Storytellers, poets, songwriters, historians, correspondents, legal scholars, apocalyptic dreamers AND church planters who bring a new message every Sunday: Perhaps it’s blindingly obvious: The books of the Bible were written by…writers. The Holy Spirit breathed upon each one, opened their hearts and ears and eyes to the spiritual realities around them. But they were still writers; and so are you if you’re writing sermons. They struggled to capture the inspired moment of clarity and present a finished work capable of blessing generations to come.
Peter described it this way: “The prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow” (1 Peter 1:10-11). Even though the Spirit was their guide, they searched intently. It was an inspired collaboration.
The prophet Habakkuk (that discontent whining wondering man who in turn inspired the Apostle Paul) recorded the process of capturing a flash of divine inspiration. Although the scripture is complete, inspiration still flashes today. Since we carry the inspired good news, Habakkuk’s words are a lesson for us as well:
“I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint. Then the Lord replied: Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.” (Habakkuk 2:1-3)
Here are four observations capable of making us partners with the Spirit’s inspiration:
“I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts…” We ourselves create the space to receive revelation. Habakkuk purposefully took up the position of watchman: He was alone and vigilant, eager and confident that the Lord would speak to him. He was not disappointed; he had prepared himself for when the moment came. When we create space for the Spirit to come, he willingly accepts the invitation.
“Make it plain…” God favors clarity. Beauty and art flow from inspiration, but we must make it plain. Our part is the clear expression of what he illuminates. There is a time to scatter rose petals among our words, but first comes content. Our words should carry a meaning clear enough that others may run with the message.
“The revelation awaits an appointed time…” Even revelation requires timing. Strangely, the appointed time is seldom in the heat of battle. When social debate rages back and forth in public media we are exposed to the heat of passion, but not much light. The prophets spoke to their day, but the prophetic message carried eternal weight. Neither human emotion nor intellect equal divine revelation; it comes only from God, and it requires his timing.
“Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come…” That’s right: Wait for it. Habakkuk stationed himself. He also waited. In the rush to say something important we often miss the opportunity to hear something eternal. Waiting is the discipline of writers who speak to generations. You can speak to the moment or you can speak to the ages; you can rarely do both.
I believe in the inspiration of the scripture, but I don’t believe the Holy Spirit used robots to mouth his words. We have a role to play, a role that complements the word of the Spirit. Habakkuk shows us how it’s done.