How to Warm Readers’ Hearts

Something happens when I listen to a Tim Keller sermon.

About two-thirds of the way through, my heart starts to swell, lightly at first, then faster. Like a hot air balloon, I gently lift off the ground before rising higher and higher. 

Hot air balloons fly because the hot air applied inside the balloon makes it lighter than the cooler air around it, which causes it to float.

Just like a skilled hot air balloon pilot knows when how to make a balloon sink or float, Keller seems to know just when to trigger the gospel to heat my heart and send it soaring. 

As writers, we can similarly warm our readers' hearts with the gospel. And we do this by showing them Jesus. 

SHOW THEM JESUS

A while back, I submitted an article to Davis Wetherell, the fine editor at Unlocking the Bible. His comments were extremely helpful, but one of them stood out. It said, "Is there some way we can point people back to Jesus here? I want people to SEE Jesus."

As I re-read my piece, I realized that while I had told readers about Jesus, I hadn't actually shown them Jesus. Those are two different things.

Jerry Jenkins explains: "When you show rather than tell, you make the reader part of the experience."

How do you do that?

Let’s look at an example from Charles Spurgeon about the cross:

Here is a dark and gloomy garden. The ground is crisp with the cold frost of midnight. Between those gloomy olive trees, I see a man, I hear Him groan out His life in prayer! Listen, angels! Listen, men, and wonder! It is the Savior groaning out His soul! Come and see Him. Behold His brow! O heavens! Drops of blood are streaming down His face and from His body.

Every pore is open, and it sweats; but not the sweat of men that toil for bread. It is the sweat of one that toils for heaven—He “sweats great drops of blood”! That is the blood-shedding, without which there is no remission!

Follow that man further. They have dragged Him with sacrilegious hands from the place of His prayer and His agony and they have taken Him to the hall of Pilate. They seat Him in a chair and mock Him. A robe of purple is put on His shoulders in mockery. And mark His brow—they have put about it a crown of thorns and the crimson drops of gore are rushing down His cheeks! Angels! The drops of blood are running down His cheeks!

But turn aside that purple robe for a moment. His back is bleeding. Tell me demons did this! They lift up the whips, still dripping clots of gore. They scourge and tear His flesh and make a river of blood to run down His shoulders! That is the shedding of blood without which there is no remission!

Not yet have I done—they hurry Him through the streets. They fling Him on the ground. They nail His hands and feet to the transverse wood! They hoist it in the air. They dash it into its socket. It is fixed, and there He hangs—the Christ of God! Blood from His head; blood from His hands; blood from His feet! In agony unknown He bleeds away His life!

In terrible throes He exhausts His soul. “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani.” And then look! They pierce His side and forthwith runs out blood and water!

This is the shedding of blood, sinners and saints. This is the awful shedding of blood, the terrible pouring out of blood without which for you and for the whole human race, there is no remission!

Spurgeon’s words are so powerful because they transport you to the scene. He doesn’t just tell you about the crucifixion; he takes you to it. (By the way, if you want more of that sermon, and I’m sure you do, you can read the transcript or listen to an audio performance.)

WARM YOUR READERS’ HEARTS

When you’re pressed for time and writing in a hurry, it’s easy to be didactic. It’s easy to just tell people what you want them to know. But that’s usually not the best delivery method.

There’s a reason so many preachers quote writers who prioritize illustrations in their sermons. C.S. Lewis is one of those writers. His writing brims with illustrations that show people the truth. Here’s what that means in Lewis’ own words:

In writing. Don't use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was "terrible," describe it so that we'll be terrified. Don't say it was "delightful"; make us say "delightful" when we've read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, "Please will you do my job for me."

Don’t make your readers do your job. Spend time showing them Jesus. Show them Jesus and he will do the warming.

The next time you finish writing something, ask yourself, Will my readers see Jesus in this?


Grayson Pope (M.A., Christian Studies) is a husband and father of four and the Managing Web Editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He serves as a writer and editor with Prison Fellowship. For more of Grayson’s writing check out his website or follow him on Twitter.