Lots of people want to hear applicational preaching. Is that the same as asking for life-changing preaching? Surely it must be. Aren’t these two ways of saying the same thing? I think there is a difference.
Applicational Preaching typically refers to preaching that spells out practical implications and applications for the listener. To caricature, people don’t just want to learn about ancient history, they want to know what to do with that information this week in their lives. Since something that is irrelevant is not as helpful or as motivating as something that is relevant, people therefore ask for preaching with good clear application. “Just tell me what to do!”
But Houston, we have a problem. There is confusion in this logic. This thinking would be true if the only alternative to relevant applicational instruction was antiquated irrelevant facts. But preaching is not so simple.
In 2 Timothy 3:16 Paul writes that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful.” Paul obviously didn’t realize that there are many pages of Scripture that do not contain “relevant applicational instruction.” Or maybe Paul realized that the Scripture does more than simply tell us what to do.
When I teach application in preaching I tend to refer to the ABCs of application. Yes, there is a C-level of application … and that relates to our conduct: what we ought to do. But underlying that is a B-level of application which runs deeper … and that relates to our beliefs: what we ought to believe. And underlying even that is an A-level of application which runs deeper still … and that relates to our affections: what response should be stirred within us.
Application is not just about conduct. Or perhaps I should say, life-change occurs at a deeper level than just conduct. When life-change occurs, it tends to change us from the inside-out – from the depths of our hearts, through our thinking, and into our actions.
So “just tell me what to do!” is a very problematic statement. Are you sure that’s all you want to hear? Don’t you desire that the preaching bring genuine, profound, heartfelt life-change? If so, then just telling you what to do would be to seriously sell you short of all that God has for you!
Let me put it another way. “Just tell me what to do!” would be evidence of a significantly broken marriage. If one spouse has no interest in hearing the heart of the other, no desire to understand them, no longing to connect at a deeper level, then simply asking for the bottom line action requirement is evidence of significant relational brokenness.
Our relationship to the God of the Bible should be closer to a healthy marriage than to a pragmatic subservient slave anxious to get on with their duties for the week.
Preaching that only offers irrelevant historical information is not really preaching at all. But true biblical preaching should always be potentially life-changing – and not at just the superficial level of traditional “to-do list” applications!