I split the preparation process into two. Stages 1-4 focus on the text. Stages 5-8 are concerned with forming the message. Before beginning to think about the message, it is a good idea to consider the listeners (audience analysis). Until this point the focus is on the text. From this point on the focus is on both the text and listeners.
Obviously it cannot be a rule that no thought should be given to the listeners in the first half of the preparation process. Our minds will naturally and often wander onto those for whom we care pastorally. We will see points of application. We will have illustrative thoughts coming to mind. We will remember that their questions of the text must be answered if they are to receive a full message. At times in the process we will mentally jump ahead and make a note for later in the process (an illustration, a helpful nugget of the wordsmith’s craft, etc.)
However, we should have a strong commitment to keeping our focus on the text in the first part of our preparation. Brief and even frequent thoughts related to our listeners may be acceptable. Periodic leaps forward in our notes to record a thought for later in the process is fine. But first and foremost our objective is to understand the passage. What did the author mean? What was his purpose? What is the idea conveyed in the text itself?
We must make a firm commitment to first truly study the Bible, rather than hunting for a sermon in the sacred text. The study process should lead to application in our own lives, which should naturally then lead on to an applied message for our listeners. But our first task is not to find a message, but to let the Scripture be master of our lives, then of our message. A commitment to expository preaching is a commitment to study the text first. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it is a commitment.