My favourite word these days is “receptivity.” I have always been a self-directed person, pretty reluctant to receive advice or guidance. I’ve made a lot of decisions because they seem logical or (sadly) because they flow out of unresolved issues from my past life.
I’m trying to be more receptive to God’s gifts to me; I’m trying to notice the good things God gives me and be thankful. I’m trying to be more receptive to everything God brings into my life, not just the things I would consider good gifts. I’m also trying to be more receptive to God’s priorities and values, and to God’s guidance for my life.
How does this relate to preaching?
I’m a university lecturer, so I only get to preach when invited. For most of my guest sermons I am invited to address a specific topic. I like to have an expositional aspect to those sermons but I also need to keep the larger topic in view. I have been longing to dig into a section of the Bible over more than one week, and I had that opportunity last month. I got to preach three Sundays in January for my own congregation, Leith Valley Presbyterian Church in Dunedin.
I knew about those dates several months ago. So my first step of receptivity was to pray about what section of scripture I might focus on. John 15 kept coming to mind, and it divides nicely into three parts. When things keep coming to mind in answer to a prayer, I usually assume God is placing them there. I was recovering from a surgery in November, and in the moments when my brain was functioning, I enjoyed pondering John 15, reading it often, trying to figure out what “big idea” might come to mind for each of the three sermons I would preach on the passage.
The Upper Room Discourse (John 13-17) is so incredibly rich. For my three passages in John 15, any number of “big ideas” might have been appropriate. I tried to be receptive to the way God might be leading me for these specific sermons for these specific people, and indeed with time, three major themes became clear to me.
The first sermon of the three came together quite easily. I was surprised that I struggled mightily to produce a coherent sermon on John 15:12-17, the verses about Jesus being our friend. Ironically, I wrote a book on friendship a couple of years ago, with an entire chapter on Jesus as our friend. (http://www.amazon.com/Friending-Real-Relationships-Virtual-World/dp/0830834192/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1359497151&sr=8-1&keywords=friending+by+lynne+baab)
Maybe the book was an impediment to my receptivity of the Holy Spirit’s guidance for that passage for that specific congregation on that Sunday. I was quite absorbed with a drama going on in Seattle among a group of my friends involving one of them recovering from a stroke, and I couldn’t get their situation out of my mind. Finally, I decided to talk about it in the sermon because it was so real to me. I don’t usually talk about current emotional issues in sermons (I’m usually happy to talk in sermons about past emotions and describe how they were resolved), but in this instance it felt right.
The need for receptivity doesn’t end for me when the sermon is prepared. I don’t script my closing prayer at the end of my sermons. I like to pray extemporaneously, based on what I sense God is doing right then. So throughout the delivery of a sermon, I try to stay receptive to God’s guidance so I can pray at the end in a way that’s alive and vibrant.
Then afterwards, I sometimes get comments about the sermon. How will I respond? I still need to be in an attitude of receptivity to truly hear the comments of others. Sometimes a response is required. Other times it’s a compliment, which I tend to brush off internally. Am I willing to be receptive to affirmation? Am I willing to let it sink into my heart and believe God has used me? Receptivity and preaching is a never ending journey, as is receptivity in every area as we journey with Jesus.