After I had preached about three weeks in the vicinity of Exmouth, I went to Teignmouth expecting to stay there ten days to preach the Word among the brethren. One young woman came to know Jesus Christ as her Savior that first evening. This blessed me because none of the resident ministers liked the sermon. The Lord judges so differently from man!
The next week, after preaching daily in the chapel, I was asked to stay and be their minister. Because of certain opposition, I decided to stay until I was formally rejected. I preached again on the Lord's day, although many did not enjoy hearing my sermon. Some people left and never returned. Others came to the chapel who had not been in the habit of attending before I came. A spirit of inquiry and a searching of the Scriptures suddenly began. People wanted to know whether the things I said were true. Most importantly, God set His seal of approval on the work by converting sinners.
I preached at this chapel as a visiting minister for twelve weeks. During this time, without my asking, the Lord graciously supplied my worldly needs through two brothers. When the twelve weeks were over, the eighteen member church unanimously invited me to become their pastor.
I now changed my opinion about the best method of preparing for public ministry of the Word. Rather than presuming to know what is best for the hearers, I ask the Lord to graciously teach me the subject I should speak about, or the portion of His Word I should explain. Sometimes will have a particular subject or passage on my mind before asking Him. If, after prayer, I feel persuaded that I should speak on that subject, I study it, but still leave myself open to the Lord to change it if He pleases.
Frequently, however, I have no subject in my mind before I pray. In this case, I wait on my knees for an answer, trying to listen for the voice of the Spirit to direct me. Then, if a passage of subject is brought to mind, I again ask the Lord if this is His will. Sometimes I ask repeatedly, especially if the subject or text is a difficult one. If after prayer, my mind is peaceful about it, I take this to be the text. But I still leave myself open to the Lord for direction, in case He decides to alter it, or if I have been mistaken.
Sometimes I still do not have a text after praying. At first I was puzzled by this, but I have learned to simply continue with my regular reading of the Scriptures, praying while I read for a text. I have had to read five, ten, even twenty chapters before the Lord has given me a text. Many times I have even had to go to the meeting place without a subject. But I have always obtained it, perhaps, only a few minutes before I was going to speak.
The Lord always helps me when I preach, provided I have earnestly sought Him in private. A preacher cannot know the hearts of the individuals in the congregation or what they need to hear. But the Lord knows; and if the preacher renounces his own wisdom, he will be assisted by the Lord. But if he is determined to choose a subject in his own wisdom, he should not be surprised when he sees little fruit resulting from his labors.
When I have obtained the text in the above way, whether it is a verse or a whole chapter or more, I ask the Lord to graciously teach me by His Holy Spirit while I meditate over the passages. I write down notes as the Word is opened to me to see how well I understand the passage. It is also useful to later refer to what I have written.
I seldom use any other study aids besides the Scriptures and some good translations in other languages. My chief help is prayer. Whenever I study a single part of divine truth, I always gain some light about it after praying and meditating over it. Extensive prayer is often difficult because of the weakness, of the flesh, physical infirmities, and a full schedule. But no one should expect to see much good resulting from his labors if he does not spend time in prayer and meditation.
I then leave myself entirely in the hands of the Lord, asking Him to bring to mind what I have learned in my prayer closet. He faithfully does this and often teaches me more while I am preaching. The preparation for the public ministry of the Word is even more excellent than preaching in church. To live in constant communion with the Lord, and to be habitually and frequently in meditation over the truth is Its own reward.
Expounding the Scriptures is most beneficial, especially when studying a whole gospel or epistle. This may be done either by entering minutely into the meaning of every verse or by giving the main points and leading the hearers to see the overall meaning of the whole book. Expounding the Scriptures encourages the congregation to bring their Bibles to church, and everything that leads believers to value the Scriptures is important.
This method of preaching is more beneficial to the hearers than if, on a single verse, some remarks are made so that the portion of Scripture is scarcely anything but a motto for the subject. Few people have grace to meditate for hours over the Word. Thus, exposition may open the Scriptures to them and create in them a desire to meditate for themselves. When they again read over the portion of the Word which has been expounded, they will remember what has been said. Thus, it leaves a more lasting impression on their minds.
Expounding large portions of the Word, such as an entire gospel or epistle, leads the teacher to consider portions of the Word which he might otherwise overlook. This keeps him from speaking too much on favorite subjects and leaning too much to particular parts of truth-a tendency which will surely sooner or later injure both himself and his hearers.
Simplicity in expression is of utmost importance. The teacher should speak so that even children and people who cannot read may be able to understand him, as far as the natural mind can comprehend the things of God. Every congregation has people of various educational and social backgrounds. The expounder of the truth of God speaks for God and for eternity. It is unlikely that he will benefit the hearers unless he uses plain speech.
If the preacher strives to speak according to the rules of this world, he may please many, particularly those who have a literary taste. But he is less likely to become an instrument in the hands of God for the conversion of sinners or for the building up of the saints. Neither eloquence nor depth of thought makes a truly great preacher. Only a life of prayer and meditation will render him a vessel ready for the Master's use and fit to be employed in the conversion of sinners and in the edification of the saints.
The anointing of the Holy Spirit helps me greatly when I preach. I would never attempt to teach the truth of God by my own power. One day before preaching at Teignmouth, I had more time than usual, so I prayed and meditated for Six hours in preparation for the evening meeting. After I had spoken a little while, I felt that I was speaking in my own strength rather than God's power. I told the brethren that I felt as though I was not preaching under the anointing and asked them to pray. After I continued a Little longer, I felt the same and therefore ended my sermon and proposed that we have a meeting for prayer. We did so, and I was particularly assisted by the Holy Spirit the next time I preached.
I am glad that I learned the importance of ministering in God's power alone. I can do all things through Christ, but without Him, I can accomplish nothing.