She’s crunchy. She’s granola. She’s green. She’s…and on and on the labels go for people who are “all-in” with all things organic.
I’m not complaining. I love the fact that my bride is deeply concerned about the health of our family, caring for creation, and living simply.
Just recently, I found myself in a conversation with her talking about the hormones injected into animals to make them grow faster so that their meat can be harvested as quickly as possible. She was sharing with me all the ways this can actually harm our family through consuming this “quick and easy” meat.
Even though my wife was talking about food, I couldn’t help but begin to think about preaching.
So much that passes for preaching today has been injected with the enhancing hormone of application in order to move as quickly as possible from this ancient text to the “relevant” message for today.
Hormones are meant to move a chicken from the farm to the plate in no time flat, and application attempts to do the same in preaching…from the Bible to my life. If this metaphor still isn’t making any sense allow to me to say it more simply…
There is an assumption today that the content of preaching should be immediately applicable to my life. I should walk away with a few things that are ready made for day-today-implementation. You know…inspirational thoughts, cute quips, quick tips, and practical tricks to improve my life. It is almost like the goal of preaching is to dole out a set of theological life-hacks.
Like hormone injected animals being quickly raised for consumption, we want application injected preaching that’s quickly ready to help us function.
The problem, I fear, is that such preaching is even more unhealthy for our souls than hormone-laden food is for our bodies. Sure, it seems helpful in the short-term, but all too-often it is focused on behavior modification and not heart transformation. Without a transformed heart, our souls are ultimately not being fed, but starved and our supposedly modified behavior is simply not sustainable. We need healthy preaching, feeding our souls the upon the pure meat of God’s Word.
Just this past Sunday, I told my congregation that my primary aim in preaching is not immediate application…it is eternal transformation. Like a farmer whose aim is health, I am willing to suspend doing things quickly for the sake of a more enduring goal.
Application in preaching is important! Extremely important, but it needs to be done in the right way and for the right reason. So…I want to expand for a moment on what I meant Sunday when I said, “my aim in preaching is not primarily immediate application, but eternal transformation.” I want to make clear the difference between these two goals in hopes that you will be more equipped to know what you’re receiving each Sunday…and I hope to wet your appetite for the good organic stuff…not the quick and cheap junk food that looks good but doesn’t actually help your health.
So, here are 10 thoughts (5 today and 5 tomorrow so this blog does not turn into a book) that help me to personally think through what it looks like to experience organic, no hormones, no antibiotics, grass-fed, all-natural application in preaching…
1) You cannot having preaching without application.
From everything I have said above, you might think that I am anti-application altogether. Absolutely not! If you don’t have application, then you don’t have preaching. You may have a good lecture or Bible study, but preaching is preaching precisely because it takes our lives and presses them up against the truth of God’s Word. Preaching pierces our lives with truth and produces fruit. Application is taking the truth we see in the text and making an appeal to the congregation on the basis of that truth.
2) We often think about application in a backwards manner.
The normal way to talk about application is to say that we want to know how the Bible applies to our lives. That is backwards. We should want to know how our lives apply to the Bible. The difference lies in what we see as ultimately relevant. Let me explain…
If I want to know how the Bible applies to my life, then my life is being the ultimate standard of relevance. I will look for Scripture that addresses things I”m dealing with and simply ignore or discard parts that seem unimportant to my life. So, I guess we can go ahead and throw out Leviticus. I mean, how are animal sacrifices to a tent-dwelling God remotely relevant to me?
However, if my goal is to apply my life to the Bible, then all of Scripture is seen to be relevant truth and my life needs to conform to what I see within its pages. Leviticus is now extremely relevant for it shows me the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, the need for a sacrifice…and my life needs to be applied to these truths. I need to acknowledge my sinfulness, embrace my substitute sacrifice (Jesus), and pursue awe-filled worship of holy God !
3) Applying our lives to the Bible, means we must understand the Bible.
If I’m going to apply my life to the truth revealed in Scripture, then I must know what that truth is! I cannot just rip out a verse and make it mean whatever I want it to mean. I need to know what it actually means!
For example, Jeremiah 29:11 is a very popular and misapplied verse: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” If my life is the ultimate determining factor of relevance, then the context of this verse means nothing and I’ll just define all the terms in relation to myself. So, this verse means God has awesome plans for my future…I shouldn’t worry about my current difficult situation…things will get better and be awesome (according to my definition of awesome). Right?
We need to actually see the truth being communicated in this text so that we can apply our lives to it. That means we must know what the verse actually means in context. Basically, this verse is part of a letter written to the Jewish people living in exile. They had believed a lie that they would be coming back from captivity to Israel within two years. However, God sends his people a letter (via Jeremiah) and tells them it will actually be 70 years! As a result, they are to live as his people right where they are and trust him with the future…for the future belongs to him!
Now that we see the truth communicated by the passage we can apply our lives to it. Amidst difficulty, we are to still trust God and be his people right where we find ourselves… even if things never get better. We may live and die amidst difficulty, but we trust him. The future belongs to him. He will give us a hope, namely, that we will be his people no matter what and he will never forsake us! Which is awesome! (according to a God-centered definition of awesome)
Do you see how different the application is when we don’t run quickly from text to our lives, but take the time to understand the text and press our lives up against its truth? It turns out the truth is much deeper and difficult, but also much richer as a well-spring of strength for our lives. It turns out this verse is not a meant as a quick fix, but as a bed-rock truth designed to carry one through a lifetime of difficulty.
In other words, this ain’t no hormone injected chicken! This is the real-deal organic good stuff.
4) Beware of simplistic, quick application.
An easy way to spot overly simplistic, quick application is that it often begins with action instead of ending with action. What I mean is that this type of application gives you a bunch of do’s and don’ts. It comes in lists and tips… constantly leaving you with a new set of things to incorporate into your life. Typically, no reason is given as “why” you should follow these tips other than “they will better your life.” That is fairly self-centered thinking, which is opposite of what we want to be as believers! We want to be Christ-centered, not self-centered!
Further, this kind of quick-action-application can become extremely burdensome, building an indefinite list of things you must do to be a good Christian. It seems helpful at first, but can quickly become defeating and lead us to despair.
5) Look for transformational application.
Transformational application does not begin with action…it begins with your heart. My primary preaching goal every week is to lift high Christ through the Word, praying that the Holy Spirit will work through it and draw people to Jesus.
As hearts are captivated with Christ, they are transformed to love Christ, to love what Christ loves, and to love like Christ. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” When we behold the glory of Jesus, we are transformed to become more like him.
I am not saying that there is no place for commands or for calls to action. Jesus commissioned us to teach/disciple people to observe all his commands. I am very interested in the commands of Christ and God-glorifying actions. But, such actions are only God glorifying if they come out of a heart that loves God… not out of heart pursuing rules simply because “I want to make my life better.” No… Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commands.” In other words, when our hearts are in love with Jesus, his commands are not burdensome duties, they become our delight! We delight to express our love for Jesus through obeying him!
Transformational application aims to first point you to Jesus. This transforms your heart. You love him instead of yourself. You love him instead of your sin. You love him instead of ______. As your heart transforms… the way you think begins to transform. Then…what you do begins to change as well.
Transformational application is primarily aimed at helping you know Christ in all his glory. Then, on the basis of Christ’s love for you and your love for him… it calls for changed action. There are no shortcuts here. This is organic, grass-feed, all-natural application that helps you change by God’s power, not yours, one degree of glory at a time.
To be continued tomorrow…