Preaching with Two Open Books

by John Meador

John MeadorGreat preaching requires at least one open book, and preferably two.

I'll bet you can guess what one of them is. You might even be able to get close on the second. So what are they?

The first open book is the Bible. No surprise there, right? Well, you never know. Remember, we're talking about an open book, not a closed one. Great, effective, and transformational preaching (which is what this column is all about) requires a Bible that is actually open, read, explained so that the illustrations amplify and the application is enabled. Not everyone is into that, but they should be. If the book is not open, my friend, it is not preaching-it is merely communicating.

There is another book that enables effective preaching. In fact, this book is so close at hand that we often overlook it. It is the book of our lives. It involves allowing people to look into the open window of our heart and see what truth does to it. An open Bible, combined with an open, vulnerable life, is a powerful combination for the preacher who desires to impact others.

You see, those who listen to us preach need living examples. We need to show them what it means to have a relationship with God and with the Word that transforms. Years ago, a man shared something with me that I'd never realized. "When people hear you preach," he said, "they leave thinking that it might have worked for you, but would never work for them." They believe they are the only ones who struggle, who fail and who disappoint. A large percentage of people who regularly hear preaching say that it just doesn't work like that for them.

They need to read the book of your life to see how to apply the Book of life. I'm amazed at how a simple story, an honest confession or a descriptive struggle can connect with people and give them hope. "If God can do that in his life, why not mine?" they say. Or this: "You know, that guy is real-he struggles just like I do, and yet God's Word seems to change him. Maybe there's hope for me." It is not just information, you know. It is truth and transformation revealed.

One of the stories I tell frequently is the story of my marriage. At the seven-year mark, my wife and I were struggling so badly that all the feelings of the early years were gone. One day she told me, "I don't think I love you anymore." The subsequent story of our crying out to God and rebuilding of a relationship is pretty powerful stuff, but it is simply an application of God's truth shared openly with others. The open book of the Bible, coupled with the open book of our lives helps people step out gingerly onto those same truths that we've already tested and found solid.

One good preacher friend shared a story in a message once that made my mouth open with surprise. He told of being on a ski trip, experiencing frustration and letting a (really) bad word slip out of his mouth. That open confession (and think this through before you share your stories) helped him connect with men in particular and let them know that everyone stumbles because no one has it all together.

The late Ron Dunn, one of the greatest teachers of the Bible I've ever heard, told of the agony of losing a son who'd committed suicide, and the season where he questioned God about that heart-rending loss. "I've been to the bottom," he said, "and I've found it is solid ground." No doubt, the sharing of that story recreated the emotions and struggles of that particular time of his life, yet share it he did in order to allow the truth of Scripture to be most brilliantly illuminated.

Not one open book-two of them.

Don't throw caution to the wind, however, and just start babbling. This kind of preaching requires lots of prayer, lots of thought and thorough reflecting on just how important certain details are. It means we think through how long ago the event took place (cussing on Saturday is not best told about the next day), how the people will perceive it, and how relevant it is to the portion of the primary open book, the Bible, that you are teaching on a given Sunday.

That being considered, however, opening the book of your life can do wonders for the people you preach to each week. If God has given you His grace in your time of failure, then certainly that same grace can be extended to others.

After all, He "comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." (2 Cor. 1:4).

Be sure you bring both books this Sunday.

John Meador is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Euless, Texas.

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