When I am preparing a sermon, I need a place to study that will energize and maximize my preparation process. A sacred space in the midst of a busy world and hectic schedule is vitally important.
Choosing a Location
During the early years of my ministry, I did most of my studying in the seclusion of a back booth of a restaurant. Because I had three hyperactive boys at home and a lively Christian school at the church, the noise level was too high and interruptions too many for focused study. So I would buy a coffee and sit in a back booth for four hours at a time to prepare my sermons. As my children grew older, I settled into my church office to study, with all the necessary elements for productive study and sermon writing. I now study at home in a quiet room.
It is important to give thought to where you can study best––whether at your church or home––and how you can set up your environment to be conducive for uninterrupted concentration.
Practically, I believe there are five important elements of an expositor’s study: a spacious desk, a sturdy chair, excellent lighting, essential books, and of course, the right office supplies.
Open Spaces for Study
It all begins with a spacious desk. When I am studying, I want a desk that is not wobbly and has a large top. I personally do not like a desk with drawers underneath it. I prefer a library table kind of desk, so I can get my legs under it without any hindrance. There should be a large space where I can spread out my Bible and paper, with open areas ready to be stacked with commentaries and office supplies.
The second important element is a sturdy chair. If you are going to sit in a chair for four or five hours––or even sometimes twelve hours a day––it needs to be a good chair. It should keep you upright and help your back. If I was sitting in an all-metal chair, I could not sit comfortably for any extended time. In my study, I have a chair that has a little bit of give and allows me, if I need to, to invest a major amount of time there throughout the day.
Third, and hugely important, is excellent lighting. Because I am older now, lighting is all the more important. At my desk I have two lamps, and I used to have a third that was a floor lamp hanging over my desk. In addition to the overhead ceiling lighting, my two lamps are New York City Public Library lamps. Each of those lamps has two bulbs in it, because I want as much light shining on my desk as possible. As you look intensely into the Scripture and books, you want to be able to see the type easily.
A Wealth of Resources
Fourth, I have some essential books lining the back edge of my desk for easy access. These books include a thesaurus, a dictionary, and my Bible. I also have study Bibles, key commentaries, and language tools next to my desk to quickly reference as needed. Of course, I have many other books that line my bookshelves that I can move to my desk.
Along with these books, I have personal artifacts around my office. Portraits and statues of great men from church history surround my desk: Jonathan Edwards, John Knox, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, and William Tyndale. As I step into my desk, I feel like I am in Hebrews 11, being surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. I also have a globe next to my desk, helping to remind me that I need to maintain a global perspective as I study the word of God.
Essential Office Supplies
Of course, every expositor needs the right office supplies. Personally, I do not use a computer, but a fountain pen to write my sermons. I piece together my notes by cutting and pasting different sections I have written with Scotch tape. To accomplish this, I need a pad of paper and notecards on my desk. For you, it may be a computer or iPad in addition to pen and paper.
Next to my desk, I have a photographic copier and printer so I can make copies of commentaries or passages of Scriptures. I will mark these pages up, even cut them out and paste them into my notes. I also have storage space in which I organize my preaching notes and have them readily available.
A Personalized Place
I would encourage you to find a personal space where you can study most effectively. You need to know what time of the day your mind works most sharply, whether you are a morning person or night person. You need to know your most productive times of the week. For example, I think faster on Friday than I do on Monday. Invest your time wisely when you study, so you can most quickly find the buried treasure in the texts of Scripture, mine it, and deposit its riches into your notes. May God make your office to be a sacred place of rich study for His glory.