I remember well my first class in hermeneutics at seminary. Years later I still have the voice of my prof ringing in my ears – “Observation! The first step in inductive Bible study method!” Influenced as he was by Howard Hendricks, he left his mark in my life as I open the Bible and start by looking. What is there? What does it say? You can’t interpret it until you know what it is. Observation is the critical first step to success in Bible study, and in preaching too.
You have to observe well to handle the Bible well. You have to observe well to communicate effectively. In a discipline like preaching, so built on effective Bible study, we would do well to continually develop our observational faculties. Let me share this quote from William Wirt (1828), quoted in McDill’s 12 Essential Skills:
Perhaps there is no property in which men are more distinguished from each other, than in the various degrees in which they possess the faculty of observation. The great herd of mankind pass their lives in listless inattention and indifference to what is going on around them . . . while those who are destined to distinction have a lynx-eyed vigilance that nothing can escape.
Practice observation every day. Describe the person you just spoke with. Define the distinctive characteristics of their body language. Observe the headlines on the newspaper you pass. Live with a lynx-eyed vigilance so that you never waste your life in listless inattention and indifference!