By Pastor Bruce K. Oyen
First Baptist Church
There are many good daily devotional books to read. Some are from the past, but still in print. These would include C. H. Spurgeon’s “Morning And Evening,” Andrew Murray’s “God’s Best Secrets,” Oswald Chambers’ “My Utmost For His Highest,” and M. R. DeHaan’s “Our Daily Bread.” Some are more-recent and on-going, such as “Anchor” devotional, “Our Daily Bread,” and “The Baptist Bread.” Perhaps the best one is produced by the Institute For Creation Research, which was started by the late Henry Morris. Their devotional booklet is called, “Days Of Praise.”
What valuable lessons for sermons can we learn from daily devotional books and booklets? Let make one point clear at once: I am not referring to their brevity, which is certainly appropriate for daily devotional books. While sermons need not be long to be good, they should not be so long that they will lose their effectiveness. In his book on preaching, John R. Stott said that in today’s culture, a 20-minute sermon is too short and a 40-minute sermon is too long. Even C. H. Spurgeon, who lived long before modern technology shortened people’s attention span (he died in 1892), said that if a man can’t say what he wants to say in 40 minutes, when will he say it? It might have been the famous Richard Baxter who announced the last point of one of his sermons with these words: “And 65thly…..” He did no live by the rule of brevity!
Well, if brevity is not one of the lessons for sermons we can learn from devotional books, what is one of them? It is this: a sermon’s main points should be unmistakably clear and easily understood! No listener who is paying attention to a sermon should wonder what a preacher’s main points are. A devotional book might have only one main point, but in a good one, it is clearly stated and easily understood. Spurgeon said something to this effect, “Some men think in a haze and preach in a smoke,” by which he meant they do not think clearly, and they do not make themselves easily understood.
Because a sermon’s main points should be unmistakably clear and easily understood, preachers should make sure their audience knows when a new main point is about to be introduced by saying something such as, “Now, we will turn our attention to my 2nd main point, which is…………….” We call this a transitional sentence.
Another valuable lesson preachers can learn from devotional books is this: It should be obvious that the Bible verses used in a sermon really do teach and support the point or points we claim to find in them. So, then, if our theme is “The Importance Of Prayer,” we should quote or read verses that affirm this point. One such verse is James 1:5, which says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” Another verse is James 5:13, part of which says, “Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray.”
Another valuable lesson preachers can learn from devotional books is that a Biblical truth can be made clear by a practical illustration. Recently, in a sermon on Daniel chapter 1, one of my points was that innocent people often suffer the consequences of the bad choices and actions of others.. This was based on the fact that Daniel 1 says Daniel and other good persons were taken into captivity by the Babylonians, even though the captivity was the result of the sinfulness of others. I illustrated that point by what I did on the school bus I drive. I said I had told the students to not throw trash on the floor. But many of them ignored what I had said. The floor was a mess! Candy wrappers were everywhere! Therefore, I told the students they could not eat on the bus for a week. This meant that the innocent students paid for the actions of the guilty ones. This might be unfair, but such is life.