Last year I went skydiving for the first time. It was something I’d wanted to do for years, and it did not disappoint. While I don’t consider myself an adrenaline junkie, free-falling at 120 mph was by far one of the greatest experiences of my life. Because skydiving is inherently dangerous, I was asked on numerous occasions how scared I was to jump.
The truth is, I wasn’t scared even the slightest bit. When it came time to jump out of the plane, I didn’t hesitate for even one second because I believed my parachute would open when I needed it. My belief in the safety of skydiving led me to jump out of a perfectly good plane for fun.
Beliefs Drive Actions
Our beliefs drive our actions. We believe a chair will support us, so we plop into it. We believe fellow drivers will stay in their lane, so we set off down the road at 70 mph. We believe our children’s teachers will take care of them, so we are willing to send them to school on their own. What we believe leads us to act in particular ways, which has massive implications for preachers and how they apply their sermon text.
For preachers, sermon application is a necessity. As Michael Lawrence argues, “A sermon unapplied is no sermon at all, but merely a Bible lecture.” While we might struggle at times coming up with fresh, moving applications week after week, we still understand the importance of applying our sermon passage. Our congregations need to hear important biblical truths that come from the explanation from our sermon text, but they also need to hear specific ways those biblical truths can be applied in their lives. Good application is powerful; it’s what moves our people to put into practice what the Bible teaches.
Calling Your People to Believe
However, I believe many of us have neglected possibly the most important part of the application: calling our people to believe. More often than not, our sermon applications consist of specific to-do lists. But when we unwittingly give our people tasks to pursue without calling them to believe truths about God and themselves, we run the risk of setting our people up for failure and frustration.
For example, let’s say I am preaching my way through the Gospel of Matthew, and Matthew 6:25–34 is the text for this Sunday’s sermon. The most obvious way to apply this text is to encourage my congregation to trust God and not to worry. So, understanding how difficult this year has been for everyone, I creatively weave specific ways they can trust God and fight against anxiousness throughout my sermon. Homerun, right? Not so fast! What about the young family who lost half of their income, who continue to fight to trust God, but who grow more and more weary by the day? Consider the middle-aged woman who learned her husband is leaning towards divorce. She doesn’t want to worry, but how can she not when her world is being turned upside down, and there is nothing she can do about it. Believers listening to our sermon might fully intend to trust God and to not worry, but their circumstances might overshadow God in their minds, causing them to doubt and worry instead.
Am I saying that asking Christians to trust God and not worry is an inappropriate way to apply this biblical text? Absolutely not! But I do believe it is incomplete and possibly counterproductive. Instead, what if in that sermon I also called my people to believe enormous, wonderful truths about God? What if I called the young family to believe that the God who provides for the birds who neither sow nor reap is able to provide for them too? What if I called the woman to believe that the God who oversees the cosmos also knows everything she is going through? If our beliefs drive our actions, how important is it for our people to believe magnificent truths about God?
Remind Them of the Truth
If I want my people to trust God and to stop being anxious through the trials of life, I need to remind them from God’s Word that He is worth trusting and able to overcome any obstacles they face. I need to call them to believe big truths about God, the truths proclaimed throughout the Scriptures. For when Christians believe God is who He says He is, they will joyfully strive to grow in Christlikeness and to participate in His mission of redemption.
A perfect example of this principle is found in Exodus 19, when God meets with His people on Mt. Sinai to covenant with them. Before God ever gives His people the Law (Ex 20:1–23:19), he calls them to believe specific truths about Himself and who they are as God’s people (Ex 19:4–6). God is YHWH, the God who rescued His people out of slavery in Egypt and brought them on eagles’ wings to Himself (Ex 19:4). Israel is God’s covenant people, His treasured possession among all the peoples on earth, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation (Ex 19:5–6). Israel is called, first, to believe these particular truths about God and themselves. Then, they are given the Law, commandments they are called to apply to their lives.
Pastor, call your people to believe.
Every week, as you stand before your congregation to proclaim God’s Word, help them to believe that God is faithful, merciful, just, powerful, and glorious. If we want our churches to grow in faithfulness and Christlikeness, and to dare to accomplish great things for God, then we need for them to believe great things about God.
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 Michael Lawrence, “No Application? Then You Haven’t Preached,” 9 Marks: Preaching & Theology, accessed November 30th, 2020, https://www.9marks.org/article/no-application-then-you-havent-preached.
*A special thanks goes out to Dr. Dwayne Milioni for this insight during a PhD seminar.