Recently, I picked up a small book called Pandemics, Plagues, and Natural Disasters: What Is God Saying to Us? by Erwin Lutzer. The book seeks to explain God’s role in suffering by looking at how God uses tragedies throughout the Bible to speak directly to his people.
Lutzer sets the stage by using Jesus’ familiar story about the wise and foolish builders (Matthew 7:24-27). Two men built seemingly identical houses, and then both experienced a great storm. Jesus said the rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against each house. As a result, it became clear the two houses were not identical at all. One house was built on a foundation of rock and was able to withstand the storm. Jesus described the builder of this house as a wise man who heard his words and put them into practice. The other house was built on a foundation of sand, and the storm brought it down with a great crash. Jesus described the builder of the second house as a foolish man who heard his words and did not put them into practice.
The storm (the natural disaster) in Jesus’ story had a clarifying power because it revealed the values and faith of the two men. Lutzer writes, “If we are rooted in the promises of Jesus, we can endure; if not, we will be swept away by our own human philosophies and narrow interpretations.”
Reading the book in this age of COVID-19 reinforced for me one of the most fundamental responsibilities of preachers—the need to help people connect the reality of life and the meaning of the Scriptures. It’s one thing to know the Bible; it’s something else entirely to be able to apply the Bible to life, not just in a way that brings answers, but in a manner that brings meaning and hope.
Connection to Life
In Acts 2, on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit filled the disciples, enabling them to speak in other languages, some people asked, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12) and others mocked them by accusing them of being drunk (Acts 2:13). Peter responded,
Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel (Acts 2:14-15).
Then Peter quoted from Joel 2:28-32, a prophecy about “the Day of the Lord” that ended with the words, “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21).
Peter was pointing out that what was happening among them was not some unexplained peculiarity or human weakness; rather, it was the work of God. The phrase, “in the last days” (Acts 2:17), was a familiar Old Testament expression related to the Messiah. So, Peter spoke to the reaction of the crowd by helping them make a connection between what was happening and the meaning of the Scriptures.
This resulted in the very first “gospel” sermon that included the truth of how Jesus was accredited by God through the miracles he performed, and how God used wicked men to accomplish his purpose for Jesus to die on the cross and then be raised from the dead. The sermon also shared David’s testimony to Christ’s lordship and, ultimately, the declaration that Jesus was both Lord and Christ. And while not everyone accepted Peter’s message, many did. “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41). The Jewish listeners understood what Peter was saying because he connected what was happening that day to the Scriptures.
Direction for Life
Paul wrote, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).As someone charged with the responsibility of delivering a message each week, I believe the Scriptures give direction for life. That means every time I stand up to preach, the practical application of the Scriptures must be one of my primary goals. I love to explain the Scriptures and I love to illustrate the Scriptures, but even if you do both extremely well you can fail miserably with your message if you don’t connect the Scriptures to life through practical application.
As Paul was concluding his letter to the church in Philippi, he wrote, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).That was Paul’s way of saying knowledge alone is not enough when it comes to the Scriptures. He was saying knowledge needs to be applied to the direction of our lives, the choices of our lives, the priorities of our lives, and in how we respond to the mistakes of our lives.
So, let’s expand our process for writing a sermon from a certain number of hours or days we set aside each week; let’s enlarge it to include the constant and continual reading of God’s Word—studying it, memorizing it, and meditating on it. As we study, we should prioritize the practice of asking questions. What does this verse or passage teach me about God or the world or myself? Is this verse or passage leading me to some kind of action or response? These kinds of questions help us connect the Scriptures to the reality of life.
When we preach the Scriptures with a connection (or application) to life, we help our listeners become fully devoted followers of Christ who are prepared for any challenge, temptation, or struggle they face.