One thing that has struck me about much of the preaching that I’ve heard over the past decade and a half: much of it has been very tentative when it comes to applying the Word of God.
I believe that the men that I’ve heard preaching were all sincere and actually believed in the truth of what they were saying, but it was hard to tell from the way that it was being preached. When the passage or passages of scripture were explained, perhaps related to the whole of Biblical teaching and illustrated, the application of the Word has been very wishy washy, even where the Word speaks clearly. And this has been in stark contrast to the forthrightness and moral courage and passion that has been part of great preaching throughout the ages (Richard Baxter would be quite appalled), and that imbued the preaching and teaching of Jesus and the apostles: “ . . . our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction” (I Thessalonians 1:5).
Here are some suggestions, tentatively offered that you just might maybe want to consider, if you would perhaps have a moment, when you’re not doing anything else, about finding or returning genuine passion and conviction to your own preaching, that is, um, if you’re not too offended at the idea that your preaching is too wishy washy.
First, remember the eternal significance of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not therapy or a series of good suggestions, or plausible advice, and I beg of you before God never, ever again, to approach it that way.
Second, never, ever be tentative when the Word of God speaks clearly. God isn’t and he won’t be when each of us face him.
Third, listen to yourself while you’re preaching and record yourself. If you’re sound too wishy washy, apologize to your congregation before God, and let them know that your prayer is that your own passion and conviction would reflect the responsibility of preaching the Word of God.
Fourth, write out the ways that you plan on applying the Word of God. Rip out any tentative sentences, phrases or words. Make sure that you’re not using the pulpit to take surreptitious digs at other believers on the one hand, but make sure that what you plan to say is the application that a reasonable believer would draw from the passage (most congregations can pretty easily tell when you’re taking a passage out of context to preach the Word of ME, or, um, me).
Last, spend as much time in prayer, confession and restitution (make that phone call or write that letter or email of apology to the brother or sister to whom you owe that apology before God, no matter how embarrassed you may feel) you as it takes to get the passion from being as full of the Holy Spirit as you can be. Dust off, or buy, a copy of E.M. Bounds’s Power in Prayer, and read it until it sinks in. And, um, you know, it might just be really wonderful, if your preaching began to show some apostolic passion and conviction.