I learned something amazing about flowers the other day—that the angle between successive leaves on a stem is approximately 137 degrees. Now that particular angle is known as the golden angle. It is to circles what the golden ratio is to squares and rectangles. The golden ratio is seen as the epitome of spatial perfection and proportion—and occurs frequently in nature as well as in human design. And for leaves on a stem this interesting angle is the arrangement that gives the best access to sunlight.
I love design and mathematics, so this was right up my street and I’m sure botanists could give me a thousand more fascinating facts.
They could take a rose and dissect it and show the wonder of the stem, the bud, the way the petals interweave.
And all of that may combine to make one rose more noteworthy than another.
But when I give a rose to my wife it’s saying something far more than the sum of the botanical mathematics and geometry. It’s saying, “I love you.”
I see a parallel with preaching:
- Some preachers are great at dissecting a text, analysing it from every angle and setting out every truth in it.
- Some preachers are great at bringing new information to their listeners—fascinating insights from history or science.
But a rose dissected and explained doesn’t necessarily convey what the rose was for. If I hand my wife a rose and point out the mathematics behind it, or the beauty of the colours, but never tell her why I am giving it to her, it misses the point.
Our hearers come with hearts as well as heads; and heads that are informed aren’t necessarily hearts that are full. It is the preacher’s job to not just to analyse the rose, but to convey the purpose of the rose.
To change metaphors—lest you think I’m advocating we become gushy and emotional—Calvin, that most rigorously exegetical of preachers, his emblem was a heart aflame. That’s what we should be aiming for. Truth that sets hearts on fire. And while it will ultimately be the Holy Spirit who sets hearts on fire, the preacher needs to do more than chop and store the wood in the woodshed (the head), he needs to set the kindling in the fireplace (the heart), and seek to set it on fire, looking to the Holy Spirit to blow it into flame.
Preachers, as you get ready for the Lord’s day—does your sermon get the heart of the text to the heart of the hearer? And if you happen to be preaching on the love of God, once you have described the rose, do you hand it over with the Giver’s message?