First, pray to the Almighty Father in Jesus’ powerful name for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in selecting a topic, planning for it very quickly, and in delivering it without reading it verbatim and with a servant’s heart for the people -- trusting always in the Holy Spirit for the power to deliver the word of God even (especially) in difficult circumstances when you ar"e necessarily having to give God the credit.  Of course, the credit is always God's - - we just sometimes get to thinking he can't do things without our brain's involvement in the decision -- but he needs your faith more than your brains in all situations!)

Then let the Holy Spirit quickly bring to your mind three familiar stories from the Bible – two from the New Testament and one from the Old. You may have a lot that comes to mind or you may only know a few -- but do not work at it, let it just happen. List them on a piece of paper.

Pray over this list.  Entreat the Lord to show you which one is best related to the needs of the people and the great challenges facing them in the current age.

Story Gathering:  Next you might now think of the most well-known of current events or historical occurrences that relate to the Bible story: they can be the topic of a friendly, sympathetic opening to your sermon.  You might also think of a well-known or little known person who embodies the same qualities or faced a similar dilemma as is presented in the Bible story you have selected.  A discussion of that person, or the news event, can be your opening before you read the Bible verse or verses for the day.

Find the passage and the KEY VERSE or two relating to the story/truth you plan to discuss – choose a verse, if possible, that is fairly complex.  In it you will find the two to five talking points you need to give you an outline. 

For example, take everyone’s favorite Bible verse:

John 3:16 (KJV):    For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 

A natural bullet-point sermon is the last clause:  

  • -  Believe on the Son of God
  • -  Avoid death:  the terrifying wages of sin that all of us owe
  • -  Find the glories of eternal life – beginning now

A story about someone trying to avoid death is a possible opening story – like perhaps starting with a story about some soldiers facing D-Day, or maybe a harrowing survival story of someone who bravely endured a deadly catastrophe, or the crying prayer of King Hezekiah that resulted in the Lord giving him a new lease on life (2 Kings 20:1-6).

The three bullet points above can be varied in order – the second one could perhaps start and be introduced by a chatty story, and the first (believing) and the last (eternal victory) can be a two-point ending.

But, let’s move from using a familiar verse to trying the five steps above and finding a new verse for an emergency sermon.  Let’s say you are the Associate Pastor or key lay-leader in your Christian group and the Pastor/Leader is suddenly called out of town on a family matter—you have minutes not days to come up with a message.

Step One:  pray as directed above – it does not have to be a long prayer, but you have to mean it.  God knows your heart and whether you are more worried about his needs than your own.  Be humble, be grateful for past blessings, and trust in the powerful name of Jesus to open miraculously the doors you need in heaven, in your heart, and in the congregation members’ hearts.

Step two (remember, these steps were discussed above):  (NOTE: I am doing this extemporaneously as if I am in your shoes, I promise) – these three stories come to my mind immediately, randomly:

Old Testament:  Daniel in the Lion’s Den

New Testament 1: Woman at the well

New Testament 2:  Timothy as Paul’s protégé

Step three:  I prayed, and the Woman at the well came to my heart – praise God! (Though I thought the Lions sounded best when I first wrote the three down.)


Ok, the  woman at the well will be my topic.  Now, what about that familiar story (from John 4) comes to mind as I trust in the Holy Spirit's blessings all believers receive? 

The answer that I received was once again not what I expected – the thought that came to me was this:  the well (!?)

Now I use that word to get my juices flowing – gratefully trusting the Holy Spirit.

  • POSSIBLE CREATIVE PATH A:  I thought of old sayings and trite clauses about wells, which were a key factor in American lIfe before the advent of public water (each of these steps always trusting in the Holy Spirit's miraculous assistance):

  • Deep as a well

  • Go to the well once too often

  • A Wishing well

  • “The Old Oaken Bucket That Hung in the Well” (famous old Americana song of nostalgia for the old wells)

  • Poisoned well

  • Well-springs of mercy [might be useful?]

  • POSSIBLE CREATIVE PATH B:  I further goad creativity by asking myself the famous questions of investigative journalists:

  • What/Who is the well?

  • When is the well?

  • Where is the well?

  • Why is the well?

  • How did the well figure in, or how did the two people react to it? [This might be good!?]

Now -- what one verse (or two connected verses) in this story jumps out at me that mentions the well?  I quickly read the story, refreshing the familiar details in my mind and spirit for giving a summary to the congregation before I read today’s sermon verse (“Because most of you Already know this famous Biblical story,” you might say first before just summarizing it – or go ahead and read the whole thing, but plan to then concentrate on the key verse only.)

I now look for verses in the story that actually have the word “well” in them.

There are two verses – but the first, John 4:6, is pretty much just a “set up” verse for the story, but could be used if it is the only one with that word.  But the other verse with that word seems to me to be more appropriate to the Holy Spirit’s goading:

John 4:11 KJV The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep:  from whence then hast thou that living water? 

[An alternative approach sometimes is to organize the sermon around the actors in such a key verse. There are only two in this verse:  the woman and the Son of God.  Speak of how we are her, and have her ‘same’ past and needs – and the Son of God, is the source of all we too need forever, and he is today making the same offer to us.  She accepted it – will we?]

However, in this particular verse about the well, three points are there exactly, framed by the punctuation of her question – can you see the three points for the sermon?

1. Jesus has no jar to draw with – the Living Water is not shared in the same way that the water from Jacob’s well was (it is drawn by delving the water’s source:faith in Jesus. It is a spiritual drawing for spiritual blessing eternal.

2. The well is deep – but not as unfathomable and not as readily accessible as Jesus’ Living Water. Believe and follow him – and find eternal release from all the temporary thirsts of the flesh and find all the eternal satisfactions of life with Jesus. (NOTE:That sounds like a good ending – just those two points – but if you have time, keep the next one ready too.)

3. From whence?-- What is the place where this living water resides?-- from Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, from the heart of Jesus who wept because he wanted to shelter people under his arms like a hen shelters her chick?   OR  3. From whence . . .“THOU”?  Who are you?  This seems like she may be asking for a credential check more than just a desire for a map to the miraculous new well.  The credentials of Jesus are unique and impeccable:  the only begotten Son of God – incarnate in flesh, refusing the glory of the heavenly adoration and its peace to be incarnate for our sakes on a cruel world – the one who created water, the one who created us – that THOU – King of Kings, Rose of Sharon, Lord of Lords, the Bright and Morning Star!!

Now, after you pick the story, the topic, the key verse, and three points or so, think of how to introduce this message in a friendly, chatty way – as chatty as you get in your congregation from the pulpit.  Praying for the Holy Spirit’s help, I come up with the following general categories of story quickly:

Hunger and thirst as the deepest form of poverty in the catastrophes that have afflicted humanity – such as in the Old Testament (2 Kings 6:25) -- or the Dutch Famine in 1944-45 under the starvation tactics of the Nazi’s during World War II – times when things got so dire that people were acting in desperation for a morsel of food or a drop of potable water.  Another approach is to speak of the horrible lack of potable water in the world.  Choose one you are able to chat about for a few seconds – asking the congregation:  “Can you imagine going though such a hunger (thirst) yourself?”

So, I might take with me the following notes to the pulpit, with basic points in bold:

1. Dutch Famine – basic poverty of no food or water - speak of the
dearth of wells in New Testament times outside the beaten path.

2. Woman at the well summarized

3. Key verse read from the Bible


A. Well is deep – but not as unfathomable and not as readily accessible as Jesus’ Living Water. 

B. Believe and follow him – and find eternal release from all the temporary thirsts of the flesh and find all the eternal satisfactions of life with Jesus.  (NOTE:  That sounds like a good ending – just those two points – but is you have time, keep the next one ready too.) 

C.  From whence? -- Where is this wondrous well ?  -- from Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, from the heart of Jesus that wept because he wanted to shelter people under his arms like a hen shelters her chick, but so many refused his offer, from the Love of the Father who send his son that we might in remembrance drink/eat of the Living Water each time we celebrate Holy

(Note:  I obviously chose to go with the first path option presented above because it seemed closest to the topic the Holy Spirit had given me originally – the well.)

Use the list of one verse sermon citations at the menu to give you more ideas – choose a couple and have them ready for that unexpected time when you must bring the word of the Lord in church or at a home bible study or wherever—and practice it often.  Its like knowing "preaching CPR."  Remember, the Holy Spirit is responsible for what you get and how you deliver it, if you are leaning on him instead of your own strengths. 

ERRATA - after sleeping on the above recommendations, I felt that I had not really thought of the well idea in as pure a sense as I should -- this is the advantage of having more time to ponder the sermon, though the one I came up with above was good.  A better approach more faithful to the Holy Spirit's leadings is to focus on the well AS JESUS, pure and simple.  So, I would now expand point B above into a key unit of the sermon.  Moving on from the above thoughts, we ask "In what way in this story is Jesus the well for the woman, and for us?  The above discussion can lead us to use the passage to illustrate that Jesus was the deep, pure, eternal source of the eternal life giving water -- we can use as subsets of Point B the following three subpoints on Jesus as the well of God:  JESUS IS DEEP/ALL-DELVING/UNEQUALED AMONG WELLS as point one, PURE as point two, SOURCE OF ETERNAL LIFE.  These subpoints serve as expansions of point B above and thus perhaps negate the need to end on point C, though those thoughts in C are not bad.




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