A Vertical Discipline

One way to open ourselves afresh to the word of grace.

Read books on spiritual formation and you will be hard pressed to find any that list listening to the preaching of God's Word as a first-order spiritual discipline. It may be mentioned under the broader category of reading and studying the Bible. But listening to preaching deserves attention of its own.

This was clearly a crucial dimension of the early church's life—"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:42). Certainly the leaders of the Reformation felt that way. They placed primary attention on public teaching and preaching. Karl Barth, writing to the well-educated West, regarded the proclamation of the Word as one of the three fundamental ways that people experience the life-changing Word of God.

In addition to biblical and theological aspects, we might consider some practical aspects of preaching—particularly expository preaching, preaching that strives to convey the meaning of biblical truth—that can help us see it as a vital spiritual discipline that humbly grounds us in the work and Word of God:

  1. Preaching brings us before God's Word in the presence of the Holy Spirit, who indwells the gathered church.

  2. Good preaching rescues us from our self-deceptions and blind spots, for left to ourselves, we tend to ignore the very things in God's Word that we most need to see. Preaching is done in community, covering texts and topics outside of our control.

  3. Good preaching brings us into the place of corporate obedience rather than merely individual obedience. This is a uniquely corporate discipline that the church does together as a community, building up individuals and the community at the same time.

  4. Good preaching contributes to spiritual humility by disciplining us to sit under the teaching, correction, and exhortation of another person. This strikes right to the heart of individualism, which is such a plague on the church.

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