One of the writers I like to read is an old Scottish preacher by the name of Thomas Boston. He had a vivid imagination, and in one of his sermons, he pictured the soul and the body of a believer engaging in conversation after they are reunited in the resurrection....
During his earthly ministry, Jesus had a lot to say! He comforted some people, exhorted others, and preached far and wide about the kingdom of God. One of the brilliant aspects of Jesus’ preaching was the vibrant images he used.
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.
And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (Matthew 7:24–27)
For disciples of Jesus, hearing him is only our first step. What happens after hearing makes all the difference. What produces an unshakable life that stands on a rock-solid foundation is hearing followed by obedience. Without obedience, we will be washed away in the storm.
I’ve often tried to apply this warning to my personal Bible study. But I’ve missed another obvious context for applying this passage.
The Sunday Sermon
I suspect that, as a people, we do not heed Jesus’ warning with regard to the preaching we hear at church. We pay little attention to the weekly sermon outside of Sunday. For some, the sermon only comes up over lunch as a way to praise or criticize the preacher.
Yet God, through his ministers, puts his Word in front of us every week. Pastors put in long, difficult hours during the week to study, pray, and prepare the sermon. They think carefully about what the Bible says and what their congregation needs to hear.
If we routinely forget the Sunday sermon by Monday morning, I fear we are building our houses on sand. The preacher must interpret God’s Word rightly, explain it clearly, and help the congregation understand it—but then we must build our house on the rock.
Are we doing after hearing the Word?
One Way to Build Your House on the Rock
I’ve been neglecting this area for too long. And with the help of a friend from church, I’ve been working toward change. Here’s one way I’m learning to build my house on the rock that I hope will inspire you to do the same.
My friend and I take one day each week to pray about the issues raised in the previous sermon. For me, this has produced rich prayer times, full of conviction and thanksgiving. Here is a description of our practice, which you might apply with your spouse, friend, or children.
1. Take notes during the sermon.
We capture the preacher’s outline of the passage along with the main interpretive points. We write down applications. I’ll also record any questions the passage raised for me.
2. Prepare the prayer guide.
On Sunday or Monday, while the sermon is still fresh in our minds, one of us will take their sermon notes and produce a prayer guide. We include the Bible text and then five to ten ways to respond in prayer.
Sometimes the passage calls for praise, thanksgiving, or petitions. But we’ve also seen the need to remember what God has promised and to lament the state of our world, our city, and our own hearts. We ask God to show us our doubts, sins, biases, and unwillingness to obey. This leads to confession and pleas for God to change us.
While we talk with God as individuals and ask him to work in us personally, we also think about our church, our community, and our neighbors:
- Where is there corporate disobedience?
- How should we thank God for his broader work?
- Where can we work to apply the gospel to these groups and the institutions that affect them?
- How can our church respond?
We usually pray on Wednesdays. We pray with and for each other, using the prayer guide, throughout the day. (This practice also pairs well with a day of fasting, but that’s a topic for another time.)
4. Follow up.
My friend and I haven’t taken this step yet, but it would close the loop nicely. Sometime after the prayer day, either over the phone or in person, talk with your friend, spouse, or children about the sermon again.
- What did God show you during your time of prayer and reflection?
- What are some ways you were called to obey?
- What implications do you see for your church?
Don’t Forget Jesus
Jesus is the key to all biblical interpretation. If you’re trying to understand a passage without the work of Christ in mind, you’ll probably miss the point (see Luke 24:25–27).
But Jesus is also the key to biblical application! We cannot claim that we have been saved by the grace of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus and then insist that our obedience or spiritual growth will come because of our own effort or discipline or zeal (see Galatians 3:3).
All of our application must find its purpose and power in the work of Jesus. So when my friend and I apply God’s Word to our lives with this exercise, we try to remember these four truths.
1. Obedience is not optional. In addition to what we have seen above, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
2. Obedience is impossible on our own, apart from the Holy Spirit. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever” (John 14:16).
3. Obedience will not make God love us more. (Neither will disobedience make him love us less.) We are perfectly loved by God our Father; thus we obey.
4. Our obedience will be imperfect, because of our mixed motives and uneven desires. We will always need the finished, perfect obedience of Jesus to please God. And this is exactly what is credited to Christians by faith!
When we focus on application, it’s easy to think exclusively about discipline, methods, and details. But we must view all of our repentance and obedience in the light of Jesus’ work.
Let’s Get to Work
Not every sermon will be a five-star masterpiece, but God will use our every encounter with his Word for his good purposes (Isaiah 55:10–11).
In the sermon, God gives you a passage of Scripture each week upon which to meditate. Then he invites you to build. Brick by brick, board by board, come away from the sand and construct your house on the rock.