The Most Potent Tool In Your Preaching Arsenal: Prayer
The pastorate (or any form of Christian work) comes with a level of busy-ness that can cause even the most dedicated leader to neglect time in prayer. But prayer is absolutely essential to effective ministry, especially as it relates to preaching. Charles Spurgeon’s reliance on prayer was legendary. It is said that as he was preaching in the Metropolitan Tabernacle, a team of intercessors would be praying in a room underneath the pulpit area. Spurgeon called this “the powerhouse of the church.”
Preparation, preaching, and prayer
Prayer may not immediately come to mind as a homiletical resource, but it is certainly the most valuable tool in preaching. The responsibility of preaching must be wed to the discipline of preparation - which should include prayer. Prayer should be as much a resource in sermon preparation as are lexicons and commentaries. From conception through gestation and delivery, personal and corporate prayer enable a sermon to take on a life of its own. Without doubt, prayer (or lack of it) will determine the end results of our preparation and presentation.
Prayer and the pulpit- some examples
“We have seen the Lord at work from the very beginning,” says Rev. Michael Barrett, pastor of a growing church in North Carolina. “I completely attribute the outreach and growth to prayer.”
When Michael Barrett came to Pleasant Garden Baptist in 1988, average attendance on a Sunday morning was about 300. “Today we average 1200 in worship, and we are seeing more people come to the Lord every week. Prayer has been the most important component in all of this.” In addition to his own time in prayer, which Barrett says is crucial, he recruited a group to pray for the preaching ministry of the church immediately upon arrival. “I am constantly asking the Lord to show me what to share with the people, and we all pray that God will open their hearts to receive it.”
Although quite different in size from the North Carolina church, equally exciting is what God is doing through Pleasant Street Church in Worchester, Massachusetts. When Rev. Noel Williamson accepted the pastorate in June, 2006, the 115-year-old church was down to 5 members. “Preaching here must be covered in prayer,” explains Williamson. “I was told that the churches here [in Massachusetts] are declining and that preaching, revivals, and altar calls no longer work.”
Ramping up the church’s prayer life was the first thing that Rev. Williamson did at Pleasant Street. “God honors prayer and the preaching of His Word,” Williamson testifies. “We began with only a handful of people, but a typical Sunday now sees about 45 people in attendance. Most of these are people who have come to Christ in the past year.”
Sermon preparation begins with prayer
Rev. Williamson says, “Preparation for preaching begins with prayer. The text, the sermon, the people, the Holy Spirit, consistent prayer-- they are all tied together.” These very basic elements have given Pleasant Street a new lease on life. Williamson says, “I knew the people would respond if given the chance.”
Size-wise, New Life Church of Meriden, Connecticut falls in the middle between these two accounts of Pleasant Garden and Pleasant Street. But founding pastor Will Marrotti gives a similar testimony to the power of a pulpit ministry immersed in prayer. He said, “From the beginning until now, our non-negotiable core values have included exegetical preaching, clear teaching on salvation and discipleship, and the importance of prayer.” God honored their efforts in a big way. Marrotti remembers, “The church began in my home in 1999. At the one year mark, New Life had 85 members, of which 60 were new believers, reached from within the community.”
Rev. Marotti explained that prayer time alone with God in his study gave him “an insatiable desire to preach so that lives would be changed.” As with all churches, New Life has experienced times when visible results of the ministry seemed more prominent than others. “Eventually, we just felt like we weren’t getting the job done in prayer,” says Pastor Marrotti. “This year has been a time in which we have rediscovered the power of prayer in relation to the proclamation of the Word.”
New Life began a church-wide prayer initiative, including a team of about 14 people whose assignment is to specifically pray for the pulpit ministry. As Marrotti prepares throughout the week and then preaches in weekly services, the Pastor’s Intercessor Team is lifting him up. “We weren’t necessarily attempting a program or strategy; we just committed our church to the Word and to prayer.” Over 475 worshippers now come to New Life on a Sunday, and Marrotti expects to baptize more than 100 people this year. “We commissioned a prayer room, which has people cycling in and out (with their assignments) throughout the week.” According to Marrotti, the results have been immediate and significant: “At the end of a recent service, 22 people accepted Christ, and a number of them were first time guests.”
Intentional communication with God and with people
The need for God’s hand to be tangibly upon our lives and ministries has never been greater. Face it, there are plenty of entities in today’s world that can out-spend and “out-shout” those of us whose calling it is to preach the Word. But we have a potent resource not available to the general public. Readily available for God’s servants is a privileged and promised gift… prayer.
In handling the Word of God, my heart has often echoed the words of Psalm 119:18: “Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things in your law.” We ought also to ask God to open the hearts of the listeners as they publicly hear what we have been privately shown. Traveling and speaking as a Christian apologist, I am constantly praying in very specific terms, bringing to God requests like these:
Prayer for myself as a communicator of God’s Word
- That God will cleanse me, fill me, send me and use me.
- That my preaching will be anointed by the Holy Spirit, so that a genuine movement of God can / will take place.
- That I would discern the leading of God with unmistakable clarity, and that the words I say would be chosen by God.
- That my voice remains strong and clear.
- That with God’s help, I would communicate His truth to the best of my ability.
- Pray that God will draw people to Himself.
- Pray by name for specific unsaved people.
- Pray that God would remove spiritual blindness.
- Pray that people would hunger for the true God.
- Pray that people will understand and believe the Scriptures.
- That as I preach, the Holy Spirit would touch the intellect, emotion and will of every listener, drawing them to Himself.
- Pray that any one present who needs to be born again would believe on Christ as Savior.
- Pray that people would not just become converts, but would be disciples.
- Pray that in churches everywhere, God would bring thorough and long-lasting revival.
- Pray that the Holy Spirit would move Christians to consistent, honest and faithful prayer.
- Pray that Christians will focus more on “who they are,” rather than merely on “what they do”
- Pray that God will arouse believers who may otherwise be content with things as they are.
- Pray that Christians will have an insatiable thirst for the Word of God.
- Pray that Bible study would be a priority for all believers.
- Pray that God would call Christians into all types of ministries.
- Pray that, from among teens and young adults, God would raise up Christian leaders.
- Pray that Christians would not have “ought against each other” (Matthew 5:23-24).
- Pray that believers would not harbor grudges and unforgiveness among themselves.
- Pray that Christians would be the same in private that they are in public. Pray that the words and actions of believers would “match up.”
- Pray that Christians will be consumed with a desire for God to be worshipped and for people to be saved.
- Pray that God would bring repentance, cleansing, and the Holy Spirit’s filling to the Body of Christ.
Prayer - the most potent resource of all
Throughout the centuries, Christian leaders have testified to the power of sincere, specific prayer. Given the fact that all ministers need God’s hand on their lives as they prepare and deliver their messages and in light of the testimonies presented here, I believe that the role of prayer in preaching cannot be overstated. Samuel Chadwick (1860-1932) summed up well the need for those in ministry to keep prayer a priority: “The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying, The devil fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. The devil laughs at our toil, mocks our wisdom, but Satan trembles when we pray.”
Chadwick, Samuel. Cited in The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations (Hampshire, UK: John Hunt Publishing, 2000), p. 783.
Alex McFarland has written several books on apologetics and evangelism, including The Ten Most Common Objections to Christianity (and how to effectively answer them) (Regal Books, 2007). He serves as president of Southern Evangelical Seminary and the Veritas Graduate School of Apologetics (www.ses.edu). Their 15th annual National Conference On Christian Apologetics will be held in Charlotte, NC, November 9-10, 2007, and features Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, Chuck Colson, John Ankerberg, Erwin Lutzer, SES co-founder Norman Geisler, and much more. Special elective sessions will be hosted by Focus On The Family. For complete info visit the seminary’s website, or call 1-877-TRUTH.