1. Pray for persons who will hear the message or attend your group.
Don’t just pray for yourself: for accuracy in handling the text; energy for presentation; clarity in explaining truths. Pray for a teachable, responsive spirit among learners.
You can’t instill hope in a person hurting over a job loss or an estranged relationship with a grown child. You can’t warm the cold heart of a husband who is drifting away from the Lord and his wife. You can’t soften the heart of a person poisoned with bitterness.
But God’s Spirit can.
When Lydia put her faith in Christ, the Lord, not Paul, “opened her heart to the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14). If we’re dependent on the Spirit’s work, the logical application is to pray for Him to do what we cannot do. We can only reach a person’s ears with the truth.
Yet there are other things we can do to cooperate with the Spirit in trying to reach hearts.
2. Spend devotional time in the text you plan to teach.
The natural tendency when I study a Bible passage for teaching is to think of my audience. What are their needs? Which truths from this text are most applicable to them right now? It requires intentionality to pause and review my life in light of those truths.
I pray: “Father, convict or encourage me as needed with these words. Nudge me to action where needed. Don’t merely inform my mind with what I’m studying. Touch my heart with it. Don’t allow me to peddle truth that isn’t filtered through my own life and needs.”
Make this approach a habit, and you will teach with more enthusiasm. People will recognize that you have been touched by the truths, which may make their hearts more receptive.
3. Be transparent about the Word’s effect on you.
Share stories of how the truths you communicate affected you. Use discretion, because you can’t share every instance of conviction. But when possible, explain in specific terms how the Spirit spoke words of challenge or comfort to you as you prepared the message or lesson. They will identify with you, which may open the closed filters of their hearts.
4. Give anecdotes of others whose lives have been changed by the truths you’re communicating.
Stories aren’t as important as the truths you explain. But they will increase retention of those principles and are more likely to stir the emotions. Stories show the practical implications of truths that otherwise may stay lodged in their cognitive domain.
5. Keep asking “So what?” as you prepare.
Johnny Miller, former pastor and president of Columbia International University, insisted that “So what?” is the most important question we can ask about the Bible.
When you identity a timeless truth, ponder the “So what?” question in relation to yourself as well as those you will teach. It will enhance your sensitivity to a truth’s implications and increase the amount of time you spend on application in the message or lesson.
6. Read Bruce Wilkerson’s emphasis on “The Law of Application” in his book, The Seven Laws of the Learner.
Wilkerson reveals his own pilgrimage from spending almost the entire teaching time on content, to covering less content and reserving more time on application. And he offers helpful teaching strategies that will increase the likelihood of application.
Which of these suggestions do you most need to integrate into your preparation or teaching?
What ideas for reaching others’ affective domain would you add?