before me, praying with the psalmist, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me!” (Ps. 119:18-19). I pray that God would give me an accurate interpretation of the text and that He would teach me and apply the message to my own heart.
“It is written in the Prophets, 'And they will all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” (John 6:45)
I also pray for a clear way to organize the sermon so that I can preach it effectively through God's power. And lastly, I pray for God to open the spiritual eyes of those will hear the message of His Word so that He would pour out His blessing upon them.
Next comes the hard work. I read the text, read the text again, and read the text again. I write down anything that comes to mind from the text – which can be very little or a lot depending on the text and my understanding of it. Then I begin the in-depth study of looking up the cross-references and reading the notes in my Study Bible to give me a greater grasp of the text at hand. I then move on to reading different commentaries to help me understand the original context asking the, who, what, where, why, and how questions of the text, all the while continually asking the Holy Spirit to teach and guide me in the text.
A great example of how every preacher is to study is found in the Old Testament scribe, Ezra. “[Ezra] was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the Lord, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him” (Ezra 7:6). Why was Ezra skilled in the law of God? “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10).
To all those who preach, let us guard against the things that crowd out our time spent in the study of the Word. May we be diligent in the great task God has entrusted us with and let us remember that the charge Paul gave to Timothy is the same task we are charged with.
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:1-2)
Therefore, set your heart to study the Word for it is the season to preach the Word!