“Utmost importance!” That sounds serious! Just how important and how serious is the preacher’s personal spiritual growth and his personal time with the Lord? The purpose of this article is to address the importance and implementation of spiritual growth and personal time with God in the life of the text-driven preacher.
In John 15:4–5, Jesus could not have been clearer or more emphatic. In using the analogy of the vine and branches, Jesus declared that those who “abide” in him “bear much fruit” and that those who do not abide in him produce “nothing.” This makes “abiding” in Jesus extremely important and very serious. Abiding is the difference in bearing much fruit or producing nothing. Does this apply to the text-driven preacher and to text-driven preaching? Absolutely!
In using the analogy of the vine and branches, Jesus explained what he meant by abiding. The branch is attached to the vine and draws nourishment from the vine. As long as the branch is attached and drawing nourishment, it is healthy and growing. When the branch ceases to be attached and drawing nourishment, it dies.Gerald L. Borchert, John 12-21 in New American Commentary, Vol. 25B, ed. E. Ray Clendenen (B & H Publishers, 2002), 15:4–5, accessed through Wordsearch Bible Online; R. V. G. Tasker, The Gospel According to St. John: An Introduction and Commentary in Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 174–75.
This writer has a small garden behind his home in which he grows tomatoes and other summer treats. One of the processes with tomatoes is to prune the lower branches when the plant is young. When the branch is cut from the stalk, within minutes, it starts to wither. By the next day, it is completely withered.
The text-driven preacher must be one who stays attached to Jesus, constantly drawing nourishment from him in order to stay spiritually healthy and growing. According to Jesus, this will make the difference in bearing much fruit or nothing.
Having addressed the importance of the text-driven preacher’s growth or abiding in Jesus, how does the text-driven preacher apply or implement this? A brief look at two passages of Scripture will assist.
First, back to John 15:4–5. The text-driven preacher must understand “abiding” and seek to practice it. He must stay attached to Jesus and draw nourishment from him. What does this mean? There needs to be some focused time with Jesus, sitting at Jesus’ feet, drawing in close to him. As for drawing nourishment as abiding implies, prayer and time in the Word become essential. Personal time with the Lord is done through prayer and the Word. This writer calls it daily devotional time; others call it quiet time. Whatever the text-driven preacher calls it, he desperately needs it.
Will the study of the Word in sermon preparation suffice here? Even with the “text-driven” nature of good sermon preparation, this writer finds it very difficult to combine personal time with the Lord and sermon preparation. Personal time is focused on one’s own spiritual health and growth. Sermon preparation is focused on proclamation to others. Every follower of Jesus, especially the text-driven preacher, needs personal time with the Lord that is focused just on one’s own personal spiritual health and growth.
Now to 1 Timothy 4:–-8. The Apostle Paul called on Timothy to practice spiritual disciplines. With an imperative verb, gymnase from gymnaso, Paul instructed Timothy to “exercise yourself unto godliness.” The words gymnasium and gymnastics come from this word.Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, ed. Cleon L. Rogers, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1980), 626–27; Thomas D. Lea, and Hayne P. Griffin, Jr., 1, 2 Timothy, Titus in New American Commentary, ed. David S. Dockery (Broadman Press, 1992), 1 Timothy 4:7–8, accessed through Wordsearch Bible Online. This writer gets the idea of “train like a gymnast” from the word. The implication is often and diligently. To be healthy and to compete well, the gymnast must train often and diligently. Thus, the concept of spiritual disciplines. The text-driven preacher must practice spiritual disciples like a gymnast trains—often and diligently.
This writer uses eighteen spiritual disciplines to teach students about spiritual formation or personal discipleship. They are: daily devotions, journaling, Scripture memorization, accountability, character development, Bible intake, prayer, confession, church participation, worship, relating to/loving others, disciple-making, serving, stewardship, fasting, retreat, learning/study, and spiritual warfare.See Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Revised and Updated. With a Foreword by J. I. Packer (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1991; reprint 1997; revised and expanded 2014) and Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. Revised and Expanded (San Francisco: Harper and Row Publishers, 1988). Whitney named and discussed ten spiritual disciplines and mentioned others; Foster named and discussed twelve spiritual disciplines. This writer’s eighteen spiritual disciples were developed and adapted from Whitney’s and Foster’s and from his personal practice of spiritual disciplines. Many of these relate to personal time with the Lord.
Text-driven preaching is dependent upon a spiritually healthy and growing preacher. His personal time with the Lord is of utmost importance and determines his bearing much fruit or producing nothing. That is a very serious matter!