Application is the youngest sibling of the OIA Bible study method family. He is third-born and regularly forgotten. We assume he’ll tag along and join his brothers in the back seat of the car, but too often he’s still hiding under the rack of sweatpants at Walmart.
Application is far from automatic, mostly because application is hard. In fact, application is downright rare.
You’ve probably skipped application in your devotions from time to time. (I know I have.) Many preachers never get to application, and some Bible study leaders only raise the issue during the last two minutes as a conscience-soothing garnish. One of the weaknesses of the American church is a half-hearted commitment to Bible application.
Application Can Overwhelm
We occasionally stick the landing. We discover the author’s central theme through observation and interpretation. We buckle up and start to apply the text.
And then we’re hit with a flash of panic. I can’t do this. We feel overwhelmed.
I see at least two causes. Through his Spirit, God may bring a heavy conviction upon us. Like Peter’s audience at Pentecost, we may feel our guilt acutely and see our disobedience in every shadow. We’re overwhelmed because we don’t know where to turn or where to begin.
We may also feel overcome because of repeated exposure. We listen to sermons, attend Bible studies, have personal devotions, and read “Christian living” books. (You may add: we read ridiculous blog posts.) With each interaction we see a need for repentance. We’re overwhelmed because we think we just can’t handle one more. Our list is long enough!
Poor Reactions to Feeling Overwhelmed
In our flesh, we face temptations in these moments of brokenness.
We might be tempted to sit out this round. This is too hard! I don’t know where to start, so I won’t.
We might be tempted to cut back on our interaction with the Bible. If we leave the Good Book on the shelf, we can pretend all is well. Welcome to the land of the ostrich.
What might it look like to proceed faithfully when we feel overwhelmed by the call to apply the Bible?
Three Steps to Take
I can think of three steps to take.
- Recognize there are no more demands on you now than a week ago. When you hear or discover an application of the Bible, you’re not being inventive. You’re seeing more of the law’s demands which were always there. God’s standards are enormously high—he doesn’t lower them when we embrace the gospel. “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). If you’re feeling guilty about missing this standard, cheer up—you should have been feeling guilty about it yesterday!
- Remember the gospel. The weight of the law is immense and a proper view of God’s law provokes our feelings of guilt. Why do we feel guilty? Because we are guilty! This is just as true for forgiven sinners in the church as it is for unrepentant sinners everywhere. We all need the death of Jesus in our place, and we all need the works of Jesus credited to our account. If you are a Christian, rejoice! God has embraced you and pledged himself to you, forever. Your behavior didn’t get you in, and your behavior won’t take you out. God’s call to obedience is real, but your lack of growth won’t turn your gracious Father away.
- Get specific. Much of the feeling of being overwhelmed results from deep conviction but vague notions of obedience. This is the time to get specific and practical. Has God convicted you that you don’t take enough gospel-directed risks? Identify a specific risk you can take in a conversation with a coworker or neighbor this week. Ask a friend to follow up with you next Sunday. Have you been selfish with your time? Think of a creative and generous way to use 60 minutes this week to bless others.