Great preaching aims at more than the head. Being truthful and touching the intellect both matter deeply. We are, after all, called to preach God’s word, and that deals with facts, knowledge, and reason. But great preaching recognizes that just as the head needs to be informed, the heart needs to be transformed. God’s word also deals with emotion, inspiration, and passion.
One of my favorite Bible verses is found in the book of Ezra. This scribe was tasked by God with the overwhelming job of rebuilding the temple and the people who worshipped there. Ezra 7:10 says, “Now Ezra had determined in his heart to study the law of the Lord, obey it and teach its statutes and ordinances in Israel.”
Ezra “determined in his heart” to know, obey and teach God’s word. This was more than an intellectual decision by Ezra—though it was certainly that. This was an emotional and passionate decision as well. His heart was as involved as his head.
While great preaching touches the heart, there is one difficulty with the heart that must be acknowledged. The Bible says, “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9) Human hearts are easily filled with pride and foolishly bent towards self. This explains why careful preaching seeks not just to impart knowledge to the head, but to bring transformation to the heart itself.
So how are preachers to judge whether their preaching is helping to transform hearts?
Preaching that transforms the heart is delivered with passion. The message of God’s word is incredibly important. Yet sometimes these powerful truths are presented as though they were the ingredients for breakfast cereal. This should not be!
Boring preaching betrays the message. Preaching with passion is as natural as a life guard swimming vigorously toward an endangered child. We don’t expect the life guard to swim casually, and we shouldn’t expect the preacher to preach halfheartedly. The message is too wonderful and the need too great.
Preaching that transforms the heart is focused on life change. Preaching is more than explaining the text. It is also applying the great truths of God’s word to our everyday lives. It tells us how knowing the text changes how we live at our jobs, in our homes and at our schools.
God wants to change us from within. When we see the truth of scripture applied to our lives, we begin to see how our actions and attitudes can conform to God’s will.
Application answers the question, “So what?” We are telling our hearers why the truth of the word matters to them. We show them how it can impact their personal lives and how it can transform their purpose.
Preaching that transforms the heart touches emotions. Our hearers are not robots. God made us emotional beings who can experience anger and compassion and sorrow. Great preaching knows this and seeks to touch this part of our lives as well.
Note how often Jesus used stories to teach and to touch. Stories like the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan reach down to our emotions as well as our intellect.
Illustrations and stories in general can help our sermons touch the emotional cord in those who hear us preach. The passion that we portray through our voices and gestures reach to this deep part of our spirit. The genuine, sincere emotion of the preacher delivering the sermon can resonate in an emotional connection with the audience.
Great preaching touches the heart as well as the head. It connects emotionally as well as intellectually. It inspires as well as informs.
May God send us preachers who preach from the heart of God to the heart of man.