I must get this e-mail once a week. It comes from a local clinic that helps women in difficult pregnancies find alternatives to abortion. The e-mail I get is a prayer list, asking me to pray for these anonymous women and their unborn children. This week there were 14 women on the list, which is pretty much typical. As I scanned the requests it occurred to me that each of these women represented a human being who could be dead within two months. All of them are considering abortion, and to carry through on that choice would mean that their unborn babies would die.

What would you do if you received a message telling you that 14 people you do not know and will never meet could very well be dead before Christmas? I don’t know that I’ve ever thought of it like that before. I stopped in my tracks. I was overwhelmed. Here were 14 real human beings, fully alive, unknowingly facing the prospect of being killed in a matter of weeks; and that by the choice of the only person they’ve ever known.

I don’t know how anything has ever been more unjust than abortion. I really don’t. It used to make me angry, but now I just get sad. I’m sad that evangelicalism is trending away from this issue. I’m sad that something so clearly immoral has become so irreparably political. I’m sad that a lot of humans never get the chance to know what it’s like to breathe the air. I’m praying for these 14, that they will live to, quite literally, see the light of day.

Most Holy God, you are the Author and Creator of life. We bear your image by the mere fact of our existence. You have established the order of this world, including the method of procreation. You have knit each of us together in the wombs of our mothers. But millions are the souls who cry out from under your altar–the weakest of the weak, the smallest of the small, the truly forgotten and discarded. Their blood testifies against us. Bring justice for them, O God. Bring justice for the very least of all. Cause your Church to rise and remember, to engage and throw down this greatest of all evils. Tear down the idols of our hearts, and take your rightful place on your throne once again, O Great King of all. Amen.

Nothing is more important to the preacher, or to any Christian, than the Holy Spirit. He is “God with us”. The Spirit empowers us to live godly lives full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The Spirit sets us free from our slavery to sin. He reminds us of the words of Jesus, and helps us to walk humbly and obediently with the Triune God.

For preachers, the Spirit empowers us when we study and when we preach. He is with us through the whole process of sermon preparation. Some people have this understanding of the Spirit that he doesn’t show up until church starts. That’s ridiculous. He is with us, always. And he wants to be included in everything we do, especially when it relates to God’s word.

Do you pray when you sit down to study the Scriptures? Do you invite the Spirit to guide you as you do you exegesis? Do you ask him to lead you as you let ideas ruminate in your mind, or write them down on paper, or type them into the computer? Do you surrender your words, and your agenda, to the Spirit of God, praying that you would have the strength to take up his words and his agenda?

There have been times when I’ve done a lot of work on a sermon, even typed several pages of it, but then I got a sense that it wasn’t right. It wasn’t what the Spirit wanted to communicate to the church. There have even been times when I’ve tossed the whole sermon out as I was walking up to the pulpit. That’s always interesting. While that sort of thing is fine to do from time to time, I don’t want to live in that place. I want to make sure I’m actively and intentionally inviting the Holy Spirit into the sermon process from the very beginning. Preaching without the presence and power of the Holy Spirit is nothing more than public communication.

There are good trees and bad trees. The bad trees are nothing more than overgrown weeds. They seek to strangle the good trees, and steal all of the nutrients from the soil. Unlike the good trees, they don’t add anything of value to the ecosystem. They are thieves. But the roots of the bad trees run just as deep as the roots of the good trees.

It’s not enough to simply cut off the bad tree at the trunk. You have not killed it. You have only made it smaller, less of an eyesore. In order to kill the bad tree, you have to remove it by its roots. You have to destroy that which feeds it. This is, by far, the more difficult task. Killing the bad tree means digging, cutting, pulling, twisting, sweating, bleeding. It is a job that requires friends. You cannot do it alone.

If you do not remove the bad tree by its roots, it will choke out all of the good trees. They will die from beneath the surface, becoming only hollow trunks, shadows of their former selves. And when the storm comes, the good trees will fall to the ground, and all the dirt will be swept away revealing only the mangled, complex, horrifying, untouched root system of the bad tree.

Exegesis is another one of those big, fancy words that seminary types (like me!) like to throw around to make themselves sound smart. It literally means “to guide out of”, and we use it to mean the process of finding the original, intended meaning of a passage of Scripture. When we exegete, we’re trying to pull the meaning out of the text, rather than reading our meaning into it.

This process is hard work, but you cannot take short cuts. This is, after all, the Word of God we’re dealing with here. You kinda want to be sure you’re getting it right. It’s truly amazing where good exegesis will take you as you prepare your sermon.

Several years ago I taught basic exegetical practices to a small group of guys, and then asked them to prepare a short sermon on their favorite Bible passage. The results were amazing! Each one of those guys delivered rock-solid Bible messages, complete with sound interpretation and meaningful, Spirit-led application. It was an eye-opening experience for me because I saw, first hand, the power of learning how to study the Bible well.

As you prepare your sermon, take your time with the text. Don’t rush the process. Invite the Spirit to be with you in your time of study. If you don’t know how to do proper exegesis, pick up one of these books:

Grasping God’s Word | Duvall & Hays
How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth | Fee & Stuart

I urge you, as a preacher of God’s Word, to let God speak through his Word. Commit yourself to treating the Bible with integrity and honor, to say what it says, and not what you want it to say or think it should say. The Bible really does cut to the heart, and it has the power to transform lives. By doing proper exegesis, you can unleash that power.

It used to be that a good sermon had anywhere from three to five points, and if the sermon was especially great, those points all started with the same letter, or rhymed, or something else totally rockin’ like that. But I’m convinced that style of preaching doesn’t fly with post-modern audiences. It feels forced and artificial.

Today, the best sermons have one point. You say one thing, and say it well. You exegete the text not so that you can make a series of points, but so that you can deliver the overall meaning, and then apply that to the specific circumstances of your congregation.

One of the images that helps me as I prepare my sermons is a bullet. Bullets are streamlined, smooth, and come to a lethal point. They find a single target and take it down. The opposite of a bullet is buckshot. Buckshot spreads out all over the place and doesn’t have that laser-like focus on a single target. Preaching with buckshot is scattered, hard to follow, and overall ineffective. You want to preach with a bullet.

I know the violent language may turn some people off, but one way to think about preaching is as an assassin of the “old man”. Paul talks about crucifying, with Jesus, the person we used to be. Our old ways of living and being must die. Preaching the word of God is a kind of killing (and, hopefully, a kind of raising to new life in Christ). Thinking about your sermon as a bullet may seem morbid and violent to you, but preaching is, and should be, an act of violence against the kingdom of darkness and the ways in which we still obey that darkness. You’re not going to sweet talk anybody out of hell. You’ll need bullets. Lots of them.