It’s no secret that I love baked goods. Thankfully, I have a wife and daughter that both love to bake. Recently, my daughter was baking some snicker doodle brownies for a church event when much to her surprise, this delectable creation came out of the oven very shallow and flat. After several minutes of troubleshooting it was discovered she had forgotten to add baking powder. Baking powder, as many of you know, causes a chemical reaction in the batter creating carbon dioxide bubbles that enable it to “rise” and expand. The result is that light, fluffy texture we all enjoy in our baked goods.
Something else I love besides baked goods is powerful preaching. The effective preaching of God’s Word feeds my soul, enlarges my heart for the Lord and stimulates my mind. However, over my many years in ministry I’ve heard countless godly preachers deliver sermons that fell…well, shall we say…flat. Even I, in all of my years of expositing God’s Word, have pulled a few messages out of the sermon oven that failed to “rise”. After years of tasting effective and ineffective sermons, I believe there is one critical ingredient missing from many sermons today that determines their impact: application.
What Is It?
I like to define application as the intentional implementing of biblical truth into our personal life with the Spirit’s help. One of my favorite professors at Dallas Seminary, Dr. Howard Hendricks, used to teach us that application is found by asking the question “What must I do now that I have heard this truth?” Hendricks would then explain that application is the most neglected, but most needed stage in bible study because…
“Every time you observe and interpret (God’s Word) but fail to apply, you perform an abortion on the Scriptures in terms of their purpose. The Bible was not written to satisfy your curiosity; it was written to transform your life.”
-Dr. Howard Hendricks
I’ve never forgotten that graphic quote by him and probably never will. Here are a few biblical reasons why application is so important in preaching and personal Bible study.
1. Application leads to obedience (Jn. 14:23-24).
Jesus makes it clear here that obedience is His “love language.” Similar to our spouses, Jesus doesn’t want us to just SAY that we love him—He wants us to show it.
2. Application leads to blessings (Jas. 1:25; Lk. 11:28).
Like any good parent, we see throughout the Scriptures the Lord rewards people who exercised faith by obeying what He commanded.
3. Application leads to life transformation (Acts 4:13).
Changed lives are what the Lord uses to make the Gospel appealing to a sick and dying world. Unchanged lives cause unbelievers to ask: “Why should I follow Jesus if it’s made no difference in your life?”
4. Application prevents us from becoming puffed up with knowledge (1 Cor. 8:1).
Jesus and the Apostles never equated knowledge of the Scriptures with godliness. Instead, they were more interested in what we have done with what we know.
Providing example applications is difficult for preachers of the Word because…
- it’s easier to explain the text than to apply it to life.
- we must do the hard work of applying the Word to our own hearts first.
- we must fear God more than men because application convicts people.
In a worship service setting, applying the Word should be initiated by the preacher but the remaining responsibility falls on the listener. Committed Christ-followers should be taking notes with their Bibles open during the message while asking the Spirit “How does this apply to me and what do I need to do about it?”
So, the next time you’re knee deep in commentaries and your fingers are furiously pounding out deep theological truth; make sure you’re also asking the Holy Spirit: “How does this apply to people under my care? How should this truth make a difference in the life of that single mom, college student, retired couple, etc.?” The Spirit wants to and can help you grow in this area. Your sheep not only need your help learning how to interpret the text — they also need your help implementing it into their lives as well. Like baking powder, example applications can prevent your sermon from falling flat. If you fall into the habit of pulling flat sermons out of the oven, eventually some of your sheep may choose to find another baker. However, with a little baking power you can serve up homiletical delicacies that will have more and more flocking to taste the truth that you’re sharing.