Yesterday, I tried to begin unpacking the problems with quick-and-easy application that seems to dominate the landscape of preaching today (at least in the western world). You can read that post here.
That blog concluded with me giving 5 out of 10 thoughts which help me to personally think through what it looks like to experience organic, no hormones, no antibiotics, grass-fed, all-natural application in preaching. Below, you will find thoughts #6-10.
6) Application begins with worship.
The central character of the Bible is God. The central purpose of the Bible is to lead us into a worship-relationship with God. Therefore, if application does not first and foremost drive you to worship… then we know our application is misguided.
I recently preached a series on the book of Job. As we applied our lives to this amazing text, we found that this story is first meant to give us a grand view of who God is! He is revealed as the sovereign Lord over all, the God who sees, the God who is with us, and the God who wins! Before we look at ourselves, we are drawn to gaze upon God and find ourselves in awe of him! It is only once we see these truths about the character of God that we can properly begin to think through our own suffering.
Application always draws us first to God in worship and changes the way we think and feel towards him… leaving us awestruck. Application is not merely after your actions… no… it is foremost after your affections!
7) Application continues in your actions.
Application changes what you do by first changing who you are! When your heart has been drawn into deeper worship and love of God, then you are ready to see how you are to act upon the truths you’ve learned.
In walking through Job and seeing the character of God more clearly, my congregation and I were able to see how and why we should trust God amidst suffering. We were able to affirm his goodness and stand upon the truth of his character to worship when it would normally seem like worship would not even be possible. We were more equipped to comfort those who are suffering. You see, because our affections had changed our actions followed suit.
Let me be absolutely clear that application does affect our actions! It does! But, as we have seen, that is not the place application begins… nor is it the place that application ends…
8) Application is not complete if it ends with you.
Part of the reason our current approach to application has contributed to a self-centered Christian culture is that it assumes the point of a sermon is me and the betterment of my life. We’ve already talked about how e are not the beginning point of application, God is, but nor are we the ending point of a sermon, mission is.
Everything Jesus taught his disciples was not merely for their personal benefit, but it was for them to pass on to others through preaching, teaching, and discipling. The same is true for us. Every time you listen to a sermon, you should listen (and take notes) as if you were going to have to re-preach it the next day… because that is exactly what you’re supposed to do.
Take what you learn from preaching and pour it into your kids. Have conversations with your friends about it. Discuss it with your family. Teach it to a younger believer. Application is not complete if you simply implement truth into your own life… no… it is only complete once you pass that truth along into the life of another. (For more on how to effectively listen to sermons click here).
9) The specifics of application are not the responsibility of the preacher, but the listener.
Even in small churches, a pastor cannot possibly apply the truths of Scripture to the specific situations in every listener’s life. The job of the preacher is to bring out the implications of the truth and demonstrate how they apply by way of example(s), but there still remains work for the hearer! We each must wrestle with the truths of Scripture within the context of our own lives. This part of what walking by the Holy Spirit looks like!
For instance, what should a Christian do with their wealth (if they have any)? Should they give it all away? Should they keep it all? Should they use it to help the poor, the sick, the homeless? Should they focus their help heavily on one of these groups or spread it thin to all people? Should they live in a small house so they can give away more money or should they live in a big house and let other people live with them? These questions of application are endless and there is not a one-size-fits-all answer.
A preacher can take truths from Scripture like money should not be our god, we shouldn’t be lovers of wealth, and we shouldn’t use our wealth for self-centered self-glorification… and tease out the implications of such truths, but concerning specific application… we each must hit our knees and seek the Spirit for how these things play out in our lives.
The only other option is for the pastor to create a new law which leads to legalistic action. “Ok, everyone, you must live in a 1000 square foot house or less to be obeying what God says about wealth.” In the short-run, that seems much easier. We can do that, check it off our list, and feel like a “good” Christian. However, such application is not being faithful with Scripture or with the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. No. It is time for us, the listeners, to do the hard work of application by praying, weeping, seeking, listening, and obeying as God applies his truth to the specifics of our lives.
10) There is nothing more practical than eternal transformation.
We live in a culture that desires things which are practical and useful. I’m afraid this is what has led to many of our abysmal application practices in preaching because we have gone to our culture and asked them, “What do you think is practical? What do you want to hear?” And we use such consumer-information to determine what we preach and how we preach it.
Instead of this, we need to reclaim the truth that God actually knows what we need! He knows what is most practical! We need to go back to the Bible where he has revealed what is most relevant to our lives… himself!
What is more practical/useful… temporary self-improvement or eternal transformation? That is not a difficult question. There is nothing more practical than being changed forever and such change does not come from centering on self, but from centering on God!
In order for our use of application to change… our goal of application must change! My wife seeks organic foods because her goal is not to find what is quick, easy, and cheap… but, to find what is healthy, lasting, and good. Likewise, our goal should not be short-sighting self-improvement which glorifies the self, but eternal transformation which glorifies the God over all!
So… Pastors… let’s not serve up junk food that looks good today, but lacks any lasting nutrition. Let’s give the pure-organic-hormone-free milk of the Word… the all-natural-grass-fed meat of Scripture.
And believers… may we all develop a taste for that which feeds our souls. Let’s yearn for application that leads us to worship, fuels our affections, so that we act out of loving obedience… and then pass on what we’ve learned. May we all become a hippie, crunchy, granola Christians when it comes to application and long for that good ol’ organic, no hormones, no antibiotics, grass-fed, all-natural preaching.