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How to preach a good sermon

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Part 12: Stirring the heart and awakening the imagination

(Content of this section: We need to preach to the whole of man)


A good sermon stirs the heart and imagination but does not ignore the mind and the will. To say this is to acknowledge the make up of man. Man is a spirit and he has a soul. The heart is the place of conception in his spirit. The heart, as part of the spirit, is the core of man's being. At the same time man has a soul. The soul consists of the mind, emotions and will.

Jesus called on us to possess our souls. This is an imperative to us to bring our souls into subjection to us, us who are spirits. However, it has to be acknowledged that the soul easily gets away from the desire and intention of the spirit. As preachers we need to be mindful of this when we preach. We preach to the heart of man but we need to help the soul of man stay with the message that we are preaching.

(Content of this section: Preach keeping in mind the thought life of the people)


Watch as you preach you don't unintentinally unsettle souls in the processing of ministering to hearts. As we minister to hearts we are calling upon people to suspend disbelief. However, we can't expect the hearers to suspend thought. Therefore, watch out not to give the hearers' thinking a trigger for thought that distracts them from the message that is meant for the heart. Build your message in a way that helps people's thoughts stay on track with the message.

In practice, this means that when you preach passionately preach also rationally. Take time to give some explanation of your use of scriptures and words. Don't leave people wondering how an earth you come to apply that scripture that way, say something about your use of it. Don't leave people bewildered at the way you're using a scripture or the words found in a scripture. Tell them something about the way you're using them and why you're using them in that way.

For example, I was presenting in a Sunday sermon a message about the role of grace in enabling us to live faithful lives of service. One scripture I was planning on referring everyone to was the one beginning, "God is able to make all grace abound towards us." It was important, in this case though, for me to acknowledge to the congregation that that scripture's context showed it to be specifically about the grace of God's provision. This I did. I did so in order to put people's minds at rest about my use of that scripture. Once I'd done that I was able to effectively say to them, "Nevertheless, there is a principle about grace in all its forms that is communicated to us here." 2 Cor.9:8.

So, where you think something in a scripture might throw up a question in the mind of the hearers take a moment to answer that question to the satisfaction of their thoughts before you move onwards in the passion of your message. This process is referred to as presenting both explication and application in your sermon. The two together communicate relevance of the scriptures to your hearers.

(Content of this section: Preach with passion about the Good News in Jesus Christ)


By the time we get to Sunday we need our hearts stirring. We've spent all week facing things in the natural realm and often suffered a lot of frustration in trying to get things done. Our natural response is to protect our hearts from all this jostling, bumping and harshness. We withdraw our hearts to a deeper "safer" place inside us. The consequence though is that our hearts are not then getting the attention and nourishment they need. Sunday, as the congregation assemblies to worship, is the time to see the hearts getting the attention they need.

Sunday - and actually any time we step apart from busyness to focus on God - is the time for the heart to be nourished, built up and encouraged. The preacher's sermon needs to stirs hearts. Passion over God and what He has done for us, is doing for us and desires to do for us needs to be conveyed by the preacher's sermon to the heart of the hearer. The preacher is called to preach the Gospel. The Gospel, remember, is the Good News of what God has granted us in Jesus Christ.

(Content of this section: Look to have your sermon stir hearts)


A good sermon stirs the heart. If you want to preach a good sermon, during your sermon preparation, see the Good News in God's Word, get yourself immersed in it and get excited about it. Then come before your congregation with the Good News of what God has done, is doing and yet desires to do. This will stir hearts, this will build up hearts. Paul gives a very specific test of a prophetically uttered (divinely inspired) sermon. This is what he writes,

He who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.

1 Corinthians 14:4 - NKJV

(Content of this section: Speak to the imagination by your choice of words in your sermon)


A good sermon awakens the imagination. It gets the hearer seeing things. The preacher of a good sermon looks for words that will be food for the imagination. He uses word pictures. A hearer's imagination responds to word pictures by turning them into images he sees within. What the imagination pictures has the power to encourage, energise and stir the heart which results in us wanting to be, do and talk differently.

A good preacher makes abundant use of word pictures. Word pictures are what you get when you tell stories, make comparisons with concrete things and use metaphors. Jesus used all of these things in ministering to both the disciples and the multitudes. He told parables, made comparisons and said things like, "I am the bread of life." No wonder scripture tells us, "The common people heard Him gladly." The common people were seeing what He was saying. Mark 12:37.

Remember, though, people need time to see! The famous Superman film cliche illustrates this. In it - after Superman had passed by - everyone gasps, "Was it a bird? Was it a plane?" Who knows? It went by too fast! Don't let the imagery in your sermon go by too fast. In your sermon, whether you're using the imagery of scripture or a contemporary image the Holy Spirit has shown you, take it by the congregation "slow enough" for them to see it. In your sermon presentation be sensitive to the congregation needing to catch up with you and see as you have been given to see the imagery you are using.

Peter Brooks in his book "Communicating Conviction" makes this point,

"In spoken communication it is particularly important to give time for the image to be comtemplated."

(Content of this section: The Holy Spirit uses word pictures to paint of a scene of God's glory in the heart of man)


The Bible constantly makes use of word pictures. The Bible creates paints pictures using words and the way they are put together. What we read in the Bible came not "by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." As Author of the Bible the Holy Spirit uses word pictures to paint a landscape within a person's heart that helps his life reflect the glory to God. One can't help but think that this is, at least in part, what is being communicated to us when Paul writes the following in his second letter to the Corinthian church.

Clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.

2 Corinthians 3:3 - NKJV

(Content of this section: An example of seeing the word pictures in scripture)


An example of the Bible's use of words intended to present the hearers with pictures in their imaginations is found in Psalm 55:22. A Bible verse like this needs delivering to the congregation in a way that awakens their imaginations to see the word pictures. It is all too common for the congregation to lazily hear without picturing. A good sermon presentation will awaken them to picture what is heard.

The first word, for example, is "casting." Casting is a great word for the imagination to picture. Present it that way to the congregation. Likewise, the word "burdens" needs bringing to life in pictures visible to the imagination of the hearers. The next two clauses of the verse are also very visual provided you do the background work on them needed to visualise them yourself before then presenting the visualisation of them to the congregation.

Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.

Psalm 55:22 - NKJV

(Content of this section: Receiving word pictures from the Holy Spirit for your sermon)


As a Spirit-filled preacher Holy Spirit word pictures can be brought to your thoughts in your sermon preparation and fill your mouth in your sermon presentation. The one who penned Psalm 45 expressed it this way,

My heart is overflowing with a good theme; I recite my composition concerning the King; My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.

Psalm 45:1 - NKJV


(This web article is a work in progress. It will be added to regularly. If you're following this article let us know by leaving a comment below.)

Preview of content in next part:

  • Prayer, preparation and more prayer brings about a good sermon
  • Example of prayer after preparation giving the Lord space to put the sermon right
  • A sermon needs to not only say what to do but also show Jesus as the answer on how to do it
  • As a preacher point people to Jesus as the answer to their lives
  • An example of the apostles presenting Jesus as the answer

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