A lot of the time I spend in preparation for Bible Study is spent in bed. Let me explain.
I usually start preparing for a Bible Study Lesson within an hour of when I finish delivering the last lesson. These days, this is preaching to my congregation of 30 in a small church surrounded by farm land every Sunday morning at 9:30. We have Sunday School following at 11:00. During Sunday School, I nearly always take a peek at next week’s passage.
I nearly always preach through series—usually through a Bible book. It is not a truly verse by verse. I did a 21 week series through the book of John last year. That is one sermon per chapter. This means I am leaving quite a bit out. The alternative is to be in John for about 3 years and never get to the Old Testament. Last week I spoke on James 3.13 – 18, but I really concentrated on one verse: verse 17. (“The wisdom that comes from above. . .” ) Truthfully, the real point of the message was all about one word: pure. I make no attempt to cover everything in the passage.
At any rate, I will nearly always take a peek at next Sunday’s passage during Sunday School. I will look at it again when I lay down to take my Sunday afternoon nap. Sometimes I will toss and turn and ponder the passage just a bit before I fall asleep. Sometimes that passage is the first thing I think about when I wake up.
I often have a conversation or two with Missy about the passage—usually in the early stages of figuring out where I am going. This week is James 4:1 – 3. Here is the question: what verse in this passage teaches us to quit being so ambitious and desiring stuff?
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4.1 – 3 NIV
Look at it closely. It doesn’t ask us to kill our desires. That is Buddhism, not Christianity. I may even have a quote from Buddha in this week’s message as a point of contrast. Have a quote from Buddha, ask if they agree with it, then show them who wrote it. That should get their attention. Christianity is about stirring up desires. It is about being ambitious, but being ambitious for the sake of others. That is a general line of direction I am pondering, although I am not sure where it will head at this point.
Usually, by Monday or Tuesday I will start scribbling out some notes. I do this is PowerPoint. My message is written from start to finish in PowerPoint. I spend a good deal of time getting the slides just the way I like them. I spend some time finding pictures. I think the best PowerPoint is nearly all pictures. One time I had a whole sermon with nothing but pictures. There was not one word in the whole PowerPoint. Usually, I do have some words but I like to have lots of compelling photographs. Google really helps with that. After you do a search you can click on the word Images on the left and only Images will come up in the search.
I did a message on taming the tongue a few weeks ago. Here a couple of photos I found using Google:
Way cool. What a time to be alive.
Each time I lay down I will meditate on the passage. Often I will read in bed just before I go to sleep. Often I will reread the passage. Often I wake in the night with the passage on my brain. Often it is the first thing I think about when I wake. It seems to train my brain to go there when I drive, when I wait, when my mind wanders.
I sometimes take naps during the week. I blame in on my missionary heritage. They take a siesta in the Philippines. Great idea, I think. And, when I take a nap, I think about the passage I will be teaching on. I try to think about it each time before I go to sleep. This is what I mean when I say that much of the preparation is done in bed.
In a day or two, I will have another thought worth writing down, so it is back to the computer. It is like my brain can really hold one idea at a time. Once that idea crystalizes, I need to write it down so that I can go on to the next one.
It would never work for me to start writing a message on Friday or Saturday. The time pressure would kill my creativity. My style requires lots of unhurried time. I will, along the way, spend some time in the commentaries and books. Usually this is done a few minutes here and a few minutes there. Logos has an app for Kindle so I can read commentaries on my Kindle. What a time to be alive.
Toward the end of the week I will begin going over the message in its entirety. I try to see the whole thing fits together. I try to feel the transitions. They are like curves in a road. Most of the driving is pretty easy if you negotiate the curves. Similarly, if you negotiate the transitions in a message, the rest seems to fall into place.
I am a fan of the one point sermon.
I ask if I have enough humor. I am not a naturally funny person. I don’t use a lot of humor in my messages, but I like to have a little. I have found one or two funny moments really goes a long way toward making the message what it needs to be.
I will often spend some time looking specifically for illustrations for the message. Illustrations make the message. I really like www.sermoncentral.com for that. Often I will buy a book or two that is on the topic of the message. I rarely finish it. As I write Good Questions each week this is what I spend the most time on. I want to find a number of great stories and illustrations to make the Bible Lesson come alive. I want to make Sunday School teachers sound brilliant. This is probably not the most godly motivation I have.
Sermon preparation comes deeply out of prayer and meditation for me. I spend a lot of time pondering what God has to say to me personally. I try to picture individuals in our church and imagine how this relates to their life. (This is not hard in a church of 30.)
It is not the only way, but that is the way I prepare a Bible Study Lesson.