Kirk Byron Jones, in his book Jazz of Preaching writes: “Slow down and listen in life, in sermons preparation, and in the pulpit.”
The quote reminds me of my introduction to homiletics professor, Brad Braxton, who had his students to get up and walk around Vanderbilt’s campus. We would come back in 20-30 minutes. When we all came back, Dr. Braxton simply asked us what did we see? He then talked about the spiritual implications or uses of what we saw and how they could feed into a sermon.
Someone saw a path, Braxton immediately remembered the need to travel at the straight gate. Someone else saw a door, and a student immediately remembered that Jesus was at the door knocking for entrance into our hearts. Another remembered that a door was opened in heaven that no one could shut. Someone saw the birds and immediately one spoke of the fact that if God could take care of the birds then God would take care of us. Then Dr. Braxton told us all, “Don’t let me hear that any of you claim that you don’t have anything to preach about!”
What Dr. Braxton was seeking to help us do is pay attention. In other words he was echoing Dr. Jones’ statement to, “slow down and listen.” There are two parts to this statement. We are to slow down AND we are to listen. Slowing down is very difficult in and of itself. We are always running to the next thing. All of us are busy. Some of this is self inflicted business, and some of it is pushed on us by a society that prizes the need to always be doing something. However, great preaching requires that you have to cut down on the overstimulation. It requires that you sit down for a moment.
Looking Beneath the Surface
And then we must “listen.” We must seek to look beneath the surface of that which we are contemplating. In this “google-search” based world, we often want surface answers. We want to type in a subject, hit enter, and get ten one page articles that answer the question. However, the real world is more complex than that. And your people live in the real world where surface answers and shallow critique do not suffice. They live in a world where the popular sentiment of “your breakthrough cometh” is either wrong or needs to be nuanced to be understood. They live in a world where bad things happen to good people and bad people prosper. They live in a world where the nuclear threat might be even more of a threat than when the Soviet Union was in the Cold war with us. They live in a world of sons in jail and husband’s wanting divorces. If we are going to present God’s truth to that world, we must look at the real world. Contemplate it, and understand it.
God’s Word and the Answer
And finally, if we are to preach to the real world, we must sit down and listen to what God has to say in God’s word. If we are to be effective preachers we must sit down and listen. And then after listening, we are ready to confront real issues with real solutions by God’s grace. And then our sermons won’t be the opiate that hides peoples problems behind a shout, but a mechanism for healing and hope in a world of hopelessness.