I have a notebook in my Evernote account with topics that I’d like to incorporate into future sermons. Sometimes they’re one-liners, other times they’re fairly developed ideas.

I also have a notebook of illustrations. Some are hilarious jokes that I can’t wait to use. Others are incredibly touching stories. I’ve even attached some of them to specific verses of Scripture already because I know they’ll be perfect while teaching on those texts.

But I never start with any of these notes when I begin to prepare a sermon. I begin with the Word of God, and so should you.

It’s important to allow the Bible to say what it says. If we start with something else, we’re tempted to twist the Scripture to say what we’ve already decided to say.

Illustrations and memorable one-liners are extremely important elements in sermons. Most sermons should include them, and plenty of them. They help us to remember and apply what the Bible says. They help to keep the attention of congregants. But I rarely even think about looking at my topics and illustrations notes until very late in my sermon preparation process.

What does it mean to start with the Word? Here are two thoughts.

1. Read the Word

Read the passage you plan to preach on. Read it again. Read it again. Read it until you have a firm grasp on the flow of the text and how it fits within the larger context.

Meditate on the Word as you read it. Pray though the Word as you read it. Get inspired by the Word itself, not by some illustration or one-liner that you want to include.

2. Exposit the Word

When you start planning your sermon, it should primarily be an exposition of the biblical text. While our final sermon notes may take one of a variety of forms, whether a brief outline or a complete manuscript, the first things we write ought to be direct thoughts from the text.

I always begin by outlining the passage I’m preaching on. The text determines the outline. So then, as I flesh the sermon out with deeper exposition, illustrations, implications, and applications, these things are always connected directly to the text in focus.

It’s the Word of God that changes lives, so the Word of God ought to be our focus.