Favorite Quotes on Bible Study


“Body parts make sense only in relation to a whole human; and every Bible text is understood only in relation to the whole Bible.” ~ F.F. Bruce

“The analogy of faith is the rule that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.”  ~ R.C. Sproul

“Isn’t is amazing that almost everyone has an opinion to offer about the Bible, and yet so few have studied it?” ~ R.C. Sproul

“When there’s something in the Word of God that I don’t like, the problem is not with the Word of God, it’s with me.” ~ R.C. Sproul

“We fail in our duty to study God’s Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy.” ~ R.C. Sproul

“One of the great realities of the Bible is the way its story connects with our story at our point of deepest need.” ~ Anonymous

“The shortest road to an understanding of the Bible is the acceptance of the fact that God is speaking in every line.” ~ Donald G. Barnhouse

“We do not worship the Bible, but in the Word of God written, in a sense we have God in a book. In Jesus, we have God in a body. In the Bible, God is on a page. In Jesus God is a person. In the Bible, God is on a leaf; in Jesus, God is in a life. The living and the printed word, then are twin records of God in this world.” ~ John Bisagno

“If you reject the Bible, you will reject Jesus Christ. If you believe the Bible, you will accept Him. He is the subject of it.” ~ James Montgomery Boice

“Don’t say God is silent when your Bible is closed.” ~ Matt Brown

“Rebellion against the Word of God is rebellion against the God whose word it is.” ~ Kevin DeYoung

“If I can twist the Bible to make it say anything I want it to then it is no longer God speaking to me, it’s just me talking to myself.” ~ Joshua Harris

“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” ~ Jerome

“The fact that God’s Word is alive can be seen in the life it produces in all who take it up and act on its instructions.” ~ Walter Kaiser

“The Bible tells us foolishness is a proud willfulness that keeps us from learning, form seeing the evidence.” ~ Tim Keller

“Unless you have an authoritative view of the Bible, you’ve got a God you created and you’re going to be lonely.” ~ Tim Keller

“The Bible says that our real problem is that every one of us is building our identity on something besides Jesus.”  ~ Tim Keller

“If we believe he is who he said he was, then we must accept the entire Bible as God’s word.” ~ Tim Keller

“So Jesus’ authority & the absolute authority of the Bible stand or fall together.” Tim Keller

“If you only obey God’s Word when it seems reasonable or profitable to you – well, that isn’t really obedience at all.” ~ Tim Keller

“When you’re interpreting the Scriptures, the clear parts should inform the murkier parts.” ~ Tim Keller

“We need to remember to rely not only the Word of the Lord, but also on the Lord of the Word.” ~ Tim Keller

“We need to see the Bible as a Story with principles sprinkled throughout, as opposed to a book of doctrines sprinkled with stories.” ~ Tim Keller

“There are, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: Is it basically about me or basically about Jesus?” ~ Tim Keller

“If Jesus didn’t think he could handle life without knowing the Scripture inside and out, what makes you think you can?” ~ Tim Keller

“It can, and perhaps ought to be, read cover to cover—as you might read any other book. In fact, the Bible can be read, at a speaking speed, in approximately eighty hours. This means it takes no more than thirteen minutes per day to read through the Bible from start to finish in a year; this is less time than is given over to commercials in one hour of television.” ~ Jerry Root , Introduction in the C.S. Lewis Study Bible, p. xxii.

“Ignorance of Scripture is the root of every error in religion, and the source of every heresy.” ~ J.C. Ryle

“Scripture is not man-centered as though salvation were the main theme, but it is God-centered because His glory is the center.” ~ C. Ryrie

“The Bible teaches that salvation is not an end in itself but is rather a means to the end of glorifying God.” ~ C.C. Ryrie

“We come to Scripture each day to discover where we are not listening, not assure ourselves we are right.” ~ Pete Scazzero

“Only a strong view of Scripture can withstand the pressure of relativistic thinking.” ~ Francis Schaeffer

“If we believe the Bible is the Word of God, it’s natural not to want to miss a word of it.” ~ R.C. Sproul

“Take away the Scriptures and you take away Jesus, take away Jesus and you take away life.” ~ R.C. Sproul

“The more I expose myself to the Word of God, the greater my faith will be.” ~ R. C. Sproul

“The word of God can be in the mind without being in the heart, but it cannot be in the heart without first being in the mind.” ~ R.C. Sproul

“There is an inseparable relationship between your affection for Christ and your affection for the Scriptures.” ~ R.C. Sproul

“The greatest weakness in the church today is no one believes that God invests His power in the Bible. Everyone is looking for power in a program, in a methodology, in a technique, in anything but that in which God has placed it—His Word.” ~ R.C. Sproul

“I think the greatest weakness in the church today is that almost no one believes that God invests His power in the Bible. Everyone is looking for power in a program, in a methodology, in a technique, in anything and everything but that in which God has placed it—His Word. He alone has the power to change lives for eternity, and that power is focused on the Scriptures.”  ~ R.C. Sproul

“The Word of God, whether it is preached and heard or read and memorized, is more than simply true. It is effectual.” ~ Sam Storms

“The Bible isn’t about people trying to discover God, but about God reaching out to find us.” ~ John R.W. Stott

“The Word of God comes to us most effectively in the context of community.” ~ Steve Timmis

“The Bible is a narrative, it tells us everything we need to know about mid-life concerns. The Bible is the great story of redemption that encompasses the stories of every human life. It is the overarching ‘everything’ story. It is comprehensive in scope without being exhaustive in content. It gives us wisdom for everything without directly discussing every particular thing.” (Paul Tripp, Lost In the Middle, Loc. 74)

Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thy house, and upon thy gates. — Moses, in Deuteronomy 6:4-9

We fail in our duty to study God’s Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy. — R.C. Sproul

To get the full flavor of an herb, it must be pressed between the fingers, so it is the same with the Scriptures; the more familiar they become, the more they reveal their hidden treasures and yield their indescribable riches. — John Chrysostom, A.D. 347-407

The New Testament lies hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.— Augustine, A.D. 354-430

Though our covetous clerics are altogether carried away by bribery, heresy, and many other sins, and though they despise and oppose the scripture, as much as they can, yet the common people cry out for the scripture, to know it, and obey it, with great cost and peril to their lives — Prologue to the Wyclif Bible, c. 1395.

Mark the plain and manifest places of the Scriptures, and in doubtful places see thou add no interpretation contrary to them; but (as Paul saith) let all be conformable and agreeing to the faith. — William Tyndale, Preface to the New Testament, 1526.

Our malicious and wily hypocrites … with wresting the scripture unto their own purpose clean contrary unto the process, order, and meaning of the text … so delude [the laymen] in descanting upon it with allegories, and amaze them expounding it in many senses before the unlearned lay people (when it hath but one simple literal sense whose light the owls cannot abide), that though thou feel in thine heart and art sure how that all is false that they say, yet couldest thou not solve their subtle riddles. Which thing only moved me to translate the New Testament. Because I had perceived by experience, how that it was impossible to stablish the lay people in any truth, except the scripture were plainly laid before their eyes in their mother tongue, that they might see the process, order, and meaning of the text. — William Tyndale, Preface to the Pentateuch, 1530.

Again, it shall greatly help thee to understand scripture, if thou mark not only what is spoken or written, but of whom, and unto whom, with what words, at what time, where, to what intent, with what circumstance, considering what goeth before, and what followeth after. For there be some things which are done and written, to the intent that we should do likewise: as when Abraham believeth God, is obedient unto his word, and defendeth Lot his kinsman from violent wrong. There be some things also which are written, to the intent that we should eschew such like. As when David lieth with Urias’ wife, and causeth him to be slain. Therefore (I say) when thou readest scripture, be wise and circumspect: and when thou commest to such strange manners of speaking and dark sentences, to such parables and similitudes, to such dreams or visions as are hid from thy understanding, commit them unto God or to the gift of his holy spirit in them that are better learned than thou. — Miles Coverdale, Preface to the Bible, 1535.

But still ye will say I can not understand it. What marvel? How shouldest thou understand, if thou wilt not read, nor look upon it? Take the books into thine hands, read the whole story, and that thou understandest, keep it well in memory; that thou understandest not, read it again, and again. If thou can neither so come by it, counsel with some other that is better learned. Go to thy curate and preacher; show thyself to be desirous to know and learn, and I doubt not but God – seeing thy diligence and readiness (if no man else teach thee) – will himself vouchsafe with his holy spirit to illuminate thee, and to open unto thee that which was locked from thee. — Thomas Cranmer, Preface to the Great Bible, 1540.

And considering how hard a thing it is to understand the holy Scriptures, and what errors, sects, and heresies grow daily for lack of the true knowledge thereof, and how many are discouraged (as they pretend) because they cannot attain to the true and simple meaning of the same, we have also endeavored both by the diligent reading of the best commentaries, and also by the conference with the godly and learned brethren, to gather brief annotations upon all the hard places, as well for the understanding of such words as are obscure, and for the declaration of the text, as for the application of the same as may most appertain to God’s glory and the edification of his Church. — Geneva Bible Preface, 1560.

For though, whatsoever things are necessary are manifest, as S. Chrysostom saith, and as S. Augustine, In those things that are plainly set down in the Scriptures, all such matters are found that concern Faith, Hope, and Charity. Yet for all that it cannot be dissembled, that partly to exercise and whet our wits, partly to wean the curious from loathing of them for their every-where plainness, partly also to stir up our devotion to crave the assistance of God’s spirit by prayer, and lastly, that we might be forward to seek aid of our brethren by conference, and never scorn those that be not in all respects so complete as they should be, being to seek in many things ourselves, it hath pleased God in his divine providence, here and there to scatter words and sentences of that difficulty and doubtfulness … — King James Version Preface, 1611.

I want to know one thing, the way to heaven: how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price give me the Book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri. Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone; only God is here. In his presence I open, I read his book; for this end, to find the way to heaven. Is there a doubt concerning the meaning of what I read? Does any thing appear dark or intricate? I lift up my heart to the Father of Lights. “Lord, is it not thy word, If any man lack wisdom, let him ask it of God? Thou givest liberally and upbraidest not. Thou hast said, if any be willing to do thy will, he shall know. I am willing to do. Let me know thy will.” I then search after and consider parallel passages of Scripture, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. I meditate thereon, with all the attention and earnestness of which my mind is capable. If any doubt still remain, I consult those who are experienced in the things of God: And then, the writings whereby being dead, they yet speak. And what I thus learn, that I teach. —John Wesley, Preface to Sermons on Several Occasions, 1746.

In the language of the sacred writings, we may observe the utmost depth, together with the utmost ease. All the elegancies of human composures sink into nothing before it: God speaks not as man, but as God. His thoughts are very deep; and thence his words are of inexhaustible virtue. And the language of his messengers also, is exact in the highest degree: for the words which were given them accurately answered the impression made upon their minds: and hence Luther says, “divinity is nothing but a grammar of the language of the Holy Ghost.” To understand this throughly, we should observe the emphasis which lies on every word; the holy affections expressed thereby, and the tempers shewn by every writer. — John Wesley, Preface to the New Testament, 1754.

THIS BOOK contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe and practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveller’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword and the Christian’s charter. Here paradise is restored, heaven opened and the gates of hell disclosed. Christ is its grand object, our good is its design and the glory of God its end. It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, and a river of pleasure. It is given you in life, will be opened in the judgement, and will be remembered forever. It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the greatest labour, and will condemn all who trifle with its sacred contents. — Anonymous

Born in the East and clothed in Oriental form and imagery, the Bible walks the ways of all the world with familiar feet, and enters land after land to find its own everywhere. It has learned to speak in hundreds of languages to the heart of man. It comes into the palace to tell the monarch that he is a servant of the Most High, and into the cottage to assure the peasant that he is a son of God. Children listen to its stories with wonder and delight, and wise men ponder them as parables of life. It has a word of peace for the time of peril, a word of comfort for the time of calamity, a word of light for the hour of darkness. Its oracles are repeated in the assembly of the people, and its counsels whispered in the ear of the lonely. The wicked and the proud tremble at its warnings, but to the wounded and the penitent it has a mother’s voice. The wilderness and the solitary place have been made glad by it, and the fire on the hearth has lit the reading of its well-worn pages. It has woven itself into our dearest dreams; so that love, friendship, sympathy and devotion, memory and hope put on the beautiful garments of its treasured speech, breathing of frankincense and myrrh. — Henry van Dyke

The Bible is a corridor between two eternities down which walks the Christ of God; His invisible steps echo through the Old Testament, but we meet Him face to face in the throne room of the New; and it is through that Christ alone, crucified for me, that I have found forgiveness for sins and life eternal. The Old Testament is summed up in the word Christ; the New Testament is summed up in the word Jesus; and the summary of the whole Bible is that Jesus is the Christ. — Bishop Pollock

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them … The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly. — Westminster Confession of Faith, 1647.

In order to be able to expound the Scriptures, and as an aid to your pulpit studies, you will need to be familiar with the commentators: a glorious army, let me tell you, whose acquaintance will be your delight and profit. Of course, you are not such wiseacres as to think or say that you can expound Scripture without assistance from the works of divines and learned men who have laboured before you in the field of exposition. If you are of that opinion, pray remain so, for you are not worth the trouble of conversion, and like a little coterie who think with you, would resent the attempt as an insult to your infallibility. It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others. — C.H. Spurgeon, Commenting and Commentaries, 1890.

Men must interpret to the best of their ability each particular part of Scripture separately, and then combine all that the Scriptures teach upon every subject into a consistent whole, and then adjust their teachings upon different subjects in mutual consistency as parts of a harmonious system. Every student of the Bible must do this, and all make it obvious that they do it by the terms they use in their prayers and religious discourse, whether they admit or deny the propriety of human creeds and confessions. If they refuse the assistance afforded by the statements of doctrine slowly elaborated and defined by the Church, they must make out their own creed by their own unaided wisdom. The real question is not, as often pretended, between the word of God and the creed of man, but between the tried and proved faith of the collective body of God’s people, and the private judgment and the unassisted wisdom of the repudiator of creeds.— A. A. Hodge, A Short History of Creeds and Confessions, 1869.

Every one who knows what it is to give a lesson or an address occasionaly on Scripture is aware how the verse or paragraph on which he has had to prepare himself to speak stands out in his Bible afterwards from the rest of the text, as if its letters were embossed on the page. Something thus to awaken the mind and concentrate the attention should be devised by every one; because it is not mere reading, but meditation — “meditation all the day,” as the Psalmist says — which extracts the sweetness and the power out of Scripture. — Dr. James Stalker, How to Study the Bible, 1895.

I had then, and at other times, the greatest delight in the holy Scriptures, of any book whatsoever. Oftentimes in reading it, every word seemed to touch my heart. I felt a harmony between something in my heart, and those sweet powerful words. I seemed often to see so much light, exhibited by every sentence, and such a refreshing ravishing food communicated, that I could not get along in reading. Used oftentimes to dwell long on one sentence, to see the wonders contained in it; and yet almost every sentence seemed to be full of wonders. — Jonathan Edwards, quoted in Jonathan Edwards and the Bible by Robert E. Brown (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), p.3.

Again, we are taught by this passage [John 5:39-40], that if we wish to obtain the knowledge of Christ, we must seek it from the Scriptures; for they who imagine whatever they choose concerning Christ will ultimately have nothing of him but a shadowy phantom. First, then, we ought to believe that Christ cannot be properly known in any other way than from the Scriptures; and if it be so, it follows that we ought to read the Scriptures with the express design of finding Christ in them. Whoever shall turn aside from this object, though he may weary himself throughout his whole life in learning, will never attain the knowledge of the truth; for what wisdom can we have without the wisdom of God? Next, as we are commanded to seek Christ in the Scriptures, so he declares in this passage that our labors shall not be fruitless; for the Father testifies in them concerning his Son in such a manner that He will manifest him to us beyond all doubt. But what hinders the greater part of men from profiting is, that they give to the subject nothing more than a superficial and cursory glance. Yet it requires the utmost attention, and, therefore, Christ enjoins us to search diligently for this hidden treasure. Consequently, the deep abhorrence of Christ which is entertained by the Jews, who have the Law constantly in their hands, must be imputed to their indolence. For the lustre of the glory of God shines brightly in Moses, but they choose to have a vail to obscure that lustre. — John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel of John (1563).

So then, from this we must gather that to profit much in the holy Scripture we must always resort to our Lord Jesus Christ and cast our eyes upon him, without turning away from him at any time. You will see a number of people who labor very hard indeed at reading the holy Scriptures — they do nothing else but turn over the leaves of it, and yet after ten years they have as much knowledge of it as if they had never read a single line. And why? Because they do not have any particular aim in view, they only wander about. And even in worldly learning you will see a great number who take pains enough, and yet all to no purpose, because they kept neither order nor proportion, nor do anything else but gather material from this quarter and from that, by means of which they are always confused and can never bring anything worthwhile. And although they have gathered together a number of sentences of all sorts, yet nothing of value results from them. Even so it is with them that labor in reading the holy Scriptures and do not know which is the point they ought to rest on, namely, the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.— John Calvin, Sermon on Ephesians 2:19-22 (1559).

Heresy is not so much rejecting as selecting. The heretic simply selects the parts of the Scripture he wants to emphasize and lets the rest go. This is shown by the etymology of the word heresy and by the practice of the heretic. “Beware,” an editorial scribe of the fourteenth century warned his readers in the preface to a book. “Beware thou take not one thing after thy affection and liking, and leave another: for that is the condition of an heretique. But take everything with other.” The old scribe knew well how prone we are to take to ourselves those parts of the truth that please us and ignore the other parts. And that is heresy. —A. W. Tozer, We Travel An Appointed Way.

One does not hear God’s word of grace in the Scriptures unless he has decided that this is the word he really needs and wants to hear. He must decide that as he hears he is prepared to submit to the voice of God, to be judged by it and to have it challenge all that he knows and intends. He must understand that what he hears the Bible say can change his very life. Therefore, he cannot come to the New Testament as the disputer, the wise man, the judge over the word of God. He can come only as the child who needs to be made wise by the Wisdom of God (I Cor. 1:18-31). —Glenn W. Barker, The New Testament Speaks (New York: Harper & Row, 1969), p. 18.

It is strange how powerful is the tradition of the pulpit; how often able and thoughtful men will go all their lives taking for granted that an important passage has that meaning which in youth they heard ascribed to it, when the slightest examination would show them that it is far otherwise. —John A. Broadus, A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons

When I Read the Bible Through

by Amos R. Wells

I supposed I knew my Bible
Reading piecemeal, hit and miss,
Now a bit of John or Matthew,
Now a snatch of Genesis,
Certain chapters of Isaiah
Certain Psalms (the twenty-third);
Twelfth of Romans, First of Proverbs
Yes, I thought I knew the Word;
But I found that thorough reading
Was a different thing to do,
And the way was unfamiliar
When I read the Bible through.

Oh, the massive, mighty volume!
Oh, the treasures manifold!
Oh, the beauty of the wisdom
And the grace it proved to hold!
As the story of the Hebrews
Swept in majesty along,
As it leaped in waves prophetic,
As it burst to sacred song,
As it gleamed with Christly omens,
The Old Testament was new,
Strong with cumulative power,
When I read the Bible through.

Ah! Imperial Jeremiah,
With his keen, coruscant mind;
And the blunt old Nehemiah,
And Ezekiel refined!
Newly came the song idyllic,
And the tragedy of Job;
Deuteronomy, the regal,
To a towering mountain grew,
With its comrade peaks around it
When I read the Bible through.

What a radiant procession
As the pages rise and fall,
James the sturdy, John the tender
Oh, the myriad-minded Paul!
Vast apocalyptic glories
Wheel and thunder, flash and flame,
While the church triumphant raises
One incomparable name.
Ah, the story of the Saviour
Never glows supremely true
Till you read it whole and swiftly,
Till you read the Bible through.

You who like to play at Bible,
Dip and dabble, here and there,
Just before you kneel, aweary,
And yawn thro’ a hurried prayer;
You who treat the Crown of Writings
As you treat no other book
Just a paragraph disjointed,
Just a crude, impatient look
Try a worthier procedure,
Try a broad and steady view;
You will kneel in very rapture
When you read the Bible through.

Tolle lege

A man was looking for some guidance from God so he asked God to make his Bible open at the page He wanted him to read. So the man opened his bible randomly and the first verse that his eyes met was 2 Corinthians 13:12, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” A little discouraged he tried again and this time he found himself at 1 Corinthians 14:39 “Do not forbid the use of tongues.”

He tried again the next day, and the first verse he found was Matthew 27:5, “he went and hanged himself.” The next verse was Luke 10:37, “… go and do likewise!”

The Spiritual Importance of Becoming an Emotionally Healthy Preacher


 Preaching Today Interview with Peter Scazzero

[All preachers know that we need to prepare our souls to preach, but what exactly needs to enter into that preparation? Obviously it is not enough simply to punch the clock in prayer for a certain period of time, so what should we pray about? How do we discern the condition of our own souls? In this insightful interview with Peter Scazzero, author of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (Nelson) and The Emotionally Healthy Church (Zondervan), we learn specifics about essential places to turn our attention as we prepare our hearts to proclaim God’s Word – I believe the two books mentioned above should be MUST reading for elders, pastors, deacons and leadership teams in churches].

PreachingToday.com: You’ve written two books on what you call emotionally healthy spirituality. Could you provide a brief overview of what you mean by that term and why it’s important?

Peter Scazzero: Basically, it’s a paradigm for how ordinary Christians can experience real transformation in Christ. It’s taking people beyond outward changes and moving into the depths of their interior life in order to be transformed.

We look at this process in two broad strokes. First, we say that every Christian should have a contemplative life. Simply put, that means that each follower of Christ needs to cultivate a deep relationship with Christ—without living off other people’s spiritual lives. That requires slowing down and structuring your whole life in such a way that Christ really becomes your Center.

Secondly, emotionally healthy spirituality means that emotional maturity and spiritual maturity go hand in hand. It’s simply not possible to become spiritually mature while you remain emotionally immature. And emotional maturity really boils down to one thing: love. So if you’re critical, defensive, touchy, unapproachable, insecure—telltale signs of emotional immaturity—you can’t be spiritually mature. It doesn’t matter how “anointed” you are or how much Bible knowledge you have. Love is that indispensable mark of maturity. Emotionally healthy spirituality unpacks what that looks like.

Why is there such a glaring need for this approach to our life in Christ?

I think it addresses some missing components in the way we approach discipleship, especially in the West. We can be very intellectually driven. We can also be driven by success and big numbers, so the idea of living contemplatively—sitting at the feet of Jesus like Mary in Luke 10—feels very counter-cultural to many of us. It’s counter to our church culture as well, especially if you’re a pastor. That’s why this has such a huge impact on preaching: it starts with the transformation of the person in the pulpit.

So how does emotionally healthy spirituality change a pastor’s approach to preaching?

That’s probably best summed up by the 13th-century theologian Thomas Aquinas, who said that all of our preaching or teaching should be the fruit of contemplation. In other words, as a preacher I don’t just study and exegete a text; I don’t just find good stories to illustrate the text; I also let it pass through my life in such a significant way that the Word has transformed me—not just on the surface but in the depths of my heart. I am a different person because I’ve been steeping in this text all week long. I’ve sat at the feet of Jesus. That’s the fruit of contemplation.

To me, that’s the foundational issue for preachers. In my travels throughout North America, I think the great problem with preaching today is that most pastors don’t take the biblical text and sit with Jesus. So we’re preaching “great” sermons—clever, interesting sermons—but I’m not sure those sermons are changing people’s lives on a deep level.

So how do we see real transformation in people’s lives through our preaching?

Again, it begins with the preacher. To change people’s lives deeply through the Word, the preacher’s life has to be transformed first by that Word. At this point in my ministry I rarely preach on a text that I haven’t been meditating on all week long—and the goal is to allow God to transform me, not just write a good sermon. So before I get up to preach, the text needs to have changed me first.

For instance, I went for a four-mile walk today, and the whole time I was meditating and praying about my preaching text—the story from Mark about blind Bartimaeus. At times I was struggling with the text, wrestling with how it intersects with my life. By the time I get in the pulpit, I’ve often memorized the passage. Of course I still do my Greek and my Hebrew word studies, but as I enter my 26th year of preaching, I spend a lot more time praying the Word before God. I spend more time asking and listening to him about how he wants me to approach the text.

In your books you say that our lives are often like an iceberg—there’s a lot underneath the surface, but it’s largely hidden from us. How does that apply to what you’re saying about our preparation for preaching?

As preachers the problem is that we usually don’t take the time to look beneath the surface of our lives, at the rest of the iceberg, the 90 percent that people can’t see. I know that I can easily ignore the immaturity and worldliness in my heart. As a result, I can diminish my preaching text because I’m stunted in my own relationship with Jesus. But when we wrestle with a biblical text, when we let it explore the hidden parts of our lives—that’s when real transformation starts to happen.

“If I’m too concerned about what people think of me and how the sermon is going to come off, I don’t think I’m ready to preach.”

For example, a couple of weeks ago I preached on John 21, where Jesus tells Peter, “I tell you the truth, when you were younger, you dressed yourself and went where you wanted, but when you’re older you will stretch forth your hand and someone else will dress you and lead you where you don’t want to go.” Before I preached that verse, I had to let it sink into my own life. As I prayed about that verse, listening to the voice of Jesus to me through that verse, I realized how often I make plans without consulting him. God started peeling off the layers of my false self: Pete, are you really looking for happiness in security, control, and power, like Peter? Like him, are you just trying to do your own thing and go your own way?

I had to wrestle with the fact that a big chunk of my ministry has been focused on my will. In the end, God brought me to a new place of surrender to him and to his will.

Every week I need to listen to the Lord like that. The Word needs to pass deep into my life—underneath the surface. And that will bear fruit in my preaching. I can’t get that from a book. You can’t read that in a commentary.

Do you think part of our emotional-spiritual immaturity comes from getting too wrapped up in the preacher’s role—that our identity is tied too closely to our sermonic success?

Absolutely. Number one, I need to be preaching to myself first. So every week I need to remind myself that I stand before God based on the righteousness of Christ alone, not on whether I preached a good sermon. So if someone says, “That sermon stunk,” or “That sermon didn’t hit the mark for me,” I don’t need to get depressed or defensive. I can just say, “Okay, tell me why it didn’t hit the mark for you.” I don’t expect to hit a home run every week. I offer God the best I have, and I let the rest go.

One of the best things I have to offer people is what God is doing in my life through this text. I look for a clear outline with solid points and good illustrations, but they’re not my highest priority. My highest priority is to be centered in the love of Christ. If I’m too concerned about what people think of me and how the sermon is going to come off, I don’t think I’m ready to preach that sermon.

Since you started focusing more on transformational preaching, what other changes have you seen in your sermon preparation?

I definitely spend a lot more time thinking and praying through the sermon application. What difference will this make in people’s lives? What does this passage say to the single mom, the stressed-out executive, or the questioning teenager? When people walk out the door, what are they going to do with this text?

Often I see two extremes in sermon application. There’s the ultra-practical, how-to, “Four Steps to a Happy Marriage” type of sermon that’s almost all application. Those sermons are often theologically and historically empty. But then there’s also the exegetically correct sermon that has little practical, everyday application. These preachers haven’t allowed the text to pass through their own lives.

For example, when I’m preaching on blind Bartimaeus, I have to think about the fact that we have six blind people in our congregation. How does this passage apply to their lives? My point can’t just be that Jesus heals the blind, so come and get healed right now. I need to wrestle with this text and apply it to the lives of these real people. That’s hard work—whether your church is rural, suburban, or urban. It takes time. Honestly, I’m not sure how I’m going to apply this text, but I know I need to apply it to myself first. At this point in my sermon prep I can sure relate to the people in the crowd who kept telling Bartimaeus to shut up. I also want to be more like Bartimaeus—desperately crying out to Jesus even when everyone around me is telling me to be quiet. Those are definitely points to explore as I seek to apply this text.

In one of your recent blog posts you wrote, “Unknowingly, some pastors use their flock as extensions of their own needs and ambitions.” How do you think pastors can “use their flock” when it comes to preaching?

I’ve often heard preachers say things like, “I have a fire in my bones, and I have to preach.” But if you look underneath the surface of their lives, they’re preaching has a lot to do with their own issues and needs. They are thinking about how they’re performing: What do people think of me? Did people like my sermon today? If that is the case, the whole process of preaching focuses on us, not God and his people.

It happens in subtle ways, too. A while ago I had to pull aside one of the guys in our preaching team and say, “I have to tell you that you crossed a line in your sermon last week. At one point you were really funny, and you had people rolling, but it seemed like you started working the crowd on a level that wasn’t appropriate.” It wasn’t a terrible issue, but it definitely felt show-offy—and it detracted from the flow of what God wanted to do through him.

As I look back on my own preaching, I wish I would have had someone to pull me aside and help me look underneath the surface of my life as a preacher. I learned so many things the hard way. Now I constantly tell younger preachers, “If you want to be a great preacher, learn Greek and Hebrew, learn a lot about church history; but first and foremost, learn to be with Jesus, develop a deep prayer life, know yourself well and learn to love people.” I’ve heard some brilliant sermons, but it didn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the sermon was more focused on the person in the pulpit.

But how do you preach powerful sermons when you know you haven’t arrived yet, when you know your life is still raw or immature? Let’s say you’re preaching on forgiveness, and you’re struggling to forgive someone as you prepare the sermon. How should you approach that as a preacher?

That’s the real beauty of preaching! Those are the most powerful sermons—when we know we’re still in the process of growing in Christ. That’s when God can really show up. You’re going to preach the truth—the truth about Scripture and the truth about your life. Obviously, you’re not going to say, “I’m struggling to forgive Joe Jones in the fourth row because he sent me a nasty letter this week.” But during my sermon prep I’m going to feel the hurts of life—pastors take a lot of hits—and I’m going to feel how impossible it is to forgive anyone. I can’t do it in my own strength. Left to myself, I don’t love my enemies.

That’s why brokenness before God is so crucial in our preaching. Obviously, I hope I have some spiritual maturity, but on the other hand there are probably people in my church who are further ahead of me on the path of forgiveness—or many other issues. I’m not up in the pulpit saying I have this all figured out. In my preaching I’m always communicating: I’m a fellow traveler just like all of you. God has been teaching me some things through this text, and I’m struggling with this truth just as you are. I stand by the grace of God just as you do. You better not put me on a pedestal because I’m not worthy of being on a pedestal. If you put me on a pedestal, you’ll be disappointed.

But you can still speak God’s Word with authority. You can preach on forgiving your enemies, because it’s true. “Jesus told us to forgive those who trespass against us because we’re going to get hurt every day. So choose to do good to those who hurt you, even when you don’t feel like it.” But I can also say, “Friends, this is impossible. I know because I’ve tried. Only God can help you do it. It will take a miracle—but God wants to give us the miracle of forgiveness.”

So preaching from brokenness and weakness isn’t just a technique or a preaching strategy. It has to flow genuinely from your life.

I’ve been a Christian for 36 years, but I’m still such a beginner. “We’re always beginners,” as Karl Barth said. The cross is starting to make more sense to me these days—that the Christian life is all about being crucified with Jesus so that he might live through me. I love the Apostle Paul’s view in 2 Corinthians 10-13. Paul was clear that he was not a super-apostle. He had a thorn in the flesh, yet he delighted in his weaknesses. That’s a counter-cultural, even un-American approach to preaching.

There are some great speakers in the church today. I’m in awe of the gifts that some people have. But I feel like one of my contributions to the preaching conversation is this idea of preaching from our brokenness and weakness—that God’s power flows through that. If God has given you great eloquence, then use that gift; but don’t ever let that gift cloud where true power comes from. Ultimately, it’s the rawness of your life and your encounter with God’s grace that becomes one of your greatest preaching gifts.

Actually, gifted preachers are the most in danger. They can get by, and people love it, but it’s also possible that nothing significant is taking place. You can draw a crowd of people, but in terms of spiritual transformation little is actually happening.

Here’s the key principle behind preaching that leads to transformation in Christ: You can’t bring people on a journey that you haven’t taken. You can tell them about the journey, but they could read that in a book. But if you go on a journey with Jesus that has real depth, it will come out in your preaching. If you’ve been sidetracked from that journey with Christ—building a big church, or gaining people’s approval, or being so busy you can’t even think straight—I would say that God is telling you to slow down so that you can be with Jesus. Your people need you to spend time in prayer. Your people need you to be with God, so you can bring a real Word from God.

Interview with Preaching Today and Peter Scazzero Adapted from the website below on 2/27/2012 http://www.preachingtoday.com/skills/themes/sermonprep/healthypreacher.html

About Pete Scazzero (MDiv, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) is the founder and senior pastor of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York, a large, multicultural, multiracial church with more than fifty-five nations represented. Today this flagship congregation has grown to an association of churches that includes five different congregations across New York City (four in English, one in Spanish) and two overseas (Dominican Republic and Colombia). Scazzero is also the author of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and of several highly successful Bible study guides, including Love: The Key to Healthy Relationships and New Life in Christ.

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