Daniel 9:1-3 "In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of Median descent, who was made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans— 2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, observed in the books the number of the years which was revealed as the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. 3 So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes."
In our last post we considered how a preacher discerns the direction of preparing his sermons. The proper place to begin is prayer. The great 19th century preacher Phillip Brooks once defined preaching as: "truth poured through a personality". When I as a preacher come to the Biblical text, my aim is not to look for a sermon, lesson or subject to communicate. Instead, my aim in coming to the Bible is to meet with God and He with me. God speaks through the words of the Bible. They are God's Word - period. Jesus Christ, the living truth, points me, by His Spirit, to the written truth in the Bible. It is there where we seek to have such truth poured through our personalities - whether those personalities be behind the pulpit or in the pew.
In those sacred pages, the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ emerges in the shadows of Old Testament circumstances and in the life of the disciples and the church in the New Testament. Jesus meets me in that precious book - the Bible. When I come to the Lord in prayer, He meets me there as well. Thus, the Bible and prayer function like hand and glove. We begin with prayer, since our relationship and fellowship with God is priority - whether speaking of the preacher or the person in the pew.
In today's post, we want to move onto three considerations of what a preacher should do when discerning on what to preach. Prayer is where we begin. However, what should come logically and spiritually next? As a preacher of God's Word, the following considerations function together - much like three strands in a braided rope. They may come in the order I'll be writing them below or, they may fall in a different sequence - depending on the sermon, the text and the audience. The above opening text in today's post will serve as a model - since the prophet Daniel was a premier example of a man of prayer and a man of the Word.
1. Know at least one text that will address what is burdened on the heart of the preacher
Daniel had been in Babylon for 70 years. He came to Babylon with the Jewish exiles. In Daniel 1, Daniel is but a youth - likely 15 years of age. In Daniel 9, we find him as an 85 year old man. This is Daniel of the lion's den. This is Daniel, interpreter of dreams. Daniel never deviated from his devotion to the Lord. He set his life by the Jewish festivals which he had learned growing up in Jerusalem. His beloved city, and her temple had been desecrated by Nebuchadnezzer in the fall of Jerusalem in 586 b.c. The empire of Babylon had given away to Persia in 538 b.c.
Now Daniel was stirred in his spirit. 70 years had passed. A particular text was on Daniel's mind. A near contemporary of his - the prophet Jeremiah - had predicted not only the Babylonian exile, but also its duration - 70 years. Daniel had a text of scripture to make sense of his situation. A portion of that text is found in Jeremiah 29:10-12 -
“For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you."
The pastor or preacher, much like Daniel, can only discern God's voice to the degree he gives himself daily to the scripture. Years of exploring God's Word, preaching it or teaching it, will increase one's ability to know where to look when considering key texts that touch upon various subjects. Each preacher will have their favorite passages.
I have found that wherever a passage of scripture has impacted me the most is in those times when I'm going through a major event, decision or challenge in life. Whenever I find myself being the one being scrutinized and read by the Bible, rather than the other-way around, then I know I have discovered the text from which to preach.
2. What has the pastor read as of late that has connected with his heart and mind
Now we're not told when Daniel had read the portion which he read in Jeremiah 29. It may had been over a period of days or it may had been the focal point of his meditation during his sojourn in Babylon. By the time we come to Daniel 9, the Babylonian Empire had given away to the Persian Empire under Cyrus I. All Daniel knew was that the shift in circumstances (we will touch upon this particular point momentarily) brought back to him what he had read. The impact of what he read and his current situation intersected.
The preacher of God's word should be an avid reader. It can be the newspaper, a book, a news article on the internet. In various other books of the Bible, we find not only extracts of other passages of the Bible inserted (like what we find here in Daniel's quotation of Jeremiah), but also King's decrees (example, Nehemiah 2).
Whatever occupies a preacher's mind whenever he is not in the Bible will make its way into his mind and heart. As I have listened to great preachers over the years, or have read classic sermons by preachers like C.H Spurgeon, I have observed their quotations of poets, writers of their day, something they themselves heard or read. The great 5th century theologian Augustine of Hippo noted how all truth is God's truth.
Even though there is plenty of error and fluff to avoid in our world, there are still plenty of opportunities to find the general revelation of His truth, character and nature. The Apostle Paul, for instance, quoted secular poets in his sermon in Acts 17. As the preacher reads or listens, he ought to do so with the intent to understand what God is showing him through his reading.
3. Considering the current state of affairs in the world
One thing that a preacher ought to be doing is reading. It can be the newspaper, a book, a news article on the internet. In various other books of the Bible, we find not only extracts of other passages of the Bible inserted (like what we find here in Daniel's quotation of Jeremiah), but also King's decrees (example, Nehemiah 2).
In today's 21st century world, social-media floods us with information. The preacher is like the old prospectors who would situate themselves by the rivers and streams to pan for gold. It seems at times that with all the information we hear and see, very few gold nuggets are present. As the preacher reads or listens, he ought to do so with the intent to understand what God is showing him through his reading. The goal of all preaching ought to be to bring our world to the world of the Bible so that the world of the Bible can transform our world.
Today we considered further ways that a preacher can discern what needs to be preached. We looked at prayer as the place to begin. In addition to prayer, the preacher is to also note three other considerations: Biblical texts he knows that can address whatever subject he has on his heart; gleaning from whatever he has been reading; with a final consideration current events in the culture. All three of these areas (with the first leading the way) converge in differing measures to help the preach discern the direct he ought to go in preparing his sermon.