Wednesday, October 24, 2012


All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 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 3:16-4:2 ESV)

After preaching recently, I have a new understanding of this text. Early on in the preaching preparation process I realized that I did not have it in me to pour hours upon hours into this the way I used to. If I were to have anything useful to say, I would have to choose a text I’ve been ruminating on and marinating in for a long while. It seemed to work, as I was able to draw upon deep resources of reflection to put together a sermon on 2 Cor 4:7-5:5. I prepared, I put together thoughts into something bigger than the parts, but it never became “frenzied.” I never felt the pressure to read all the commentaries, consult the greek and find creative illustrations, probably because I knew from the start that I didn’t have the strength to do so. It was either going to be birthed out from me as an organic overflow, or it wouldn’t be birthed at all.

This dynamic is redefining my model not only for leadership opportunities, but simply of life as well. It ties back to the way we read Scripture and the way it forms and shapes us. Being “ready in season and out of season” means being increasingly saturated in the text and imaginative worldview of the kingdom of God so that when an opportunity presents itself, we are able to step into it with the truth, love and power of God. His words have become enfleshed in our language, behavior, thoughts and aspirations in such a way that they work themselves out in us living our day to day lives - “so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:10 ESV).

Perhaps our frenzied efforts to “get prepared” are more of a reflection of our own commitments to looking good and appearing smart, rather than actual God-saturated preparedness. The latter is much more organic, relational, and focused on process. The former is task driven and focused on end results above all. Such a teaching or preaching event can only be judged by “What did it accomplish?” and  “Were people saved, encouraged or convicted?” Such questions assume that there is a clear way to evaluate “success.” What often appears to be a response to God’s word on the surface often turns out to be nothing but pretense, a show we put on for others and for ourselves to convince everyone that we’re better off than we really are. In contrast, questions for a more organic process might be “What were you aware of during the process?” and “Where is God at work?”

I’m not sure what this means for the preacher or teacher who has to get up in front of people week after week with fresh messages. Perhaps it simply means a shift in understanding the preparation for such talks - do you really have to consult every commentary? Why do you feel such pressure? For myself, perhaps this just means that I am only qualified to preach about every 6-7 years, because that’s how long it takes for me to prepare!

This piece from Henri Nouwen helped me a great deal during the sermon preparation, and continues to speak to me:

"Often we're not as pressed for time as we feel we're pressed for time. I remember several years ago becoming so pressed by the demands of teaching at Yale that I took a prayer sabbatical to the Trappist monastery at Geneseo, New York. No teaching, lecturing, or counseling -- just solitude and prayer.

The second day there, a group of students from Geneseo College walked in and asked, "Henri, can you give us a retreat?"

Of course at the monastery that was not my decision, but I said to the abbot, "I came here from the university to get away from that type of thing. These students have asked for five meditations, an enormous amount of work and preparation. I don't want to do it."

"The abbot said, "You're going to do it."

"What do you mean? Why should I spend my sabbatical time preparing all those things?"

"Prepare?" he replied. "You've been a Christian for forty years and a priest for twenty, and a few high school students want to have a retreat. Why do you have to prepare? What those boys and girls want is to be a part of your life in God for a few days. If you pray half an hour in the morning, sing in our choir for an hour, and do your spiritual reading, you will have so much to say you could give ten retreats."

The question, you see, is not to prepare but to live in a state of ongoing preparedness so that, when someone who is drowning in the world comes into your world, you are ready to reach out and help. It may be at four o'clock, six o'clock, or nine o'clock. One time you call it preaching, the next time teaching, then counseling, or later administration. But let them be part of your life in God -- that's ministering."

--from "Time Enough to Minister" by Henri J.M. Nouwen in Leadership (Spring 1982) Quoted in A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants, Upper Room Books, 1983. Pp124.

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