If I have one strength in my teaching it would have to be the application of Scripture. For the life of me, I don’t know why that’s true. It might just be a habit of my life that I can’t let the text rest until it’s been applied. But I appreciate others telling me that it’s one of my strengths. I think it can be yours, too.
For this blog entry on application, I want to get very practical. Let me share with you in three short lists what I have found to be helpful in the process of drawing application from the Bible.
Let’s start with the negative, and let’s make it personal. What if I fail to apply the Scriptures?
1. The truth will not invade areas of my life that need attention.
2. I will substitute an emotional experience for a willful decision. Haven’t you had that happen? A few tears, but the truth is soon forgotten.
3. I will rationalize according to the areas of my prejudice or preference.
Remember James’s illustration of the mirror in James 1:22–25? Application is the essential response to hearing the Word. Here are some steps I walk through to help facilitate that in my preaching.
1. I write down general principles that relate to me and to others. These are timeless truths that come straight from the passage I’m preaching.
2. I search for specific areas of weakness. I think of life in categories: my world at the church, in social settings, with children, with a mate, with older people, my emotional life, my intellectual life, my leisure, and my pressures—you get the idea. I run the principles through those categories. Then I think about how this specifically applies to an area of life that needs attention.
3. I also look for specific areas of affirmation. I try to think about how the principles can encourage others. I picture people in all walks of life: the single, the married, the divorced, the broken, the troubled, the sick, the recovering, the happy, the fulfilled, the successful, the older, the younger, the teenager—and on and on. I apply my principles as if I’m standing in their shoes.
4. I spell out specific methods of correction.
Finally, let me suggest three rules that I find extremely helpful when crafting a point of application.
1. It needs to be brief enough to be remembered.
2. It needs to be clear enough to be written down.
3. It needs to be realistic enough to be achieved.
If you’ll run your applications through the grid of these rules, I think you’ll find that it helps the truth stick. It’s not a formula that replaces prayer. It’s simply a tool that makes us better at our craft. I have employed it for years and have seen that God has blessed it—and used it to change lives. And that’s our goal in preaching, isn’t it?