There are at least nine characteristics that separate sound, biblical preaching from Bible reading, memorization, and meditation:
1. Good preaching rescues us from our self-deceptions and blind spots. Left to ourselves, we tend to ignore the very things in God's Word that we most need to see. Preaching covers texts and topics outside of our control.
2. Preaching brings us before God's Word in the special presence of the Holy Spirit as he indwells the gathered church.
3. Good preaching challenges us to do things we otherwise would not and gives us the will to do them. God has given speakers a remarkable power to spur others to take action.
4. As our church communities listen to good preaching, it brings us into the place of corporate — rather than just individual — obedience.
5. Good preaching causes humility by disciplining us to sit under the teaching, correction, and exhortation of another human. Relying on ourselves alone for food from the Word can lead to a spirit of arrogance and spiritual independence.
6. Good preaching gives a place for a spiritually qualified person to protect believers from dangerous error. The apostles repeatedly warned that untrained and unstable Christians — as well as mature believers — can be easily led astray by false doctrines. Christians are sheep; false teachers are wolves; preachers are guardian shepherds.
7. Preaching and listening are embodied, physical acts. Good preaching is truth incarnated through a person who can translate its meaning from an ancient setting to today. Good preaching is truth we receive sitting shoulder to shoulder.
8. Good preachers do what most Christians are not gifted, trained, or time-endowed to do: interpret a text in context, distill the theological truths, and apply those truths in a particular time and place to particular people in a particular church. This is a challenging task for well-trained preachers who have access to 2,000 years' worth of the church's resources; how much more so for those who are not trained?
9. Listening to preaching has a low threshold of difficulty. While many spiritual disciplines sound like exercises for the spiritually elite, both young and old, educated and uneducated, disciplined and undisciplined can listen to a sermon. It is the equal-opportunity spiritual discipline.
It's often all in how you listen...