One of my professor was finishing up his class on the exegesis of Matthew. He stepped out from behind the lectern, leaned against and said:
You are all seniors, and will be going out to pastor churches and preach sermons. I have a hope for you. I hope that you have this one week where everything goes really well. You get to spend time exegeting the passage of Scripture you will be preaching. You get to check all the original languages, read all the commentaries, and that you write a beautiful and eloquent message. You deliver the message and it is great! You feel really good about what you have done.Knowing my professor, this was not an endorsement of lazy intellectual, prayer only handling of the Bible. It was a strong statement that, no matter how rigorous, the intellectual/academic study of a biblical passage is not enough. God expects us to use all the available tools we have, and there thousands of good resources available to those preparing a message.
But then you are standing in the back, shaking hands with people as they leave, and this older gentleman walks up to you. He says, "Pastor that was a good sermon, but I don't think that is what Paul meant..." then he goes on to explain. He isn't doing it to be mean or to poke at you. He isn't rude about it. He just sense a real difference of understanding.
At first you are angry because you have had a great week of preparation, and the sermon felt good as you preached. You did all the "homework." But then you will become angry because, as you go back and look over things, you will know he is absolutely, 100% right. He is right, not because he read all the commentaries or knows how to read the original language. He is right because he has spent years meditating on and praying the Scripture.
Too often people fall on one side of the extreme or the other. They neglect the historical, linguistic, and theological resources and focus solely on praying...even though they have adequate access to those resources. God's Spirit will not bless shoddy, lazy preparation. Too many times people leave the preparation up to the "movement of the Spirit" rather than invest the time, energy, and intellectual activity in research, thought, and development.
Or, there are those who look only to the intellectual tools available, and forget that God's Holy Spirit still leads, directs, and speaks concerning His Word to the Church. It was Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, who most readily heard His voice. We too must not allow the "tools" to lull us into believing that we can have this all figured out just by getting all the historical and linguistic things correct.
There are some people who reside at the far extremes of this continuum, but most people are really a mixed up combination of the two. They study and know they should pray more. They pray and know they should study more. Most lean one way or another based on personality issues (not that this is an excuse!). I tend toward the study more side, and realize that I never feel comfortable with the amount of prayer I have put into the process.
For some crazy reason, God decided to work in and through human beings rather than force us to do as He wishes. God's Will will be done, but not at the expense of forcing someone to do something. The two, academic study and prayerful reflection, are meant to work in unison. Why? Because God calls brilliant men and women to write resources for Church's use in studying His word. He also asks us to wait before Him and to learn from Him through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will guide and direct us into "all Truth," but His direction will not supplant the hard work of studying the available resources.
Our calling is to balance the tension between the two; being a "workman" that also listens for the voice of God in prayer.