Tuesday, March 24, 2009

how I prepare a topical series

I thought you might like to know where I get my ideas from when I write about the fear of the LORD (or pride, or enjoying God, or gluttony). Am I pulling ideas out of a hat? Am I telling you my pet theories? Can you trust what I say?

Here's how I work out what to say when I'm writing on a topic. You might find this process helpful if you're asked to lead a study or give a talk about a topic.

I don't know Greek or Hebrew, and I haven't studied theology except unofficially, so what I do, you can too!! God's word is clear, and it's written for us: you don't need to be an expert to understand it.

My aim is to read the Bible so I can understand God's wisdom and explain it clearly. I pray every step of the way: that God will give me insight into the Bible, that I will believe and obey what I read, and that what I say will be helpful.

Here's the steps I follow:

  • I use BibleGateway, pick a translation (I use NIV because it's familiar, but the ESV is more accurate), and do a keyword search on the relevant words (in this case, I started with "fear"). I print out sheets and sheets of verses!
  • I grab our complete concordance (we have an NIV complete concordance - ESV would probably be better!) and look up the relevant word(s). In this case, it soon becomes clear that it's a particular Hebrew word (yare and related words) and Greek word (phobos and related words) I'm looking for. I turn to the end of the concordance and look at the Hebrew and Greek words, and the different English words used to translate them. (It's not always necessary to look at the Greek and Hebrew, but in this case I'm looking at a particular phrase, "the fear of the LORD".)
  • When it comes to "fear", I discover it's also translated "worship", "revere", "awe", "dread" etc. Now I've got more words to look up on BibleGateway. I print these out too. I take my pages of printed out verses and circle the verses which used the relevant Greek and Hebrew words, using the concordance (this would be a lot easier if I knew Greek and Hebrew, but we work with what we've got!).
  • I read through the circled verses and look for patterns. What's "the fear of the LORD" linked to? Is it defined in any of the verses? Is the word "fear" used in different ways? What blessings are said to flow from it? I read the verses again and again. More questions occur to me.
  • I grab a notebook, write headings e.g. "the blessings of fearing God", and note down ideas ("wisdom", "long life", "honour") underneath with their references.
  • I don't want to take verses out of context, so I pick some of the more significant verses and read them in context. In this case, I did lots of reading of Exodus, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Isaiah, Nehemiah and James, to name a few! My quiet times were far richer as a result.
  • I also want to read my verses in the context of God's saving plan in Jesus. The Bible is the unfolding story of God 's sovereign plan to rescue his people from rebellion through the death and resurrection of his Son (2 Cor 1:20, 1 Cor 15:3-5). So I need to ask myself: how does these verses point me to the gospel? Am I just putting bandaids on wounds, giving a list of principles and projects? Or am I getting to the root of the issue - our sinful hearts - and showing how forgiveness, transformation and healing are available through Jesus' death and resurrection, and the work of his Spirit in our lives, so that we, as God's people, can glorify and enjoy God forever?
  • Now it's starting to come together in my mind. I write down what I'm discovering. My ideas are still very unformed, but I'm beginning to see what "the fear of the LORD" means, and how it might apply to me.
  • I check my conclusions against commentaries, books, and any articles or sermons I can find on line. Do the commentaries shed any light on the difficult passages? What are the main opinions of scholars? Do I agree or disagree, given what I've found in the Bible? Have I got it wrong? Does anyone put it really well? Are there any quotes I can use?
  • Now it's time for writing, rewriting, editing, polishing, trying to make it short and simple, sticking pictures in (that bit's fun!) and sending it out into the wide world for you to read.
As you can see, I'm no expert, just a fellow student of God's word! This is not the only way to prepare a topical series - you could just grab a couple of passages and work from them - but it works for me. I pray that we will be blessed as we look at the Bible together at in all honesty.

images are from stock.xchng


Meredith said...

Thanks Jean. This is a treasure. Thankyou for generously sharing this helpful tool with us all. I am sure that many people will find these steps very, very helpful. I praise God for your generosity and also for your seeking to be faithful to His Word.

Have a great day.

Jean said...

Thanks for your encouragement, Meredith. I hope you find it helpful! :)