The three articles which follow discuss the critical role which prayer occupies in the preaching of the gospel. It should be a clarion call to us all to pray for the prosperity of the Gospel.
Fellowship with God is the heartbeat of the Gospel. It pumps vibrancy and vitality into the message of life to a dying world. One has rightly stated, “Certainly, as water never rises above its level, so our service in its quality reality, vitality and energy will never be higher than the genuineness of our fellowship with God” (1). And fellowship with God must be nurtured by time spent in prayer. Preaching that is not drenched with prayer is as weightless as an empty sponge. Thus, preparation for preaching must begin on our knees in the presence of God. Only here can we cultivate the ability to see things as God sees them. Here we are able to weigh everything in the divine balances and evaluate everything by Heaven’s currency. Things of time will be seen in their weightlessness and worthlessness, and things eternal will become the burden of our hearts. This will give power and reality to Gospel preaching. We must have earnest praying before we will have earnest preaching.
Writing about preachers, Horatius Bonar observed that, “The same words that from warm lips would drop as the rain, or distill as the dew fall from his lips as the snow or hail, chilling all spiritual warmth and blighting all spiritual life. How many souls have been lost for want of earnestness, want of solemnity, want of love in the preacher, even when the words tittered were precious and true!” (2). Prayer gives both the weight and words for the preacher’s message.
It gives weight to the message because it transports us into the presence of God where we begin to understand something of His infinite glory, something of our personal inadequacy and frailty and something of sin and its awful consequences.
The transforming power of spending time in God’s presence is graphically illustrated in Isaiah’s experience in the temple, recorded in chapter six of his prophecy. Isaiah could never have spoken for God until that life-changing event in the sanctuary. Not until then could he record, “Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me” (Isa 6:8). He could not go out to declare God’s glory until he had gone in to behold His glory. In the temple he had seen the awesome holiness of God, he had seen his own inadequacy and the sinful condition of the people. Then he was equipped to speak.
In the presence of the Lord high and lifted up, Isaiah began to understand something of the true character of God. He heard the seraphim as “one cried unto another, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa 6:3). Time spent in prayer burns away the mist that clouds our vision, so that we are capable of viewing the landscape from the divine perspective. Paul, driven by the same force that moved Isaiah, stated, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor 5:1l). In the presence of the Lord, Isaiah saw his own sinfulness and inability. It is here that we too will grasp our personal inadequacy. Isaiah cried out, “…Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips…” (Isa 6:5). Similarly, the apostle Paul feared that human ability would be employed in the work of God. Thus, he came to the Corinthians “not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring… the testimony of God,” but “…in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling… that their faith …should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Cor 2:1-5). A life of purity and a spirit of humility are paramount to power in preaching. It is only in God’s presence that we recognize human weakness and divine power.
Furthermore, in the presence of the Lord, Isaiah saw the awful condition of the people. He knew he dwelt “in the midst of a people of unclean lips” He learned this, as he says, “for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isa 6:5). Thus, the coming judgment lay like a lead weight on his heart. Over and over, he speaks of his message from God as a burden. We will never be able to speak with weight until we appreciate God’s holiness and feel a heavy burden for souls facing the judgment of God for their sin.
Thus, without a sense of the greatness of God, a sense of our own frailty and a burden for the lost, we will lack reality, urgency and divine energy. Only time spent alone with God in prayer can overcome these deficiencies.
But not only do we need to receive the weight of the message from God, we must also obtain the words of the message from God. Isaiah was not left to his own devising for the words he spoke to the nation of Israel. Immediately after being brought into a fit condition to speak for God, the Lord gives Isaiah the very words to speak (Isa 6:9,10). In the sanctuary, he received both the power from God and the words from God.
Similarly, the spiritual truths Paul imparted to the Corinthians were “not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (1 Cor 2:13). He joined spiritual things to spiritual words; he explained the things of the Spirit in words of the Spirit (3). Admittedly, 1 Corinthians 2:13 is dealing with the inspiration of the Scriptures. Nevertheless, the principle of communicating the mind of God through words from God still applies. While we could never claim inspiration for the message we preach, we can trust God to clarify our thoughts and frame our words as we spend time in His presence. The words used by the apostle were neither such as the skill of the rhetorician would suggest, nor such as his own mind, uninfluenced by the Spirit of God, suggested (4). He looked to the Lord for words of adequate strength to bear the weight of the message from Heaven. We must do the same.
As a faint sound may initiate an avalanche, so the quiet, earnest prayer of dependence on the Lord sets in motion His almighty power. Consequently, we must spend time alone with God to be adequately equipped for the holy and solemn responsibility of “speaking as the oracles of God” o Pet 4:11). Always, our attitude ought to be, “Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until that He have mercy upon us” (Psa 123:2). Loft to ourselves we will utterly fail, but prayer can open the channel from our emptiness to God’s full-ness. May we always be found kneeling alone in the presence of God before we are seen standing in the presence of men!
1. W H. Griffith Thomas, Christ Pre-eminent: Studies in Colossians (Chicago: Bible Institute Colportage Association, 1923), p.118.
2. Horatius Bonar, Words to Winners of Souls (Garland, Texas: American Tract Society, 1981), p.9.
3. Charles Hodge, D.D., Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980), p.40, 41.
4. ibid, p.41.