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The Mystery of Preaching: Exploring Its Impact on Hearts

8 minutes to read

All Scripture is God’s inspired, inerrant, and authoritative Word (2 Tim. 3:16). The Word of God is not just text on a page; it is a dynamic force—a fire that burns (Jer. 23:29), a hammer that breaks (Jer. 23:29), and a sword that pierces (Heb. 4:12). Remarkably, the preaching of God's Word is the Lord’s primary instrument through which hearts are touched, moulded, and transformed (2 Tim. 4:1-2).

In recognizing this profound reality, a preacher assumes a weighty responsibility. To faithfully and effectively deliver the Word, the preacher must diligently study, meticulously prepare, prayerfully depend on God's grace and clearly proclaim the message. He does all these things with the aim of persuading individuals to bring their lives under the authority of God's Word. There is no room for lethargy or indifference in the sacred act of preaching. As Richard Baxter soberly declared (our fervency should reflect his devotion), “I preached as never sure to preach again and as a dying man to dying men.”

Yet, despite rigorous preparation and trust invested in preaching, not all experiences of God's Word yield the same transformative power. Why do some individuals respond with obedience and contrition, while others remain unmoved? Furthermore, why do some who were deeply impacted by God's Word on one occasion exhibit no change on another? Why do we not witness the same life-changing results every time we preach? Why do different people respond to preaching in different ways? How can we discern the efficacy of preaching?

While there may be various factors at work, this article will address three significant issues in particular that are commonly overlooked.

The Spiritual Condition of the Heart
In order to comprehend the impact of God's Word on individuals, we must delve into the inner condition of their hearts. The parable of the soils serves as an instructive example in this regard (Mark 4:1-20). The sower remained the same, as did the seed. However, the varied responses were directly tied to the condition of the recipients' hearts (pathway, rocky, thorny, and good soil).

"I preached as never sure to preach again and as a dying man to dying men."

Moreover, did not the teachings of the Lord Jesus shatter the hearts of certain sinners and incite the wrath of religious leaders?

When the heart is broken and contrite, when it yearns for the nourishment of God's Word and fervently desires to submit to its authority, the preaching of Scripture profoundly influences such people. A heart that possesses these characteristics becomes fertile ground for the seeds of God's truth to take root and bring forth abundant fruit.

Conversely, when the heart is passive, hardened, and cold, it remains impervious to the transformative power of God's Word. Unless God, in His sovereign grace, intervenes to overcome their obstinacy, such hearts are unable to experience the profound impact of His Word. Hence, preachers must not be discouraged by the dead reactions of such cold-hearted souls, recognizing the diverse conditions of hearts.

Furthermore, it is important to note that even a heart that was once broken, receptive, and ready to receive God's Word can, under different circumstances, become hardened and unresponsive. In these instances, preachers should not lose heart but instead rely on God's sovereign intervention to bring forth the fruit of His Word in His appointed time and according to His divine purpose.

As a preacher, when individuals share with me how deeply moved they are by the preaching of God's Word, I am grateful within my own heart for their brokenness and receptivity. It is through this humble and open disposition that the seed of God's truth can be sown and cultivated, leading to a bountiful harvest of spiritual growth and transformation.

The Life Situation in which the Heart Finds Itself
Imagine encountering two individuals within a congregation, each experiencing different seasons of life. The first person finds themselves deeply burdened by afflictions, carrying the weight of pain and discouragement. When they hear a message specifically addressing suffering and disappointment, their heart resonates, and they receive great encouragement. This echoes the expression of the Psalmist, “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction” (Psalm 119:92).

However, the second person's life is currently untroubled, with little pain or disappointment to contend with. The same message that revived the downhearted may not elicit the same enthusiasm or conviction within them. What is powerful for one person may prove ineffective for another. The problem here does not lie with the preacher or the people.

It is crucial to recognize that the impact of God's Word in one's life is intricately tied to the external state in which they find themselves. Each person undergoes diverse experiences and responds to preaching in distinct ways based on the relevancy of the message to their particular issues.

This does not imply that we must preach to people's felt needs, as is often the case with many preachers. In fact, no preaching addresses all the issues of all people at all times. We must preach expositionally, knowing that the effect of God’s Word is also dependent on this intricate interplay between the preached Word and an individual’s life situation. We must rely on the sovereign work of God to transform people's hearts and understand their responses in light of their diverse needs.

Moreover, there are occasions when addressing specific issues in preaching may not elicit an immediate response from the congregation. Nevertheless, God may utilize the truth imparted during the sermon to take root in individuals' hearts at a later stage. Achieving meaningful results often requires considerable patience and trust in God's timing.

When listeners hold the preacher in high esteem, they are more likely to open up to the message, resulting in a tangible experience of the power inherent in God’s Word.

The Disposition of the Heart towards the Preacher
In his letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul exhorted him, “Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:11-12).

From this Scripture, we learn that the lens through which individuals view the preacher profoundly influences the sermon's impact on their lives. The perspective one maintains about the preacher is not a mere superficial judgment; it profoundly determines their receptivity and experience of the message’s power.

When listeners hold the preacher in high esteem, they are more likely to open up to the message, resulting in a tangible experience of the power inherent in God’s Word. Even an erroneous teaching may have a tremendous influence on listeners, especially when they hold a high opinion of the preacher.

Conversely, a diminished view of the preacher can undermine the impact of even the most compelling content and delivery. The most profound truths, when heard with an indifferent attitude, may fall on deaf ears.

In preaching, it's not uncommon to witness a paradox. Sometimes, a young preacher may possess a more effective message and delivery than a seasoned preacher. However, due to their high regard for the seasoned preacher, many individuals will respond more readily to his preaching compared to the young preacher. The point is that it is challenging to separate the message from the messenger, and this dynamic either paves the way for or complicates the impact of the message.

Hence, preachers must make every effort to live an exemplary life while acknowledging that there will always be some who disregard them and remain unaffected by their sermons. It's also important to understand that establishing a mature reputation in the preaching ministry often requires time and persistence, especially for young preachers. So persevere in the ministry of preaching, for God will honor those who remain steadfast in their commitment to faithfully proclaiming His word and earnestly pursuing godliness.

Final Words
Preaching is a mysterious task that requires diligent preparation, faithful proclamation of the preacher, and commitment to live an exemplary life. It also necessitates the willing hearts of people to reverentially hear and submit to the proclamation of God's Word.

Admitting the mysterious nature of preaching's effect on lives is imperative. It is difficult to claim to know and master the precise elements that contribute to the delivery of a “powerful” sermon. As faithful preachers, we should neither be excessively elated by moments of great response nor deeply disheartened when we witness what appears to be a lack of results. It's vital to know that not all apparent positive outcomes are genuine, and visible disappointments do not necessarily equate to failure. Indeed, God may conceal certain results from us to cultivate humility and reliance on His grace.

As preachers, our sole duty is to faithfully proclaim the word of God; we have no control over people's hearts. Let us humbly acknowledge the mystery inherent in preaching—the mystery that unfolds in impacting the lives of those who hear it. Above all, may we not forget to trust in God's mighty work to manifest His transformative power, which, according to His sovereign purpose, transcends all human weaknesses and limitations.

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