Craft the Title and Introduction

In the following edited excerpt from his book, Touching Others with Your Words, Chuck Swindoll offers valuable tips on crafting the catchiest title and the most interest-grabbing introduction.


The title for a sermon or speech, just like for a book, can be crucial to its success. If people have a chance to see the title beforehand, it will either attract or repel them. Here are a couple of guidelines for crafting an effective title.

First, your title should convey the subject of your talk. A good title—often but not always—alludes to a problem people find difficult to overcome. The very fact that you’re speaking implies that your message will offer solutions. While we want to attract potential audiences with a good title, the content of the sermon has to deliver what was promised. Don’t play games with your audience. They resent being misled, so deliver what you promise in a title.

Second, a good title also sets the tone for the sermon. The title should, in about seven words or less, prepare the listener for what he or she is going to hear. Is the message lighthearted? Gravely serious? Do you plan to target the congregation’s conscience, or will you offer practical, encouraging instruction? Your title should reflect the mood of the sermon and anticipate the response you hope to inspire.

For example, I preached on Samson’s struggles with self-control. I planned to convey some serious warnings but chose to keep the mood from becoming too heavy. So, I titled it “Samson: A He-Man with a She-Weakness.” My use of humor in the title helped the warnings feel less threatening, which is a good approach if you don’t know your audience very well or if they are unfamiliar with you.

On another occasion, I wanted to discuss David’s sin with Bathsheba, highlighting similar points, but driven home with a decidedly more grave approach. Humor would not have set the right tone. I titled it “Autopsy of a Moral Fall.” The word, autopsy, carries the nuance of a scientific examination, which was my approach. I wanted to offer warnings without suggesting there’s no hope for those who have suffered a particularly shameful fall. God’s grace offers life after sin.


Once I have the basic idea for a sermon or speech, I begin to think about how I want to launch the introduction. Three tips come to mind to help you write great introductions.

First, determine the best angle to begin your message. Many would counsel you to outline the body of your talk and then decide how to introduce the information, but I can’t do that. With all of the information gathered from my digging swirling around in my head, it helps me to think in sequence: title, introduction, body, conclusion. I can begin writing my introduction first because I have a good idea of where I’m going, even though I may have to—and often do—go back to make adjustments.

Second, write out and memorize the first sentence of your message. Once I have a good angle established by the introduction, I go back and craft a strong opening sentence that’s short, if possible—ideally, less than fifteen words—and, most importantly, memorable.

For example, in my message, “God’s Will, My Way,” I will open with “One of the greatest battles Christians face is doing God’s will God’s way.” I will then draw some examples from common experience to validate the statement and to pull the audience in.

For the message, “Lessons Learned through Failure,” I will begin, “There are three common mistakes we make on our journey from earth to heaven.” I’ll state them next:

  • Running before we are sent
  • Retreating after we have failed
  • Resisting when we are called

Again, I’ll let that sink in for a few seconds. Hopefully, those statements will resonate so deeply the audience will nod in wistful agreement. Many will want to write it down, so it’s often helpful to repeat such statements before beginning to unpack them.

Third, write out the transition to the body of your message. Having stated the contemporary problem, I’m ready to transition the audience into the body of the message, the main points of which provide answers to difficult questions and solutions to vexing problems. In the case of exegetical expository preaching, the Bible provides the supporting facts while carefully worded theology connects them to life.

From Touching Others with Your Words by Charles R. Swindoll, copyright © 2013. Reprinted by permission of FaithWords, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc., 122–28.

Focus the Body of Your Message on Scripture

In the following edited excerpt from his book, Touching Others with Your Words, Chuck Swindoll explains the purpose of the body of a sermon, defines exposition, and teaches how to order your message.

A truly impactful sermon—in fact, any effective speech—begins with good research. That’s what prompted me to find a good seminary once I discovered my calling. I didn’t go to school to learn how to preach; I went to seminary to have something to say. The professors at Dallas Theological Seminary taught me sound doctrine, but they didn’t stop there. They handed me a shovel and taught me how to dig into God’s Word on my own to find answers to the problems that my congregation and I would inevitably face.

Two Important Words: Exegetical and Expository

Preaching that is “exegetical” means the message is drawn out of the biblical text. Preaching is said to be “expository” when sermons explain the meaning, purpose, and import of a given Bible passage. And, of course, for a speech to be called a “sermon,” it must create within each listener a crisis of the will that urges a specific response. The exegetical expository preacher’s sermon won’t revolve around a hot topic ripped from the headlines or a clever insight he gained through personal experience. Rather, he chooses a book of the Bible, divides it into manageable segments, and then preaches a sermon from each segment in order, from beginning to end. On any given Sunday, the passage itself provides the subject.

A preacher might also preach a series of messages around a particular subject, such as marriage or the family, a Bible personality, a specific doctrine or some prophetic theme. The preaching can be exegetical and expository if the sermons are based on a compilation of passages that speak to the topic at hand.

A Consistent Order to Follow

While I don’t have a standard outline, I do follow a reasonably consistent order. My introduction states a problem as experienced today, connects the problem to my audience, and then transitions to the Bible to find answers. I then describe the time, date, author, audience, and circumstances of the Bible passage to highlight similarities between our situation and that of the ancient audience. I highlight specific features in the Bible text that support one or more timeless principles. I call attention to other passages that provide additional clarity or insight. Before concluding, I turn timeless principles into practical, meaningful, actionable suggestions based on real-life challenges. The conclusion then challenges each individual to turn the suggestions into imperatives, depending upon his or her specific situation. (Since all of that is so crucial, I suggest you go back and read the paragraph again.)

The Body of Your Message

Most of my research can be described as very detailed observation. I have studied the biblical passage to discern the author’s original intent for the ancient audience—his purpose for writing and the problem he attempted to correct—all the while thinking about how their circumstances relate to those of my contemporary audience. So, the digging I do really pays off here.

The body of my message essentially retraces my steps in research, showing how the problem plaguing us today also afflicted the original audience. I want individuals in my audience to see their own struggles reflected in the Text and to identify with the historical individuals in a poignantly personal way. Making this connection is crucial. When your audience feels the pathos of the passage and relates to the humanity of the people involved, they will stay with you for the duration of the message.

My purpose in the body of the message is not to teach history, but to teach about life and the application of Scripture to living. If, in the process, people learn about geography, history, theology, or Greek grammar, great! But that’s not my overriding purpose for including those details. I try not to exhaust the Text; otherwise, I risk exhausting the audience. I guard against becoming too tedious. Everything I say must serve the purpose of connecting life today to the passage at hand.

Another great feature of exegetical exposition is the opportunity to teach people how to study the Bible on their own. Homiletical exposition merely communicates the fruit of your work in the study. There are times for homiletical exposition. When your audience has no access to a Bible while they’re listening, or when the audience is hostile to the Bible, or in circumstances that call for pastoral care, such as funerals, weddings, ordinations, and receptions. But when you have the opportunity to preach exegetically, do it! Don’t leave your exegesis on the pieces of paper you throw away. Incorporate your digging process into your notes. People want to know where you found your answers and how you arrived at them. Moreover, they want to know how to find their own answers in the Scriptures. Show them . . . by example . . . as you preach. Explain, explain, explain. They will love it as long as you remain enthusiastic and keep it interesting.

Helpful Guidelines

In summary, I leave you with a list of guidelines from my book, Searching the Scriptures: Find the Nourishment Your Soul Needs.

If you want to be a trustworthy expositor, there are some key principles you need to keep in mind:

    • Stay with the text (that’s focus).
    • Make certain your comments square with the Scriptures (that’s accuracy).
    • Use terms that even the uninitiated can understand (that’s clarity).
    • Remain sensitive to your audience and connect with them (that’s practicality).
    • Be real and, when necessary, unguarded and vulnerable (that’s authenticity).

Those are good checkpoints with which to grade any lesson that is taught or sermon that is preached.1

1. Charles R. Swindoll, Searching the Scriptures: Find the Nourishment Your Soul Needs (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2016), 191.

From Touching Others with Your Words by Charles R. Swindoll, copyright © 2013. Reprinted by permission of FaithWords, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc., 92, 102–103, 110, 128–30, 136. 

Formulate Principles

In the following edited excerpt from his book, Touching Others with Your Words, Chuck Swindoll teaches how to formulate principles that can be applied in any era by anyone.

In the process of digging, we analyzed the section of Scripture to discover its meaning. Contrary to the teaching of some, there can be only one interpretation. It doesn’t mean different things to different people. The discipline of interpretation is not subjective; if you read the passage and do not arrive at the meaning originally intended by the human author, you are wrong, plain and simple. You have misinterpreted his writing.

People often say, “Every time I read a passage, I get something new out of it,” but they aren’t describing interpretation; they are referring to application. They have discovered new principles from the passage and begin to see new ways to apply them. That’s because a section of Scripture can yield several timeless principles leading to many practical applications.

The process of digging should answer the question “What did the passage mean to the original audience?” You should be able to express the basic idea in a couple of sentences. Furthermore, the original human author wrote instructions to the original audience expecting them to apply it to their circumstances. Those specific instructions contain within them one or more timeless principles—truths that apply to all people throughout all time regardless of culture.

For example: Moses wrote to the Hebrews entering the land of Canaan, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing” (Deuteronomy 25:4). The instructions were easy for them to interpret: “While you’re using an ox to power your grain-threshing operation, leave the muzzle off its mouth so it can eat while it’s working.” Beneath that simple interpretation, however, lies a timeless principle: “Don’t deny something (or someone) any needed sustenance while it’s helping you accomplish your objectives.” That’s a rule of conduct that anyone can apply whether or not he has an ox.

Like the interpretation, you should be able to express each timeless principle in a sentence—two at most. “Application” then is the process of giving specific instructions to your contemporary audience based on the timeless principle. Paul the apostle took the interpretation of Deuteronomy 25:4 and derived a timeless principle, which he expressed as, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” He then applied this timeless principle to his day and time, instructing churches to compensate those who diligently serve their needs as pastors, elders, and teachers (1 Corinthians 9:9; 1 Timothy 5:18).

To review: Interpretation answers the question “What did the passage mean to the original audience?” The answer should be expressed in a sentence or two. From this meaning, we derive one or more timeless principles. Application then examines the circumstances surrounding the present-day audience—their needs, their challenges, their moral dilemmas—and offers specific instructions accordingly. An application is the biblical instruction [expressed in the timeless principles] modified to fit the contemporary culture.

From Touching Others with Your Words by Charles R. Swindoll, copyright © 2013. Reprinted by permission of FaithWords, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc., 202–205. 

Reach the Soul with Illustrations

In the following edited excerpt from his book, Touching Others with Your Words, Chuck Swindoll explains the reasons he uses illustrations in his sermons and how any speaker can master the art of using them effectively.

In your digging and building, you determined how you want your audience to think and behave differently, and you established how you’re going to move them, logically, from their current way of thinking to a new perspective. That’s what I’m calling the structure of your message. Now we’ll use illustrations to make your structure both attractive and approachable. Let me explain what an illustration is and what makes an illustration work.

Illustrations Clarify and Motivate

An illustration uses something familiar to the audience as a means of explaining something unfamiliar. But an illustration is more than mere analogy or metaphor; an illustration has two, equally important objectives.

The first is clarity. A good illustration clarifies what seems mysterious or obscure to the listener. The second objective of illustration is motivation. A good illustration not only helps to clarify the mysterious or obscure, it also helps the listener appreciate the relevance of a particular point.

An illustration starts out like a picture, bringing clarity to a truth. It allows the listener to “see” what’s being said. Then an illustration turns into a mirror, allowing the listener to gain “insight” into how this new truth affects him or her. Finally, the illustration becomes a window, and therefore provides “vision,” transforming the new truth into mental images that prompt the listener to envision the world. In a practical sense, an illustration paints a picture in the imagination using the listener’s own experiences.

Never forget, however, you’re creating this work of art in the listener’s mind, so you’re not limited to colors and shapes. You can also paint with sound, flavor, aroma, texture, and even emotion. In fact, the more senses you can involve in creating an illustration, the more powerfully clear you can make your point and—most importantly—demonstrate the relevance of this new truth.

Good Illustrations Are True

For years, I have kept close at hand a newspaper clipping about a man who fought a snake. It’s amazing how the truth of an illustration carries such weight. Because a real man engaged in a real fight for his life, the audience feels his urgency. Their skin crawls. They experience the life-or-death struggle more keenly. Their stomachs churn. That’s because they can empathize with a real person unlike some hypothetical character in a made-up story.

If you have to use a story or a situation that isn’t true, say so up front. Otherwise, the audience will feel they have been deceived . . . because, in fact, they were.

Good Illustrations Are Personal

If a good illustration is true, then a great illustration is personal. I mean by “personal” something you experienced or witnessed firsthand. Believe it or not, your audience wants to know about you as a living, breathing individual, not just what you have to say. Your speaking from firsthand experience allows them to connect with you personally, almost as naturally as meeting you one-on-one.

Personal illustrations work for the same reasons true illustrations do. People empathize better with a real person than a fictional character, and they can empathize better with you than anyone. You’re there. They can see you. And if you tell the story from the heart, they will feel your emotions as you relate what you experienced.

By the way, transparency is generally a very good quality in a speaker, as long as you use some discretion. You don’t have to tell them everything. (In fact, please don’t!) It’s unwise to use the pulpit or the lectern as a psychologist’s couch. And you want to avoid any illustration from your own experience that might distract the audience from understanding your point more clearly and feeling its relevance more deeply. You don’t want to erode your audience’s confidence in your ability to speak to an issue.

If you have blown it in some way and the matter hasn’t been resolved, it’s best not to tell the world. Unresolved problems and ongoing conflicts don’t make good illustrations because they take the audience out of learning mode and put them in problem-solving mode.

Be transparent, but keep the focus on clarity and relevance. If you use someone you know—and especially someone known by the audience—be sure to get his or her permission ahead of time. I even do this with my own family, including my children. Almost without exception, the person graciously agrees. However, if there is reluctance, I honor it by not going there.

Good Illustrations Are Essential

Illustrate to

  • Introduce your message
  • Make something memorable
  • Clarify the mysterious or obscure
  • Show relevance
  • Elucidate history
  • Kindle the emotions

I often close with an illustration that’s calculated to connect the intellectual content of the message with the listener’s emotions. This is not to coerce a decision or manipulate people in any way, but to communicate with the whole person.

I can’t imagine preaching without using illustrations. Those who don’t illustrate are saying, in essence, “I don’t care if you don’t understand; that’s your problem.” That may sound overly harsh, but I actually heard a seminary professor say to students, “You’re speaking to a lot of people who don’t think very deeply; that’s their problem.” That was many years ago. Today, I would be tempted to push him aside, take over the class, and say, “No, actually, as a proclaimer of truth, you must make the audience’s shortcomings your problem. It’s your job to help them understand God’s truth and think deeply.”

You can’t be responsible to make people listen, but you must do everything possible to overcome the innumerable barriers between your message and their hearts. After all, we don’t speak merely to be heard; we speak so that the truth we tell might become a catalyst for change.

That’s a tall order for any public speaker. It’s a matter of eternal consequences for the preacher. The change I seek from my position behind the pulpit has everlasting significance for the souls of the people gathered on Sunday morning, so I will use every resource at my disposal to reach them.

From Touching Others with Your Words by Charles R. Swindoll, copyright © 2013. Reprinted by permission of FaithWords, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc., 162–67, 171–74, 176, 178–79, 181–82. 

Make Your Ending Memorable

In the following edited excerpt from his book, Touching Others with Your Words, Chuck Swindoll encourages you to really think through the ending of your message and teaches you how to deliver the most stirring conclusion.

Of all the elements that comprise a sermon or a speech, none is more important than the conclusion. The last few moments you spend with an audience can, literally, make or break the whole message. You can’t fling a message toward the audience like a baseball, hoping it flies close enough to catch. On the contrary, if there’s anything you don’t leave to chance, it’s the last thought you leave ringing in their ears.

A Conclusion’s Threefold Purpose

A solid conclusion accomplishes a threefold purpose. First, to add a final “why” to the question of “how” answered by the application. Ideally, good exegetical exposition will prepare the audience’s heart to say, “So what? Show us how to put this information into action.” While the application feeds the mind, an effective conclusion appeals to the will; it prompts the audience to action. That’s the primary difference between teaching and preaching. Therefore, the spirit of a sermon is motivational throughout and devotes a greater portion of time to stimulating audience response.

Second, a good conclusion satisfies the audience’s desire for a feeling of closure. A message without a conclusion feels like someone turning and walking away in the middle of an interesting conversation. A hasty, unplanned final conclusion is rude, leaving the audience feeling abruptly dismissed, like they aren’t important to you.

Third, an effective conclusion ties up any loose ends, unifies the principles and applications under a common theme, and summarizes the message. Ideally, your ending words should help the audience restate the essence of your talk in a sentence or two. If they haven’t captured it beforehand, they’ll need to grasp it in the conclusion.

Transition Clearly and Smoothly from Beginning

A well-planned conclusion doesn’t feel tacked on . . . because it isn’t! It fits with the flow of the message. To make that happen, you begin transitioning to the conclusion virtually from the introduction. Each element of the message must be considered an incremental move toward the final thought. Moreover, the transitions between elements need to be smooth.

To help with transitions, many people craft a good sentence, which they write in their notes, and then memorize it. The transitions between elements help the audience subconsciously learn your pattern as a speaker so that, when you reach the end, the transition to the conclusion feels just like any other. They will know you’re headed for the home stretch, but they stay with you. Very often, when I transition to the conclusion, people unconsciously close their Bibles and assume a different posture; they know we’re coming in for a smooth landing (hopefully!).

Stay on Time

Time is a constant concern for the preacher or speaker. You can lose yourself in a message as minutes pass like seconds. And you can sometimes draw the audience in so deeply they forget the clock as well. Nevertheless, time will become an issue sooner or later. You can’t “say it well” if you don’t end it well. And for a sermon, in which motivation is such a critical factor, sufficient time needs to be devoted to the conclusion.

A good rule of thumb for a sermon is what might be called the “25-50-25 rule.” Break your allotted time into quarters. Devote a quarter of your time to establishing a rapport with the audience and introducing the subject. Use the next two quarters to deliver the body of the message, an explanation of your points. Then reserve the remaining quarter for applying and concluding.

Three Ways to Close

I generally close a message in one of three ways: a summary, a story, or a statement.

A summary covers your main points, principles, and applications in brief fashion, which is effective if remembering the information is important. I don’t do this often because people remember what is relevant to them. They will remember the points that impacted them personally. But if you want to aid memory, repetition and review can be helpful. Unfortunately, this can easily come across as pedantic unless you do something creative, like propose an analogy or paint a vivid word picture. When used well, a creative summary not only aids the memory by providing an image, it shifts the audience from the rational side of their brains to the imaginative, emotional side.

Sometimes a good story can bring all of the points, principles, and applications together through illustration and, simultaneously, drive them deep into the audiences’ hearts. Sometimes, when typing out my notes, I’ll come to the end of the applications and I need a good closing. So, I’ll close up all my books, return them to my library shelves, tidy up my desk, lay aside my notes, and pray. Then, I get out of my study. I’ve been so close to the trees, as it were, I need to back away to see the forest. I’ll take a brief walk in the neighborhood or run some errands. I let my mind wander without ever drifting far from the message.

Sometimes sooner, sometimes much too late for comfort, the perfect story will occur to me. Usually it’s something I’ve read. A human interest story from the news or in a magazine. A compelling description of an event in history. A great illustration used in someone else’s book—I always give credit. A personal experience, or that of someone close. The beauty of a story is that it shows the application actively lived out by someone else. We see the results and hopefully want to see those results repeated in our own lives.

I have also closed with a strong statement or a quote. But you can’t just drop the line at the end; you have to set it up, usually with some information about the source. Context gives extra staying power in the minds of the audience.

A Final Thought about Final Thoughts

Show your listeners how the sovereignty and goodness of God prevails over every circumstance, even past sin. Let them know the Lord is for them, He wants them to do well, and explain how the applications lifted from Scripture will lead to a better future. People will come out of the woodwork to hear that. Never wander too far from grace.

The Word of God is both encouraging and empowering. Our messages, if they are lifted from Scripture, should be no less so. Keep up the good Word. And never stop learning how to “say it well.”

From Touching Others with Your Words by Charles R. Swindoll, copyright © 2013. Reprinted by permission of FaithWords, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc., 227–28, 231, 234–36, 242–45, 247. 

Aim toward Applications

In the following edited excerpt from his book, Touching Others with Your Words, Chuck Swindoll teaches how to apply principles drawn from a Bible passage’s interpretation to the unique circumstances of your hearers.

By the time I have completed my digging—observing the passage, examining the original language, considering the history, culture, and issues surrounding the original writing, and then deriving timeless principles—my theological understanding, personal life experience, and knowledge of the audience converge to yield specific applications. Those applications then become my target when building the message (title, introduction, and body). Beginning with the end in mind helps me keep the message lean and focused.

When I’m ready to nail down specific applications, I glance back at the pad with my early ideas for anything that might be usable. Then, I push everything aside, lean back in my chair, close my eyes, and use my imagination to put myself in other people’s shoes. I try to see life through their eyes as I consider several different categories.

What Might My Audience Need?

First, I think about what my audience might need. When I was invited to go overseas to minister to missionaries, I took some time to recall what it felt like to be on Okinawa [when I was in the Marine Corps], cut off from everything familiar and everyone meaningful to me. Earlier, I had asked a friend what need he thought I should address and he responded with one word: encouragement. I recalled how discouraged I became, especially around holidays, and how difficult it was to have no one to lean on. I let my mind linger in the world of the missionary as I knew it, reflected on past conversations with missionaries, and thought about what might encourage me if I were in their shoes.

What Challenges Does My Audience Face?

I also think in terms of challenges. I ask myself, “What challenges, trials, or difficulties will my audience face, and how can I equip them to succeed?” When asked to speak to a group of Ryder Truck leaders, I recalled what it was like to be out of town, alone in a hotel, feeling lonely and tired hundreds of miles from accountability—a perfect setup for a moral tumble. I remember having to be proactive in guarding my purity and the practical steps I took to remain above reproach. So, when the group convened . . . in Las Vegas . . . I spoke on integrity. The applications in my message addressed some sensitive areas, but because I spoke as a sympathetic fellow struggler, they received my practical suggestions without becoming defensive.

What Reproof Might Be Appropriate?

I wonder what reproof might be appropriate, although I tend to go easy with my tone. I don’t want to condescend or sound like I’m scolding. I did a lot of that when I was younger, but I’ve since learned to phrase reproofs as warnings and that the right choice of pronouns can make all the difference. I would say, for example, “All of us need to be warned about . . .” and then state the danger or call out the sinful behavior. That way, I don’t presume everyone in the audience is guilty, yet those who are blameworthy get the point. Also, by including myself in the reproof, I avoid talking down to my audience.

Shaping the Application Statements

As I think through the needs, challenges, and reproofs appropriate to my audience, I imagine how the timeless principles derived from the passage might address them. And then I spell out the applications as specific as possible. In the process, I tailor my notes to build toward those principles and applications. I make sure illustrations don’t sidetrack the audience or divert them from a head-on collision with their need to implement the Lord’s instructions. I shape my message like a funnel to capture as much of the congregation as possible and then guide them all to the same destination: a personal encounter with the mind of God.

From Touching Others with Your Words by Charles R. Swindoll, copyright © 2013. Reprinted by permission of FaithWords, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc., 209–12. 
three butterfly three pupas

Six Ways Studying and Applying the Bible Helps You Grow

A few years ago, I stumbled across a long-lost treasure when cleaning out our garage. I found it in a box labeled Kids Art Projects. It was a gold-painted mold of our little five-year old son’s hand. He had crafted the wee gem in kindergarten. Holding it in my hand, the thought struck me: What if our son’s now 18-year-old hand was still this small? We’d be so concerned!

God very much desires that we and those whom we serve and teach mature spiritually too (Ephesians 4:15).

small boy playing with toy trucks

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

So to help us grow our faith and the faith of those we teach, He has given us His Word, the Bible. And studying and applying the Bible, like maintaining a nutritious diet of good food, helps mature our faith.

Chuck Swindoll, in his book Searching the Scriptures: Find the Nourishment Your Soul Needs, offers six ways that studying and applying the Bible helps us grow up spiritually:

  1. Studying and applying the Bible gives substance to our faith.
    Jesus taught His disciples the importance of building their faith on the solid rock of His Word rather than on the shifting sand of feelings or worldly wisdom (Matthew 7:24–27). When the storms of life come, and they will come, how better to have a faith firmly rooted in the truths of God, carefully laid in place through the discipline of study and Spirit-directed application.
  2. Studying and applying the Bible stabilizes us during times of testing.
    James wrote to life-weary Christians that “when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow” (James 1:2–3). Studying and applying God’s Word provides mainstays to keep our faith strong when winds of adversity blow. We don’t wobble in our faith, but, rather, we believe. And as we believe we lead more stable, effective lives.
  3. Studying and applying the Bible enables us to handle the Scriptures carefully and accurately.
    When the apostle Paul laid his ministry succession plan in place, he wrote to Timothy, his apprentice, and urged him to “Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker—one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). That “hard work” Paul referred to is the hard work of searching and studying the Scriptures. When we understand the major themes and theological parameters of the Bible, we rely on biblical truth rather than on the current trends of the day to win our audiences and serve them spiritually nourishing meals.
  4. Studying and applying the Bible equips us to confront and detect error.
    When we are confronted with a passage of Scripture, we can understand it and interpret it on our own, rather than relying on someone else. As we grow in our spiritual understanding, we can more easily detect subtle errors and correct them with scriptural facts ensuring what we teach to others is accurate and biblical (1 John 4:1).
  5. Studying and applying the Bible strengthens our spiritual confidence.
    The more we grow in our knowledge and application of God’s Word, the more confident we become in articulating what we believe and serving spiritual nourishing meals. That helps us remain steady when absolute truth comes under assault from a culture bent on denying the existence of God and mocking anyone who would follow His ways (2 Corinthians 3:4–5).
  6. Studying and applying the Bible filters out our fears and superstitions.
    How easy it is for believers, especially those young in their faith, to respond in fear to life’s challenges. But when we have established a priority of studying God’s Word and allowing it to filter into our attitudes and our actions, and into our teaching, we can equip God’s people to avoid becoming irrational and superstitious (2 Timothy 1:7).

By the way, you can begin the process of studying and applying the Bible to your life today. Start with fifteen minutes in the morning or afternoon and allow it to increase over time. Make sure you have some great study resources, and pick up a copy of The Swindoll Study Bible to further guide your study.

You’re on your way to helping others grow up in their faith as you serve up the feast of truth from God’s Word!

Adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, Searching the Scriptures: Find the Nourishment Your Soul Needs (Carol Stream, Ill.: Tyndale House, 2016), 39–40.

Image by Unsplash

What’s on the Menu?

An Overview of the Bible: Your Full-Course Spiritual Meal for a Lifetime!

As you learn to search the Scriptures for yourself and prepare your own spiritual meals, we want you to know What’s on the Menu! Perhaps by the end of this overview of the Bible, you’ll start getting hungry for a spiritually nourishing and satisfying meal from the Scriptures—God’s life-altering smorgasbord of wisdom and direction.

French menu board

Image by PIxabay

The Menu

Hors d’oeuvres!

To get started, please sample some savory nuggets of information about the nature of God’s Word. The Bible is comprised of 66 individual books—some taking the form of personal letters, wide-sweeping chronicles of historical periods and masterfully composed grand narratives or stories that tell of God’s dealings with individuals, families, and whole nations throughout the course of time. Every word of every book of the Bible was breathed by God through His Holy Spirit, as human authors—40 of them!—wrote as the Spirit directed and inspired them to write. This is what the apostle Paul meant when he explained to his ministry apprentice, Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” (2 Timothy 3:16).

The Bible is divided into two major sections: the Old Testament, a sweeping assortment of masterful writings that points to the coming main course, God’s promised Messiah, His Son, Jesus, and the New Testament, which reveals the fullness of Jesus as the Messiah through a colorful and deepened portrayal of his life and ministry and His ultimate purpose in redeeming the world from sin.

Interestingly, the books of the Bible are not arranged chronologically. That can bring a certain degree of confusion to someone just getting started in the searching the Scriptures process. So, it’s helpful to know that the Bible is arranged more like a buffet of meal options, where soups and salads are in one section, the main course meats and sides follow along in another section, with fruits, breads, and savory desserts coming closer to the end of the long, scrumptious buffet. Another way to understand it, as Chuck Swindoll suggests, is that “the Bible is put together much like a newspaper . . . all the news stories are placed in one section, the sports reports and statistics are put in another section, the business or lifestyle stories are grouped together in yet another section, and the want ads in another.”[ref]Charles R. Swindoll, Searching the Scriptures: Find the Nourishment Your Soul Needs (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2016), 4.[/ref]

Likewise, in the Bible, the Old Testament opens with a section of books marking periods of ancient history—from Genesis to Esther. Following that group are the books of poetry and songs—from Job to Song of Solomon. The final spread of wonderful offerings in the last part of the Old Testament are the books of prophecy, from Isaiah to Malachi.

Similarly, the New Testament offers a range of savory options that together provide rich and satisfying spiritual meals. The Gospels, which include the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John present the wonderful Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, followed by the book of Acts, a marvelous history of the birth and growth of His church (author is Luke).

What follows are the letters (whole meals in themselves!) divided into the letters of Paul, which include Romans through Philemon, and the general letters, or epistles, which include Hebrews through Jude. Finally comes Revelation, which is a book of prophecy.

Types of Books in the Bible[ref]Ibid, 5.[/ref]
The Old Testament The New Testament

Books of History

Books of Poetry
Job—Song of Solomon

Books of Prophecy

The Gospels

Book of History

The Letters

Book of Prophecy

All of this information is only preparation—like delectable hor d’oeuvres—to whet your appetite for a completely satisfying spiritual meal prepared from the Scriptures. Time for the second course!

Soup and Salad

Just as those tasty offerings of soup and salad precede the main course of a carefully prepared meal, so too, all the books of the Old Testament prepare us for the Main Course  which is Jesus, God’s Son, the promised Messiah. The aroma of Christ and His coming waft throughout the stories, narratives and pages of the Old Testament mouth-watering smells from a banquet kitchen, signaling to guests of something wonderful yet to come. From Genesis to Malachi, the Holy Spirit adds the flavor of Christ and His grace into every message, whetting the recipients’ palates for more.

First, are the books of history, presented at the opening of the Old Testament. Much of the material in this section of Scripture is presented in narrative form, that is, telling a story of God and His dealings with Creation. Also in this section, the first five books of the Bible, you will find the Ten Commandments and laws that God gave Israel to follow. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, then, are often referred to as the Law.

God desired a deep and faithful relationship with His prized creation—Adam and Eve, and all humanity. When that covenant of love was broken by sin (Genesis 3), God moved in grace and mercy to provide a way for all who would fall under sin’s curse, to be reconciled to Him.

The great stories embedded in the books of history convey that theme of God’s unconditional covenant love for His people, a certain promise of blessing for obedience to His commands, and spiritual peril for anyone who chose willfully to ignore Him.

Out of the books of history flow the books of poetry— the songs (the book of Psalms) and lyrical expressions (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon) of kings and people prone to wander, yet protected by and oft drawn back to the everlasting shelter of a gracious, all-forgiving God (Psalm 84:1-7)!

This collection of Old Testament writings is also referred to as wisdom literature for its timeless truth given to impart wisdom to those who believe God and obey His Word.

What follows are the books of prophecy (Isaiah to Malachi). God’s people, either as individuals, or as an entire nation, sadly, at many times failed in their keeping of God’s commands. Therefore, God commissioned prophets to herald messages of stern warnings regarding the consequences of their continued disobedience. These words came seasoned with the bitter spices of God’s disappointment and wrath with the aim of bringing about Israel’s complete and unswerving repentance.

The Old Testament books Isaiah to Daniel comprise what has come to be known as the major prophets because they are significantly longer than the other books of prophecy. The shorter books of prophecy (there are 12) span from Hosea through Malachi and are for the most part confrontational in nature, as God uses these choice men to draw Israel back to Himself.

The books of prophecy are comprised of God’s words of warnings and His commands to the many kings that ruled over Israel (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom) and the surrounding pagan nations of that day.

The Old Testament closes (the end of Malachi) with an ominous unresolved tension, with God’s people having never fully turned from their errant and stubborn ways.

The table is set for the Main Course!

The Main Course

The Main Course is Jesus! He comes filled with grace and truth, and declaring Himself to be “the bread of life” (John 6:35) while promising to satisfy the enduring spiritual hunger of the human heart.

The table now beautifully set, the New Testament serves up the all-nourishing, totally satisfying message of Jesus as God’s promised Messiah. His birth, life, death and resurrection are portrayed, each with differing themes, in the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew, being a Jewish tax collector who followed Jesus, had a deep burden for his own people, so he emphasized Jesus as Messiah and the nature of His kingdom on earth. Mark, writing most likely during a time of intense persecution of Christians at the hand of Nero, focused primarily on the cost of discipleship, lifting beleaguered believers’ eyes to Jesus, whose suffering brought their salvation. Luke, also writing to a specific audience, focused his theme on the evidence that Jesus in fact was who He claimed to be by delivering an almost scientific, journalistic review of Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection (Luke 1:3-4).

John’s gospel offers an inspiring, theologically complex, and captivating defense of the deity of Jesus, exquisitely portraying each episode of Christ’s miraculous deeds, with an implicit and impassioned aim: That you might believe (John 20:31)!

Don’t Forget the Sides!

Just as every magnificently served main course is accompanied by correspondingly appropriate side dishes, so the main message of the Gospels—Christ’s life, ministry, death and resurrection—comes fortified and served with a supporting menu of complimentary books, starting with one book of history, the book of Acts, written by Luke, followed by the letters of Paul, Romans through Philemon, and the general epistles, authored by various other apostles, including Peter, James, John, and Jude, the half-brother of Jesus. These letters include Hebrews (author unknown) through the book of Jude.

Each writer, with careful attention to expanding on and interpreting the words and works of Jesus, brings deeper meaning to His Gospel, applying it to the Christian life. With unlimited spiritual nutrients (applications), these books provide everything you need to mature in your faith, including how to trust that God is working all things for your good (Romans 8), how to love and serve your spouse (Ephesians 5), defend and stand firm against the strategies of the Devil (Ephesians 6), to win over worry in prayer (Philippians 4), to view yourself seated in heavenly places, where Christ sits at the right hand of God (Colossians 3), to eagerly await the coming of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 5), to maintain sound teaching, with a clear conscience and sincere faith (1 Timothy 1), to stand firm in the faith and come boldly to the throne of grace in prayer (Hebrews 4), to be a doer of the Word and not a mere hearer (James 1), to not be taken back by coming persecution (1 Peter 4), to bear one another’s burdens (1 John), and to snatch sinners from the flames of judgment, without yourself being burned (Jude 23).

What a wonderfully satisfying and rich spiritual meal is provided to all of us in the spread of the New Testament!

And there’s more . . .


The final course is the sweet revelation that in the end, Jesus is coming again! The final book in the Bible is the book of Revelation, a book of prophecy. Like the sweet culmination of a wonderfully enjoyed multi-course meal, Revelation concludes the Bible story with the sweet message of Christ’s return and the fulfillment of all God’s revelation. Written by John, exiled on the island of Patmos, this rich and image-filled book of prophecy promises eternal blessing for anyone who reads or listens to its truths.

So, how was it? Are you full? Has your appetite for more nourishment from God’s Word increased? Now that you know what’s on the menu, don’t waste any time trying your hand at preparing your own spiritually satisfying meals by searching the Scriptures for yourself! Make sure to get a copy of Chuck Swindoll’s book, Searching the Scriptures: Find the Nourishment Your Soul Needs.

Bon appetit!

Adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, Searching the Scriptures: Find the Nourishment Your Soul Needs(Carol Springs, IL: Tyndale House, 2016), 3–19.

assorted cookware set

Cooking with the Right Utensils

When Preparing Spiritual Meals, Make Sure You Have the Essential Utensils

Remember that time you got ticked off trying to find your favorite spice to make the party chili? Or when you racked your brain to recall where you last shelved that favorite casserole recipe?  Everyone knows that without all the just right ingredients and trusted utensils, the meal served up will lack not only in flavor, but also in nutritional value.

The same is true in Bible study. Who doesn’t remember the time you searched diligently for that perfect verse in the Bible and couldn’t find it? That was almost as bad as the day you decided to read a couple of chapters and got hung up on “Nazirite” . . . or scratched your head over “cubit.”

These are like hardened, glazed coverings that suddenly obscure our understanding of God’s truth. The ladle and spoon of good intentions simply will not provide the right mix and the most satisfying results. Better utensils than that are needed, believe me!

Listen, you don’t have to be a master chef to prepare a scrumptious spiritual meal from God’s Word . . . but you do need the right cooking utensils. These resources are basic to providing nourishing Bible studies. They will enable you to find most of the answers you need, and they are as easy to use as your favorite whisk! There are at least four you should have on hand.

bible study tools

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A Bible Concordance

It contains an alphabetical index of all the terms found in the Bible, and it comes in handy when you want to put your finger on a particular verse but can only remember a few words in it. It’s also invaluable if you want a complete list of all the verses using the same word.

The best concordances available are Robert Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible and James Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. I must also add W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words for you who are serious students, wanting to learn the shades of meaning and theological implications of different New Testament terms.

A Bible Dictionary

It is more than a list of words and definitions. It’s like a one-volume encyclopedia, containing vital information on people, places, doctrines, customs, and cultural matters. I recommend either The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (well illustrated, scholarly but readable) or the New Bible Dictionary (contains longer articles on technical subjects).

A Bible Atlas

The most popular is Baker’s Bible Atlas. Another reliable one is The Moody Atlas of Bible Lands, Revised Edition. If you can’t afford an atlas, at least purchase a good set of biblical maps. Also, you will want to have a copy of The Swindoll Study Bible, which also includes a four-color set of Bible maps, a concordance, Bible reading plans, and many other study helps at your fingertips.

A Bible Commentary

This is a single-volume book that offers comments and insights on every chapter in the Word of God. Hands down, my favorite is The Wycliffe Bible Commentary edited by Pfeiffer and Harrison. It is reliable and well arranged.

Don’t delay now. Get those essential utensils you need soon . . . and don’t let them get squirreled away in the back shelf of the pantry!

Adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, Searching the Scriptures: Find the Nourishment Your Soul Needs (Carol Springs, IL: Tyndale House, 2016), 59–61.

table with stainless steel plates

Adding the Spices

Failing to apply the truth of Scripture is like a chef gathering everything possible to prepare a wonderfully fulfilling meal, then leaving everything on the kitchen counter! No one is fed and the meal is wasted. Observation, interpretation, and correlation combine to prepare a nutritious spiritual meal—but it’s incomplete if application is omitted. Application adds the final spices then delivers it to the waiting guests.

Whetting Your Appetite: Getting Started

In the beginning of the New Testament book of James we find one of the most potent metaphors for the importance of applying Scripture to our lives. James compared the Word of God to a mirror reflecting the unguarded truth about our lives.

girl leaning on glass fish tank raising her two hands

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By the way, applying basically means obeying. When we apply God’s Word it simply means we are doing what God tells us to do.

Following Through on Applying Truth

Like a grand concerto, Psalm 139 builds to a powerful crescendo as the psalmist applies these truths personally (notice the change in pronouns in verse 23). David was submitting himself to the most vulnerable and exacting scrutiny by the Holy Spirit when he prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you (literally, the original words are “any way of pain”), and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalm 139:23–24). Such transparency! Such confidence and trust in the Lord! No wonder God called him “a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22)!

“Search me, O God, and know my anxious heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

Think about it: When you apply this prayer to your situation, be ready for the Spirit to reveal “any way of pain” within you.

Below are some prompts to help get you started in the process of application:

  • I need to ____________.
  • I now realize ____________.
  • I’m sorry I ____________.
  • Lord, please ____________.
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Some Additional Tips on Applying Truth Practically

As you approach your study of the Scriptures, either in your personal times with the Lord or during your times of ministry preparation, keep these following questions in mind:

  • Is there an example for me to follow?
  • Is there a promise I need to claim?
  • Is there a prayer I need to offer?
  • Is there a sin I need to confess?
  • Is there a command I need to obey?
  • Is there a habit I need to break?
  • Is there an attitude I must change?
  • Is there a challenge I need to face?
  • Is there a person I need to forgive?
  • Is there a person from whom I need to seek forgiveness?

Here’s a closing prayer to prompt you in your own expression of gratitude to the Lord!

Lord, I’m so thankful for this lesson on the importance of application. I desire not only to hear Your Word, but also to apply what I’m learning from it. Thank you especially for Jesus, my Savior, who provides a living example of obedience and surrender to Your perfect will and Your powerful Word. In His great name I pray. Amen.