Most preachers don’t aspire to being dull and lifeless, bland and black and white. We want to preach vivid, full-colour, living messages from a truly living Word of God. So why are we so quick to look beyond the Bible for every image and illustration in a sermon? Sometimes it seems as if we have been preconditioned to believe the Bible itself is boring and dull, so part of our work is to find lively little pithy anecdotal marshmallows to make the Bible palatable. Before we look outside the Bible (which is a legitimate option, of course), let’s be sure to check our passage carefully:
When preaching from biblical poetry – such as a psalm, the writer will usually give us some very helpful images. Why go hunting for new images when the psalm provides a resting child, restless hours fretting in bed, God lifting His face toward us, climbing the mountain toward Jerusalem, entering the city gates in procession, etc. We need to work on relevance and be sure to handle the imagery appropriately, but handle it, it is right in the passage. It would be a shame to waste the head-start we are given right on the page.
When preaching a biblical narrative – such as a parable or event, then the passage itself is an image! Too often I’ve heard preachers at pains to explain the story, but the preaching lacks zing because they forget to actually tell the story. Don’t dissect a story to death, allow it to live in front of people and let them observe its power. Be sure to explain and apply, of course, but don’t let the vivid imagery of the story itself get lost in your study. Bring the story to the people.
When preaching biblical discourse – such as an epistolary paragraph, then you may have extra work on your hands. Often the passage will be very effective and logical explanation, or even direct application. But it may be so direct that it lacks imagery. This will not be the case in most of James, but is true in parts of Paul. Just because it is prose and perhaps plain in presentation, do not fail to look for images that will help the truth stick in the hearts and minds of your listeners. Sometimes alertness to word-study will help, other times simply reading the text carefully will do the job. Be a shame to preach a “put off, put on” passage and not utilize the visual impact of that imagery, or to preach a “love one another” and not paint the picture of what that looks like in vivid terms. Abstractions don’t do the same work as concrete descriptions, so be sure to preach what it is saying in specifics so listeners can “see” what you mean.