As someone who speaks in public a lot, I know that my best sermons and talks are usually when I’ve been able to take (or make) the time to prepare – reading and thinking about a Bible passage or them over a few days. Ideally, I have some time to concentrate on thinking about the talk or sermon, and then let it bubble away below consciousness while I get on with the rest of life and ministry before coming back to it before Sunday (or whenever it is due!) to work out what God seems to want me to say.
I know that I can usually find something to say if I’m put on the spot, but it’s less likely to be original or coherent! It also tends to be longer…
On the other hand, I know that the sermons which have seemed most to help people aren’t usually the ones where I’ve had a clear and full script to which I’ve stuck carefully. They’re the ones where I’ve been clear about what I’m trying to say, and had ideas in advance about how I’ll say it, but where I’ve been confident enough in the heart of the message to be free to improvise a bit while actually speaking – building on the points that are clearly connecting to people, moving on where the bit that looked great on the screen doesn’t actually work when spoken to these people on this day.
So somewhere in between fully written and made-up-on-the-spot tends to work for me, at least in sermons.
Jesus was preparing his disciples for a bit of a different situation, but one with some parallels to preaching. He was preparing them for the situation when their faith in him would put them in danger and on trial (21:7-19). And he told them not to prepare their speeches in advance, but to trust that they would be given the words when needed.
Many of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world still find their lives in danger for their faith, but that’s not my experience here. Please do pray for those, most urgently in areas under the control of Daesh, who are in great danger.
Seen from my comfortable position, I think what Jesus intends is that his disciples should trust in their knowledge of him, their faith lived day by day in the power of the Spirit, to give them plenty to say when the moment comes. The witness they are to give is not of some recited text, bullet points setting out the way of salvation. It is about the love and faith that they live – and the way that they tell of it will vary from one situation to another.
Perhaps the closest parallel I can think of from my own experience is that idea that Christians should all have ready a brief summary of their faith, to tell to those who don’t yet know the Lord. There’s certainly value in having something ready – but perhaps not as a script, more as a sense of what God is doing in our lives today, or at least in those bits of our lives that will make sense to the person to which we’re talking. It does need thought and preparation – Peter told us to be ready to give a reason for the hope we have, and the more we understand God’s ways, the more ready we will be to speak off the cuff. But the message of the Kingdom doesn’t come in bullet points. It comes in lives of faith and love – the reason for which we can speak.
So if there’s someone to whom you know you could speak of God’s love, think of that particular person, and of what it is today in your life with God that might show them something of his love for them. They deserve more than a packaged soundbite.