A readiness to present the message that is needed
Yesterday I finished reading Jay Adams' little, but very helpful, book Truth Applied. In his typically good-humored and accessible -- but practical and powerful -- style, Adams lays out in the opening pages the importance of "applying" truth:
When you "apply" pressure to a wound, you make forceful contact with it in order to stop the bleeding. When you give a dingy wall a fresh "application" of paint, you lay paint onto the wall in such a way that it sticks and thereby affects the look of the wall. When you speak of "applied" science, you mean theory worked out in various useful ways that make a difference in everyday living. To "apply" is to bring one thing into contact with another in such a way that the two adhere, so that what is applied to something affects that to which it is applied. The pressure stops the bleeding, the paint freshens the wall, and the theory changes daily life in practical ways... Applying the truth of a passage, then, involves exerting pressure on the congregation to implement it...So, to sum up, application denotes that process by which preachers make scriptural truths so pertinent to member of their congregations that they not only understand how those truths should effect changes in their lives but also feel obligated and perhaps even eager to implement those changes.
A noble and ambitious -- and necessary -- goal for every preacher! Adams goes on to handle both the theory and the practical points of sermon application in a useful and meaningful and spiritual way.
Recognizing that this material would be mostly of interest only to preachers, I will not even attempt to summarize the content of the entire book.
However, what is probably the most thought-provoking chapter of the book ("The Holy Spirit and Preaching") actually has much material in it that any Christian should consider, as we are all called to be witnesses for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Commenting on such verses as Matthew 10:19-20, Mark 13:11, Luke 12:11-12, John 14:26, and John 16:13, Adams summarizes the four major concerns of the Holy Spirit when we are speaking to others about Jesus:
- the right thing to say ("what")
- in the right words ("how")
- in the right way ("wisdom")
- at the right time ("in that hour")
the Spirit wants the right thing spoken, in the right words, in the right way, at the right time. This refers to timing, more specifically to a readiness to present the message that is needed when it is needed. It was "in that hour" when the apostles would be "given" what they needed. Their messages would, therefore, be timely.
It is this "readiness to present the message that is needed" that we all must pray for, and practice toward, as Christians. And we must pray that, when we do gather the courage to speak, and the wisdom to know what and when to speak, that we will be able to speak the truth in love, with the right words.
The point that Adams is making in regard to these concerns of the Spirit is also that these things are promised by Jesus! And not just to the apostles.
In fact, the only time in Acts that these promises of Jesus are specifically mentioned to have been fulfilled was when Stephen speaks with irrepressible wisdom (6:10; see Luke 21:15)... and Stephen was not apostle! In fact, he wasn't even an ordained preacher, as far as we know. He was a deacon who was faithfully exalting Christ everywhere he went. This is a promise we can all rest in and be encouraged by.
To pastors and teachers, then, I recommend the whole book as an excellent, biblical, careful study of how to make the message "stick", by a thoughtful and purposeful application to your congregation. To the rest, I remind you that the Spirit is concerned with how, and when, and what we share with those He brings our way.