What a blessing when a sermon is a testimony. If the orator has had no living encounter with the material, the parishioners shift in their chairs. If God has done business with the man, we hang on every word. It astonishes. It comes with authority (Matthew 7:28-29). It surpasses mere textual knowledge as a road surpasses a map.
The testimony-sermon is the Word of God believed, then obeyed, then blessed in obedience, then reported to the congregation. It brings practical counsel from the crucible of personal suffering. It carries "the fullness of the blessing of Christ" (Romans 15:29), pushing into all dimensions. It lifts off the flattened page, from the realm of Idea to the realm of Incarnation in human affairs, providing entry points for God's "kingdom come."
For so God has ordained that His presence with power would be directly related to the praiseful obedience of His people. The testimony-sermon completes the circle of revelation and no longer short-circuits it. The Word of God is always truth applied to something, not to nothing.
I can tell when I am hearing a sermon on a doctrine that the speaker hasn't experienced firsthand. It's not that he's lying. He himself does not realize; he believes that when he lays out a homiletically top-rate teaching, he has done all there is to do.
The sermon, as it leaves his lips, makes a hollow sound on the ears of the congregation, but no one realizes that either. It is homiletically top-rate and three-pointed. They know they should appreciate it if they are spiritual, so they believe they have been well-served. They say, "It was a good sermon." If this goes on Sunday after Sunday, a vague melancholy sets in unawares.
A gap between theology and reality widens, and something fascinating occurs: The most doltish man in the pew becomes a linguistic sophisticate. Abstract exhortations to "joy" or "reigning in life" from the pulpit are transposed on impact from their common meanings to a different category of meaning, what Francis Schaeffer might call "upper story" thinking.
But when the pastor is a man who has pressed into believing God's promises in the morning, and at noon, and in the afternoon, and when he meets us at week's end to report the concrete faithfulness of God on his spiritual living, the hearers-and language itself-are revived.
King David hints at the mystery: "Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you" (Psalm 51:12-13). There is the sine qua non. The teaching of transgressors and the turning of sinners must issue from the authentic joy of the emissary.
Let us have sermons that are testimonies rather than lectures. I want to hear about 2 Corinthians 3:17 from someone who walks in "freedom." I want to hear about Romans 5:17 from someone who is "reigning in life" and who can coach me to do the same.
I'll gladly sit an hour for examples of how the preacher's faith enabled him to extinguish the flaming arrows of the wicked one (Ephesians 6:16). Thrill my soul with specifics on how moment-by-moment obedience was rewarded with God's manifesting himself to you (John 14:21). What did that look like?
Is the pastor experiencing peace because he has been training himself in Romans 8:6 ("to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace")? How do you train? Has he "overcome" (Revelation 2 and 3) old sin patterns because he has applied Galatians 5:16 ("walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh")? Provide details.
Don't leave out the part of the sermon that seals the deal, that shows the way-the switch on the lamp without which miles and miles of good current are rendered to none effect.
And if the Spirit moves him, God bless the pastor who ditches the script and says, "Brothers and sisters, our condition is desperate. Our prayers are anemic. Our worship is on the point of being dead. Let us cry out to God in concerts of prayer and fasting, day and night, and see if the Lord will have mercy and revive us. Two or three months seems about right. Who will start us off?"
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