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Answering the "so what?" question in preaching

November 20, 2019 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” (Revelation 21:2-3)  

I was in a conversation with someone recently who asked me what the hardest part of preaching is. There are many things that are challenging about it – not least of which is trying to actually be true to what God’s Word says instead of teaching my own opinions. However, my answer was that one of the hardest parts of preaching is making the truth of God’s Word practical – answering the “so what?” question. In other words, “yes, I understand what this passage means, but what does it have to do with my health, my marriage or singleness, my family, my struggles, my dreams, my relationships, my work life, and so on?”

There are some preachers who answer the practicality question by simply preaching topical sermons on marriage, work, parenting, dreams, and so on. My approach, I told my friend, is typically to preach through books of the Bible, and to do the work of teasing out the implications of each passage for our everyday lives. The example I gave was from this past series on Revelation. In chapter 21, John sees a vision of the end of time, and specifically sees God’s people descending from heaven as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband, which represents Jesus. This vision uses the best earthly language we have to communicate that for all eternity, we will experience a relationship of perfect love, joy, intimacy, and security with our Lord.

wedding.3

That is beautiful in and of itself, but the question remains: what does this truth mean for my life today? Among other things, it means this:

  • If my marriage is going well, I can love my spouse without making them my savior, the one who must complete me or meet all my needs. I can trust that God has promised to fulfill that role, freeing me up to love my spouse while not entrusting my whole heart and life to them. This also means that when they die, I can be sad, but I do not have to be crushed, because the true love of my life has not and will never leave me.
  • If my marriage is not going well, I can know that that the love, joy, intimacy, and security that I am longing for will be mine forever with the Lord. This can empower me to treat my spouse with love even when I do not feel loved by them, and to resist the temptation to go looking for another person to give me what my heart desires. 
  • If I am not married, I can know that the love, intimacy, joy, and security that I am longing for will be mine forever with the Lord. This can empower me to give myself fully in service to Him and prevent me from compromising my values out of loneliness. And if I am divorced or widowed, I can be encouraged that the true love of my life has not and will never leave me.

There is much more that could be said, but I want to leave you with an encouragement to do what I have just outlined when you read the Bible. Yes, you can praise and thank God for the truth that you read. But you can also answer the “so what?” question yourself – if what I have read is true, what are the implications for my health, my marriage or lack thereof, my family, my struggles, my relationships, my dreams, my work life, and so on? May the Lord help you to work out the truth of His Word into every area of His life.

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