Are your sermons as well-lived as they are well-studied?
Afew years ago I played hooky from our Saturday night service and hit the ski slopes with my son, Parker. It was the last weekend of the ski season, so it was our last chance to go after a life goal we share in common: learning to snowboard. It was an amazing day, but one moment is frozen in my mind forever. We were riding up the chair lift when I had an epiphany. I realized that my life had completely revolved around National Community Church for the better part of a decade. In one respect, that's the price you pay when you plant a church. But it was as if the Holy Spirit said in no uncertain terms: "Get a life!" Let me be blunt: If your life is boring your sermons will be too. If you have no life outside of church—no hobbies, no friends, no interests, no goals—your illustrations will feel canned, your ap-plications theoretical instead of practical and your sermons will be lifeless instead of life-giving.
Well-Studied and Well-Lived The greatest sermons are not fashioned in the study. They are fleshed out in the laboratory of everyday life. Please don't misinter-pret what I'm saying. I'm not suggesting you don't study the Word. You need to "present yourself approved to God ... rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). But you can't just study it. You need to live it. The most powerful sermons are well-studied and well-lived. At the end of the day, God won't say, "Well studied, good and faithful servant." He won't say, "Well thought" or "Well said" either. There is only one commendation: "Well done." Let's be brutally honest: Most Christians are educated way beyond the level of their obedience already! We don't need to know more; we need to do more. That's why I think sermons should focus on application more than interpretation. Theological doesn't mean theoretical. In fact, as you get a life, your messages will be less theoretical and more experiential. You won't just preach your sermons. You'll incarnate them! My goal as a preacher is to communicate the timeless truth of God's Word, but I also want it to be timely truth. You can't just say the right things. You also have to say them in the right way at the right time. In my humble opinion, that is the difference between preachers and prophets. And that is where the Holy Spirit comes into play. Without the anointing of the Holy Spirit, you'll only convey the letter of the law. It's the Spirit that gives life. Let me put it into a formula: Holy Scripture + Holy Spirit = Life-giving Ser-mons.
Well-Prayed What does that look like? It means you need to spend as much time in prayer as you do in study—maybe more. A.W. Tozer had a prayer-preaching ratio: He'd spend two-and-a-half hours in prayer for every hour he preached. Maybe that's why his sermons are timeless—his sermons were prayers! If you haven't prayed through your sermon, you aren't ready to preach it. In fact, let me take it a step further. You want a greater anointing on your preaching? Try prayer and fasting. I've started fasting on the days I'm preaching because I want to walk into the pulpit with a heightened dependency upon and sen-sitivity to the Holy Spirit. As I empty myself, the Holy Spirit fills me. When I'm in a weakened state, the Holy Spirit empowers me. Well-studied sermons may penetrate the minds of listeners, but they will never penetrate the heart. Only well-lived, well-prayed sermons will do that. The Holy Spirit will take your words, plant them in the soil of souls, and they will bear fruit. MARK BATTERSONserves as lead pastor of National Community Church (theaterchurch.com) in Washington, D.C. One church with seven loca-tions, NCC is focused on reaching emerging generations. Mark is the author of several best-selling books, including In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day (Multnomah) and his latest, The Circle Maker (Zondervan).