This is a question I’ve been asking for some time now. What makes some preaching spiritually stimulating and life-giving while other preaching on the same text expounding the same truth is stale and cold? Aside from the simple answer that sovereign work of God through the Holy Spirit to dwell and empower however He pleases, I found a helpful answer in Revival and Revivalism by Iain Murray.
“The Princeton leaders had consciously faced the key question: What was it that gave life to plan, scriptural preaching? And their united answer was, it was preachers knowing and feeling in their own experience the realities of which they spoke.
“True Christianity cannot exist without real communion with God, and neither can true preaching. So while the technical aspects of public speaking were not ignored, this was not where the emphasis lay. ‘It is an easy thing to make a noise in the world,’ said [Samuel] Davies, ‘to flourish and harangue, to dazzle the crowd and set them agape; but deeply to imbibe the Spirit of Christianity, to maintain a secret walk with God, to be holy, as he is holy – this is the labour, this is the work.'”
To that I would add that the more direct and specific the speaking and application is, the more powerful it is. General truth to general people is generally powerless; but powerful truth explained and incisively applied to a specific group of people with boldness and force, and into the specifics of their lives and hearts, tends to be more transformative. Sermons that could be preached generically to any church at any time are not nearly as powerful and attention-keeping as sermons that are meant for THIS church at THIS time. When the preacher is speaking about some truth or idea ‘out there,’ it takes real work to maintain focus on that, but when he is speaking about some truth and then boldly applies it to your life, your heart, your spiritual walk, your weaknesses, and even more so if he is speaking out of personal experience, it is almost impossible to stop listening, because each word is so timely and relevant. We need bold and fearless preaching that isn’t afraid to call people to repentance, to turning away from specific idols and sins, and then to putting real active faith in Jesus in those areas of our lives.
Lord send your fire down on our measly altars, they are just wet stones and wood without it. We want and need so desperately for our words and deeds to be drenched in the power of your Spirit. We thirst, and come to Jesus the Quencher and Giver of life and power.