The Puritan Principle: The Secret to Preaching with Power.

The traditional evangelical approach to Bible reading is simple: read, respond with prayer. But there’s an in-between step, one we often forget: meditation.

Read a puritan, Edwards or Spurgeon sermon and you’ll immediately recognize an other-worldly quality to it. They have a way of preaching that sounds as though they’ve taken the jewel of scripture and turned it over and again in their minds before presenting it afresh to their congregation.

This is the secret of meditation. Meditation isn’t just studying the verse you’re about to preach, and it’s not simply praying it. It’s something in between. Discovering meditation reignited my prayer life and when I do it well, reignites my preaching. Here’s a simple process to follow:

1. Choose a passage that “catches your heart”. As you study, a word or phrase might pop-off the page and grab your attention. When it does, stop and move to step #2.

2. Read the passage a few times over in your mind. This step need not last long – you’re not going for transcendental style “no-mind” meditation. You’re just letting it sink in.

3. Rephrase the passage in your head until it becomes “alive”. This step has been the secret for me. If you’ve ever read a Charles Spurgeon sermon, you’ll see that there are times when the sermon ‘stops’ for a moment and he begins to simply rephrase the passage from which he’s preaching. It’s a beautiful way to reignite the fire in your heart during personal devotions or as you preach. Personally, rephrasing a passage to my heart takes up most of my devotional time every morning, and it’s the only way I stay focused, alert, and receptive all the way through. You can do this on paper, speaking, or in your head.

4. Listen as the passage begins to preach to you. I find that as I begin to rephrase the passage, it becomes alive and begins to speak to me. I’ll rephrase and rephrase until it becomes specific, convicting me about a certain area of my life; or worshipful, focused on some specific beauty of Christ I’ve forgotten. This is where the passage begins to “preach itself” – you’ll start to hear a sermon flowing from the text, jumping into your heart and life.

5. Write down any new insights. This helps me to “seal” my time in personal devotions – for Sermon prep, this is just smart note taking! Usually step #4 brings other related scripture verses to mind, specific applications or theological points to dwell on. Jot these all down, even as they come to you.

6. Confess, ask, praise. After meditation, my prayer feels fresh and invigorated with life. I respond by confessing the sin in my life the passage has revealed, asking God to transform me in its light, and praising him for what he’s done, ending by focusing on the accomplished work of Jesus.

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Nicholas McDonald is a blogger, pastor, and author of the book "Faker: How to Be Real When You're Tempted to Fake it." He studied creative writing and communication at Oxford University and Olivet Nazerene University, and received his M.Div from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. He currently resides in Lexington, NC, with his wife and two boys, Caleb and Owen.


  1. Good points, Nick. And I’d add another in order to avoid a pitfall that even the best preachers occasionally fall into:
    7. Go back to the Scripture text and compare it to your reflections on it. Let God’s word be the measure of what comes out in the lesson.

  2. This process sounds like lectio divina. I get a lot out of reading the Word that way.

    P.S. I’ve been meaning to tell you I LOVE your new background. Fits nicely with the “scribbling preacher” theme.

    • Hey, cool! I’ve been wondering what people think of the new aesthetics. It is a lot like Lectio Divina, but I like to emphasize a little bit more of the “thinking” aspect of it. I think everyone finds a way that works for them.

  3. These are great suggestions. We had such a beautiful sermon yesterday by one of our elders — an absolutely incredible reflection on Ps. 44, Job, and Rom. 8 — that I think he must have used a technique similar to this to get inside the passages (and them inside him!) the way he did.

  4. Very helpful… let me add a caution – you are assuming a good deal of sound biblical knowledge and teaching, and leaving quite a bit of room for undisciplined or careless meandering into emotive or misguided interpretation… let good teachers (foremost being scripture) guide us in this endeavor

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