I wonder what effect it would have on our sermons if we spent as much time meditating on the scriptures for personal edification as we do studying the scriptures for sermon preparation? In other words, let’s say you meditate on the scriptures two hours a week for your own spiritual formation and study the scriptures six hours a week for your Sunday message. What would happen if you reversed that? Would your sermon be better, worse, or the same?
Don’t get me wrong. Ask anyone who has used me as a preaching coach and they will tell you how much I value sermon preparation. I believe that study can be a very spiritual experience. However, we must remind ourselves that the Bible wasn’t primarily given to us for our sermons but for our souls.
So which is best—studying the scriptures or meditating on the scriptures? It doesn’t have to be either/or. It can be both/and. The problem is…seldom is it both/and.
Many of the pastors I talk to admit that the only time they are consistently in the Bible is when they are preparing their sermons. This is not entirely without benefit as far as soul-care is concerned. Any time the word of God goes into our minds we profit, but when we study we tend to have our preacher-hat on.
When I have my preacher-hat on I approach my Bible to dissect it, tear it apart, exegete it. Commentaries, Greek and Hebrew aids, Bible dictionaries, and concordances surround me. I’m looking for the original intent of the author. I’m asking myself, “How might this passage preach?” With my preacher-hat on, I tend to read and study the Bible academically.
As pastors, most of us are good at this. We’ve been trained in hermeneutics and homiletics. We might even have degrees in Bible and theology. We’ve spent thousands of dollars on the books we’ve accumulated over the years that line our walls. An academic approach to the Bible can result in a solid sermon. However, there is no guarantee that it will be the method by which our relationship with Jesus is impassioned, our heart softened, our self-will broken, our eyes opened, or our life deepened.
I’m not suggesting we throw out our preacher-hat; it serves a very legitimate purpose. What we really need is to add to our hat collection one that will help us experience something different than the preacher-hat we typically wear when we come to the Bible. Might I suggest that we need a monk-hat as well?
Although monasticism has produced its fair share of scholars and theologians, monks typically approach the Bible as the very life and breath of God. The book of Hebrews tells us that the word of God is “living and active.” Those in monastic orders relate to scripture as the living thing it claims to be.
It is not unusual for monks to be called contemplatives or reflectives. When I open my Bible wearing my monk-hat, I read it in a contemplative, reflective way. My goal is not so much to gain information, as it is to gain spiritual formation. I am chewing on the words slowly, rolling them around in my mouth like a bite of truffle, and tasting the goodness of God for me the child of God…not for me the sermon-crafter.
The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.