|  May 13, 2024

The following article is part of a series of articles that will explore necessary disciplines for preachers. As the title of the series suggests, these disciplines act as foundations for effective preaching.

Charles Spurgeon challenged preachers to, “Study yourself to death and pray yourself back to life.” Is that what we preachers do? Are our ministries really defined by studying the Word and prayer?

The relationship between the exposition of the Word and the preacher’s prayer life is inextricable. Unfortunately, preachers struggle with prayer just like many members of the congregation. In fact, a 2022 national survey found that seventy-two percent of American pastors need help with consistency in their prayer lives.[1]

In order to understand the relational connection between prayer and preaching, it is necessary for us to begin with Scripture. For instance, when Jesus gathered His disciples to the upper room, hours before the cross, He was concluding His formal teaching ministry. In those last-minute instructions, Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). In context, the New Testament ministry assignment could not be more clear – they were called to live in the Word and prayer! And so are we.

The symbiotic relationship between preaching and prayer became obvious in the early church. After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, when the Apostles were leading the church, they elevated the preacher’s job description when they said, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). That priority has not changed. While it cannot be said that everything in the lives of the Apostles will be replicated in our lives, the entire New Testament makes it clear that regarding the ministries of the Word and prayer, no superior substitutes have ever been found. As pastor Greg Breazeale wrote a decade ago, “Preaching does not work without prayer. In fact, God never intended for us to separate prayer from preaching.”[2]

To understand the impact prayer has on preaching, we should review the practices of the early church. For example, the upper room prayer meeting described in Acts 1:14 and the Spirit-empowered evangelistic harvest of Acts 2:1-41 are not unrelated. They are actually the introduction and conclusion of the same story. In other words, the first sermon of the church, which resulted in three thousand baptisms, was not preached in a vacuum. It followed a ten-day prayer meeting. As the 20th century Lutheran evangelist Armin Gesswein said, “Pentecost did not come through a preaching service; Pentecost came to a prayer service. From Pentecost to Patmos, God never departs from the pattern.”[3]

Similarly, consider the Apostle Paul’s consistent emphasis on prayer and preaching. He often urged the churches to pray for his preaching ministry (Eph. 6:19; Col. 4:3-4; 2 Th. 3:1-2, etc.). Paul believed that preachers are called to pray and preach.

In addition to the revelation of Scripture, consider the illustrations from the church. Samuel Chadwick, for instance, was a devoted Methodist pastor in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in England. In his first church, he was convinced that his interesting, well-crafted sermons would bring ministerial success. Unfortunately, after seven years he had little to show for his work except personal discouragement and a spiritually lifeless congregation. So, in desperation he turned to prayer.

One night he prayed all night, overwhelmed by conviction and humbled by his “reliance on human methods.” As he repented and sought God’s power, he was filled with a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit. In faith, he burned all of his old sermon manuscripts; and the following Sunday, determined to preach in the power of prayer and the Spirit, he saw seven people saved. So, Chadwick, newly convinced of the power of prayer and the Holy Spirit, immediately called the church to a one-week prayer meeting. Within the next few months hundreds of people were saved.[4]

Chadwick’s experience mirrors the examples we read in Scripture and reminds us of what preachers everywhere should know: Prayer and Spirit-anointed preaching belong together for effective ministry.

On the other hand, for the sake of argument, consider what kind of preaching we would have without prayer. Leonard Ravenhill (Samuel Chadwick’s most famous student), in his typically pugilistic style said, “One does not need to be spiritual to preach, that is, to make, and deliver sermons of homiletical perfection and exegetical exactitude. By a combination of memory, knowledge, ambition, personality, plus well lined bookshelves, self-confidence, and a sense of having arrived – brother, the pulpit is yours almost anywhere these days. Preaching of the type mentioned affects men; prayer affects God.”[5]

Every preacher has choices. Will we live in the presence of God, passionately seeking His face and preaching from the overflow of a personal walk with Him? Or will we choose to preach from our own ingenuity, the most recent headlines, or merely to perpetuate tradition? Honestly, what good is a prayer-less preacher?

You see, the relationship between prayer and preaching is more than a homiletical issue, it is personal. In other words, if you do not pray, it is not just your preaching that is at stake. A final word from Samuel Chadwick is appropriate here. He once asked, “Is there any proof that a man is a man of God like the fact that he is a man of prayer?”

No matter how you measure success in ministry, preachers must be men of prayer. We may pray without preaching, but we dare not preach without prayer.

[1] Aaron Earls, “Pastors Identify 7 Spiritual Needs for Their Life, Ministry, Lifeway research, March 22, 2022,

[2] Greg Breazeale, “3 Reasons Why Preaching Needs Prayer,” Lifeway, January 1, 2024,

[3] Fred Hartley, Everything by Prayer: Armin Gesswein’s Keys to Spirit-filled Living (Lilburn, GA: College of Prayer, 2003) 16.

[4] Samuel Chadwick, The Path of Prayer, (Fort Washington, PA: CLC Publications, 2001) 7-9.

[5] Leonard Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1959, 1990), 17.

 Kie Bowman is Senior Pastor Emeritus of Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, Texas.


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