Summary: How to preach a doxology sermon, a sermon praising God
In this lesson I hope to present some elements of a doxology sermon which gives praise to God.
Augustine wrote about three kinds of sermon, the subdued sermon for teaching, the elegant sermon for praise and the majestic sermon for exhortation. We have already covered the didactic, teaching sermon in an early lesson. For the next two lessons, we will cover Augustine's other two styles, the praise sermon and what others have called preaching in grand style.
A lot of people who have studied how to preach will tell you that you must preach application, application, application. That is a fine principle as far as it goes, but it can tend to place the focus on us rather than on God. There is a style of sermon that focuses exclusively on God, the praise sermon, the doxology. We usually think of a doxology as the closing words of a church service, but a whole sermon can be a doxology, a sermon of praise, a laudatory discourse.
This chapter focuses on God as the entire subject matter for a sermon. It covers descriptions about God, praise of God, worship of God, and loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30) even while preaching.
1. God, the Focus of Preaching
God is mentioned habitually in preaching, but the focus can easily tend to be on human personalities, theatrics, ritual, ceremony, gadgets, religious trappings, phenomena, religious experiences, music, singing, and not God. There is nothing wrong with any of those things, but when they take the limelight from God, so that our sense of awe is focused on people or things and not God, when we deceive ourselves into believing that the things of the flesh make us full of the Spirit, then something is wrong.
In his book called The Supremacy of God in Preaching, (1990, Baker Books) John Piper states that people are “starving for the greatness of God.” (p. 9) He writes that “God himself is the necessary subject matter of our preaching, in his majesty and truth and holiness and righteousness and wisdom and faithfulness and sovereignty and grace…most of our people have no one in the world to tell them, week in and week out, about the supreme beauty and majesty of God” (p. 12) Our churches need to enter “an atmosphere of the holiness of God which leaves its aroma on their lives all week long” (p. 22).
God is spirit, so we cannot observe him with our physical senses, except when he specially reveals himself. So the natural tendency is to focus on physical things that we can see with our eyes. The challenge is to focus on God, to acknowledge Jesus as head of the church while we preach, to allow the Holy Spirit to illuminate the Bible which we preach from. Catholics have a wonderful sense of awe which we Protestants sometimes lack. Catholics speak of not just "the Bible" but "the Holy Scriptures." They speak of heaven and heavenly personalities as if they are near, whereas we Protestants sometimes tend to see heaven as a far off place. Many people believe that God has gone afar off and is unreachable. They travel long distances to hear some guru because they believe that is the only way to find God. But God is not far. He is as near as a walk in the park, or a bedside prayer. He is as near as a heartbeat and a breath, because every heartbeat and every breath comes from him. An ancient prophet described God's nearness to us by saying that God fills heaven and earth (Jeremiah 23:24). Early Christians knew that God is not far (Acts 17:27-28).
We too can capture this sense of worshipful awe as we preach in an attitude of spiritual awareness, focusing on the personality of God rather than the personalities of fellow human beings. God alone is life, and only when he is the source of our preaching will our sermons contain life. God does not live in a church building. Walls cannot contain him. A focus on these things can tend to diminish him. God is spirit and not material, we cannot limit him to a material church environment. He inhabits eternity and our preaching must speak from that eternity. He is the same today as he always was and always will be, so our preaching must speak from his reliability and utter trustworthiness.
2. Praising God, the Heart of Preaching
What do we praise God for? Praising God is rejoicing in him, adoring God, thanking him, saluting, blessing, celebrating, confessing him, boasting about him, laudatory discourse, giving him glory, honor, approbation and commendation. Paul told the saints at Philippi to think on those things that are worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8).