Editor’s Note: This post is part of a multi-part series on sermon application. (Previous)
Sermon application is a skill to learn like all the other aspects of sermon preparation and delivery. And, like the other components of sermon preparation, applying the text is a matter of the heart, the head, and the hands. Before you get to your intellect (head) and activities (hands), it is important to start with your desires and loves (heart).
To apply God’s Word to God’s people, there are two things that preachers ought to love increasingly.
Love God’s Word
In Psalm 119, we read,
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you (vv. 11).
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word (vv. 16).
Your testimonies are my delight;
they are my counselors (vv. 24).
I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love,
and I will meditate on your statutes (vv. 48).
Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day (vv. 97).
Your testimonies are my heritage forever,
for they are the joy of my heart.
I incline my heart to perform your statutes
forever, to the end (vv. 111-112). (emphasis added)
The first and most important principle for growing in sermon application is this: grow in your love for God’s Word; cultivate a love for applying God’s Word in what you deal with daily. We develop skills by doing. You can’t apply a text with precision to your congregation if you haven’t learned to do it your life.
To this end, I recommend the daily devotional1 reading of the Bible to supplement your sermon preparation. Ideally, these readings will take you from one end of the Bible to another so that you’re applying the full scope of Scripture to your life. In addition to regularly reading through the Bible, I recommend that you read the particular sermon text each day of the week leading up to preaching on Sunday. The repetition helps. As you consider the text repeatedly and pray over its application for your own life, you will begin to see what application might be suitable for your congregation.
Love Your People
The New Testament teaches that pastors should love to shepherd the flock that the Lord has entrusted to them (Heb. 13:17). Pastors should willingly and eagerly shepherd the flock of God entrusted to them (1 Peter 5:2). The joy you have for your congregation and the eagerness you have to be an elder are two key ingredients for the able application of a text of Scripture. When you love to pastor your sheep, you know them deeply. When you know them deeply, you will know how the Bible applies to their needs and concerns. When you know your people deeply, you will have real people in mind as you prepare your sermon. This is one reason why you should resist the temptation to borrow points of application from other preachers. Those preachers do not know your sheep. Learn from other preachers’ applications, but resist the temptation to copy their applications lazily. Start with a love for your people and not an internet search. Speak to the needs of your congregation because you know them, and you know the text.
Sermon application begins with your loves. And you’ll be a better preacher if you commit time to grow in these loves. Learn to love God’s Word more as you prayerfully apply it to whatever you’re currently going through. Learn to love your congregation more as you get to know them and get to know how the Bible speaks to their concerns and contexts.
- By devotional, I mean the reading of the Bible for the purpose of your own growth in holiness. This reading would be distinct from times you study the Bible in preparation to teach it to others. ↩