The preaching ministry is a spiritual enterprise. John Knox says, “True preaching from start to finish is the work of the Spirit.”John Knox, The Integrity of Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon, 1957), 89. Consequently, preaching has to be navigated in utter dependence on the third person of the Trinity from the very beginning of the sermon journey. This pursuit involves both our study of the Bible (cf. 2 Tim 2:15) as well as our prayer for the Spirit to be effectual in its proclamation (cf. Luke 11:1–13; John 14:12–14). Here are some specific ways to lean into the Spirit’s attendance before you ever get up to preach.
- Study for personal transformation. Before Paul exhorted Timothy to “preach the word” (2 Tim 4:2), he reminded him that the Scriptures were “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16–18). The first application of this truth is to the “man of God” (2 Tim 3:17), an Old Testament designation of God’s prophet. If the Holy Spirit wrote a book that fosters this kind of life transformation in us, then how can we expect His presence to be effectual in our preaching if we bypass what He desires to do in us as His child? Preacher, before you study your preaching text to develop a sermon, study it with a desire to know more of God and be transformed into Christ’s image. Then when you preach it, you’ll do so out of the overflow of a life that’s been gripped by the voice of God.
- Engage in careful exposition. If the Bible is truly breathed out by God’s Spirit, then we’re compelled to study and teach it in such a way that rightly represents what He intended to say. If you want God’s Spirit to empower you as you preach, then it just makes sense that you should give yourself to studying His Word with integrity. If the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible, then it’s insane for us to expect Him to attend to our preaching if we treat His words lightly, interpret and teach them out of context, or use them for any other purpose than what He intended. Preacher, approach your sermon preparation with the goal of discovering the Holy Spirit’s intended meaning in your preaching text and exposing that meaning to your people.
- Pray for spiritual illumination. When we preach expositionally, we’re not giving people new information. The information has been in the Bible all the time. But what we do need is for everyone involved to gain a deeper and more accurate understanding of the meaning that’s there. That’s what the Spirit does. He illuminates the minds of both preacher and people to mentally and spiritually understand the correct meaning and significance of biblical truth (cf. Luke 24:32; 1 Cor 2:14). Al Mohler says, “Both the preacher and the hearers are dependent upon the work of the Holy Spirit for any adequate understanding of the text.”R. Albert Mohler, Jr., He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World (Chicago: Moody, 2008), 45. Prayerfully, we will receive illumination to our preaching text as we study and prepare. Our listeners will receive illumination as they listen to the sermon and process it in the days following its delivery. So diligently ask the Spirit to accomplish this work in both you and your people.
- Ask for genuine conviction. Not only does the Holy Spirit illuminate people’s minds to truth, He also convicts them as they hear it proclaimed (see John 16:8). The word convict means to bring to light, expose, refute or convince with a view toward correction. It involves the Spirit’s work of bringing people to the honest realization that God is right and they are wrong, and that they need to respond obediently to what He says. As the Spirit convicts people of God’s truth, He supernaturally applies it to their lives, navigating the infinite number of specific situations and problems they face at just the right time and in just the right way. So, pray diligently for God to enable both believers and unbelievers to hear His voice. Ask Him to convict them, grant them repentance, and guide them to Christ-like living. Pray for Him to connect your accurate exposition to people’s lives through genuine conviction.
- Plead for supernatural presentation. Regardless of whether we refer to the Spirit’s work in sermon delivery as anointing, unction or filling, we’ll never experience it without sacrificial prayer. M. Bounds says that this heavenly help “comes to the preacher not in the study but in the closet,”E.M. Bounds, Power through Prayer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), 69. and that “prayer, much prayer, is the price of preaching unction”).Ibid., 74. The Spirit’s effects and influences on the preacher’s presentation of the sermon aren’t automatic. Our utter dependence on and desperation for Him have to be expressed. Preacher, grab hold of God’s Spirit in the secret place of prayer as part of your sermon preparation. And tarry long at this task, earnestly and sacrificially seeking His help (see Mark 1:35; Luke 11:9–10). And remember that His power in your presentation will affect your people as well as you. So pray that your listeners will be gripped, convicted, and transformed (cf. Mark 1:22; Luke 24:32; 1 Cor 2:5).
Our dependence on the Spirit doesn’t begin when we get up to preach. Preachers must be intentional about engaging the Spirit in their preaching from the outset of their preaching journeys. While I believe there is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in the preaching moment (e.g., Luke 1:15, 41, 67; Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 9:17; 13:9), His powerful help must be invoked in the preacher’s sermon preparation, as well as in the life he brings to the process.
Jim Shaddix is the W. A. Criswell Professor of Preaching and Director of the Center for Preaching and Pastoral Leadership at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.
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|1.||↑||John Knox, The Integrity of Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon, 1957), 89.|
|2.||↑||R. Albert Mohler, Jr., He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World (Chicago: Moody, 2008), 45.|
|3.||↑||E.M. Bounds, Power through Prayer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), 69.|