Over the next few weeks we would like to recommend some books to read about preaching before we get back to watching other Wesleyan sermons for insights, practices, and habits we can learn from. These books are not preaching texts. They are not books you would normally think about in connection with preaching directly. At the same time, they could prove to be great unexpected resources for your preaching preparation that most preaching books ignore.
This week’s book emerges from the concept that preaching does its best work by making room for the Spirit of God. The Spirit transforms, the Spirit teaches the inner soul, The Spirit guides the Christian onward to God. The preacher in all the preacher’s humanity is used by the Spirit, hopefully as an instrument fully in tune. Yet, still, it is the Spirit’s work the preacher points to. One of the most effective tools a preacher has to make space for the Spirit is silence…preceded by the right question.
That leads us to recommend an old paperback book you can get for $8 online. 201 Great Questions by Jerry Jones. It was put out by Navpress in 1989 but still carries with it a lot of force.
In order to give you a good taste of the book, we want to share just a few of the questions we think might be most fruitful for preaching. But before we do, we ask you to do one thing: resist thinking about preaching them for a time. Instead, take out a piece of paper and answer them for yourself. When they impact you, you will know which ones to use in sermons in the future and why.
29. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about God?
74. Would you say your life right now is more focused on the building of relationships or the accomplishment of objectives and goals? What would you like to change about this focus?
102. Is there something you would be tempted to do if you knew you could never be found out? Is it primarily good or evil?
124. How would you describe God to a child?
135. How much is your personal self worth and value determined by the job you have and your success at it?
186. What do you worry about that you wish you would never have to worry about again? Why?
197. C.S. Lewis says that “God whispers to us in our pleasures but shouts to us in our pains.” How is God whispering and shouting to you in your life?
Consider getting this little book for a few reasons. First, it will give you windows into your soul you desperately need. Answer the questions and you will learn things about yourself you would likely wish to ignore. You will also learn things about yourself you have not paid nearly enough attention to in the positive sense. There are desires in you that could be fulfilled in God if you allowed them to be. There are dreams and wishes God has placed in your heart that you are numbing with other pursuits.
Second, this book and other books like it will teach you the difficult and rare skill of asking compelling questions. One of the most overlooked and undertrained skills in preaching is the ability to ask a question that is compelling to all, convicting to some, confirming to others, and clearly moves the sermon toward a space for the Spirit to act and move. The sermon should not be over full of questions. You must have something to say. Still, a sermon suffering from a poverty of questions should not be surprised to end up famished from lack of clear and transforming application.
Now to ask questions about the questions:
1. Which questions were most compelling to you? What made them more compelling than others? Is it a principle of good question asking or a personal connection that is at play?
2. What questions could you create for your next sermon that give the Spirit well plowed ground to plant seeds: silent space prepared by the most compelling of questions?