Application of the Bible is a priority in my preaching. I never leave the congregation to guess how the text applies. I plan the application of the message just as carefully as I work through its introduction and exposition.
I have discovered that if you cannot summarize the application of your sermon in a sentence or two, you don’t have a sermon. You may have a number of interesting and accurate thoughts, but you won’t have it drawn together into a cohesive whole. The result? No one will remember what was said. You ought to be able to give your message in one or two sentences. Here’s an example: Christ has set us free, and we should enjoy the liberty that He’s provided for us through His death and resurrection. Your message should state and restate that thought from various angles so that the theme pulsates through your sermon.
Apply this outside the message as well. It’s wonderful if you have a sensitive minister of music who can weave that theme like a thread through the anthem the choir sings, or the arrangement the ensemble plays, or the song the soloist brings, or the hymns and choruses through which the congregation worships. By doing that, the whole service underscores and affirms the message—not just your preaching. People leave with the application ringing in their minds, almost like a tune you can’t get out of your head.
I always suggest timeless principles at the end of a message . . . lessons the listener can carry home and use. Really use. I learned from Dr. Stan Toussaint, one of my professors when I attended seminary, that it’s helpful to put the application toward the end of a message. There’s something about ending a message with a clincher that makes it more effective. For example, I will often say, “There are three warnings here that all of us would be wise to heed.” Then I list each one in a brief manner, explaining how they can be applied, and then I repeat them. I often ask the congregation to write down the principles. Why write them down? I learned a little saying many years ago that I have found helpful: “Thoughts disentangle themselves over the lips and through the fingertips.” In other words, when something is not clear, it’s often helpful to talk it out and also to write it down. That brings clarity.
Don’t skimp on the application of the message. Don’t spend all of your time explaining the text without explaining how the text applies. One of my mentors, Dr. Howard Hendricks, offers a poignant warning:
Every time you observe and interpret [the Bible] but fail to apply [it], you perform an abortion on the Scriptures in terms of their purpose. The Bible was not written to satisfy your curiosity; it was written to transform your life.[ref]Howard G. Hendricks and William D. Hendricks, Living by the Book (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991), p 284.[/ref]
Pretty blunt, but his point is true: the Bible was meant to be lived—not just studied.
Application is the ultimate goal of our preaching. Go there . . . every single time.