When it comes to personal growth, the world has plenty of solutions, and all of them are incomplete. I like inspirational quotes and pithy sayings, but I can also feel the difference between wishful thinking and truth backed by divine revelation. This is what makes the difference between fortune cookies and biblical proverbs. God has inspired His word in such a way that it shapes us, molds us, and forms us as we hear it taught and expounded.
Practical teaching is one of the five things God uses to shape and grow our faith. The others are providential relationships, private disciplines, personal ministry, and pivotal circumstances. (I didn’t come up with this list – Andy Stanley gets the credit, but I agree with him completely.) It is because practical teaching plays such a prominent role in the spiritual growth of people that I’m absolutely passionate about getting it right on Sundays when I preach. God even says of His Word,
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 NLT
To quickly break that down, all of scripture (In the Greek, graphe, which refers to all of the Old Testament, but which the apostles used to refer to each other’s later-canonized writings too) is inspired (literally, God-breathed, straight from the mind and heart of God). And… and here’s the kicker… it’s useful. It’s practical. There is a movement today away from being practical in the name of being worshipful. The Scriptures should give us both spiritual life and a life that is spiritual. And Scripture always has a way of meeting us where we’re currently living with its eternal truth.
You and I need practical teaching in our lives on a regular basis. This is one of several reasons why church attendance matters. We don’t go on Sunday to check off an item on a list of obligations or to somehow please and earn the favor of God, which is un-earnable by its nature. We go because we need to hear from God through the personality of a teacher – a human representative who instructs us by expounding God’s Word and applying it to our lives so that we can be “doers of the Word, and not hearers only.” (James 1:22)
As a Pastor, I’m usually doing the teaching, but I make sure during the week that I’m allowing others to speak into my life. I listen to podcasts and sermons by a broad range of teachers from various perspectives. I listen regularly to Rick Warren, W. A. Criswell, Andy Stanley, Jud Wilhite, Tim Keller, Matt Chandler, Greg Laurie, Craig Groeschel, Kerry Shook, Adrian Rogers, R. C. Sproul, Al Mohler, Joyce Meyer, Paul Chappell, Matt Carter, Derwin Gray, Wayne Grudem, Steve Brown, and Louie Giglio, along with about twenty others (a few each week – I don’t have 49 extra hours). I’ve found in all of these teachers the ability to apply eternal truth to my daily life. And I read selections from a couple hundred blogs each week along with books and magazines too.
And when I stand to preach on Sunday, I remember the follow-up instruction Paul gave to Timothy. After reminding him of the power of the Scriptures to form us into Christ’s image, he then gave him a pastoral charge:
I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he comes to set up his Kingdom: Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.
2 Timothy 4:1-2 NLT
It’s my duty on Sunday to 1.) understand the ancient context of God’s Word and 2.) interpret it into our present times for people who live in the circumstances of real life every day and 3.) to incarnate that message in my own life as an example to the flock. I agree with Charles Swindoll that “boring preaching is a crime,” and that too often, I’ve been the criminal. Jesus Christ and the story of redemption is the subject. The Scriptures are the content. And real life is the context for application.
If you want to grow spiritually in the next year of your life, you’re going to need a steady diet of practical teaching. You need to show up to grow up!