Sermon application is a necessary but difficult part of preparing and delivering sermons. Since I can always use help in this area, I picked up Murray Capill’s The Heart is the Target. Though I’m not yet finished with it, it’s been quite helpful thus far. In chapter three, Capill talks about a preacher’s “reservoir” – the source of a preacher’s passion, creativity, and ability to preach well. The primary thing that fills the reservoir is Scripture, of course. The text is central. But there is something else in the reservoir: our own hearts and lives. Pastors are people who have life experience and read/study/preach Scripture as humans in the world. Capill also gives four main ways preachers can keep this “reservoir” full:
1) It is filled by our own walk with God. Older works on preaching always placed immense emphasis on the preacher as a person. Understanding, as Phillips Brooks so famously put it, that preaching is truth conveyed through personality, they believed that the forming of the person was of paramount importance. ‘Study God’s Word diligently for your own edification and then, when it has become more to you than your necessary food and sweeter than honey or the honeycomb, it will be impossible for you to speak of it to others without a glow passing into your words which will betray the delight with which it has inspired yourself’ (J. Stalker).
2) The second means of filling the tank is experiencing life richly. God intends [for] us to enjoy this world and all he has provided for us. Paul teaches that everything is to be received with thanksgiving, to the pure all things are pure, and God provides us with everything for our enjoyment. There is right and holy way of enjoying everything God has given us. Our own enjoyment of life can bring richness to our preaching. A life lived richly will allow us to connect to listeners, illustrate truths, warn of dangers, and encourage enjoyment of God’s good world.
3) The third way to keep the tank full is by learning to be close observers of life. When we speak of spiritual truth in relation to real life, people resonate with what we say. We may speak about different ways in which temptation may come to us, and people think, ‘Okay, I’m not the only one who struggles with that.’ Life experience and observation also enables us to offer seasoned advice. Preachers often need to say things that are neither absolute biblical commands nor invariable rules or requirements. They are just advice from someone who is not completely wet behind the ears. Sermons need to be connected to life as it really is for people in the pew.
4) The final way in which we can fill the tank is through our knowledge of theology, church, and culture. Preachers are usually readers for good reason. They study and learn from others. Keller recommends reading in five core areas: the Bible, theology, church history, sermons and ‘experimental’ works, and cultural analysis and apologetics. Preachers should aim at an appropriate balance in these five areas and make time to do so.
“A full tank helps to produce sermons full of insight, perspective, and wisdom. With a full reservoir, we begin to think both more broadly and more specifically about the application of biblical truth.”
The above quotes are edited summaries of chapter three of Capill’s The Heart is the Target. Preachers, if you need help in the area of application, put this book on your list!