In this final post about preaching application, I want to talk about what we want :)
The Bible often talks about what we want - our desires. Our desires can lead us into all kinds of debauched behaviour (1 Pet 1:14; 2:11, 14; 2 Pet 2:10, 18), which bring God's wrath, and ultimately lead to eternal condemnation (Colossians 3:5-6; James 1:14-15). But desire can also be good and Godly. Paul longed for (Greek epipotheo) his heavenly dwelling, the resurrection body (2 Cor 5:2). He longed to see the Romans (Rom 1:11; 15:23) (epipotheo again). It's good to want (Greek orego) to be an overseer - that is, a church leader (1 Tim 3:1) . The writer to the Hebrews says the heroes of the faith longed for (orego again) a heavenly country (Heb 11:16).
We can't limit our attention to word studies. There are plenty of descriptions of people wanting good or bad things. Simon the sorcerer wanted to be able to give people the Holy Spirit, like the Apostles seemed able to (Acts 9:18-19). The Apostles wanted to obey God rather than humans (Acts 5:29). Psalm 119 describes how much the Psalmist loves God's word, wants to obey it, and is upset when he doesn't.
Like a good Calvinist, I assume that we cannot merely argue people into repentance. I assume that the Holy Spirit works in us first, to give us healthy, Godly desires, and orient these desires towards appropriate, Godly objects. I won't take the time to explain all that in this post - ask me later, if you like.
In applying a sermon, I try to think of what people want. Everyone wants security, comfort, love, companionship, honour, pleasure. Then I think:
- How do the world, the flesh and the devil take these and twist them so they're oriented against God?
- How do the Bible, Jesus and the Holy Spirit change them so they're oriented towards God?
- Might we go further than changing the orientation and challenge people to sacrifice that desire altogether, for some greater good?
- How does all this look specifically for my particular congregation?
Okay, so everyone wants security. A uni-aged congregation might be tempted to seek security in study, good marks, and a good career. A family with young children might seek security in a nice house in a nice suburb with nice neighbours and a nice school for their nice kids. Middle-aged people might seek security in their superannuation.
We need to challenge them all to seek security in Christ. The first step is to show them how insecure all these worldly so-called securities are. You're only as good as your last exam; a nice house also gives you a nice mortgage; superannuation evaporates with the next recession. Compare that with the security of being in Christ: the tomb is empty; Christ is at the Father's right hand, above all earthly and heavenly powers (Eph 1:21), praying for us (Rom 8:34). Now that's security!
Having understood our security in Christ, we can call people to deliberately abandon their quests for earthly security. Forget the studies and career - spend your time in ministry, serving others. Don't live in a nice neighbourhood - live someplace where you can reach out to your neighbours with the gospel. Don't store up your money in superannuation - give it away for ministry.
If the Spirit of God is truly working in people, I expect they will rise to the challenge. It won't be easy - we mustn't make it sound naively easy, we must talk about the cost, the sacrifice - but I expect them to have a go anyway. And I hope that little by little they'll actually get used to wanting, desiring, finding pleasure in Godly things, and Godly behaviours - including sacrificing good things, for the sake of others - rather than ungodly ones.