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He is the breath of abundant life, the source of all Scripture; and without Him what is sometimes called preaching is really not much more than a good (and maybe not all that good!) civic club talk. There is no such thing as preaching without Him. Who is He? Why, He is the Holy Spirit.

An adventuresome fellow from a remote rural community won a trip to New York City on a radio call-in show. Arriving at JFK, he hailed a taxi and asked to be taken to his hotel in the heart of Manhattan. Unknown to the new arrival, he was not the only stranger to the Big Apple in that cab. His driver had arrived at that same airport a few days before and somehow persuaded someone to believe he was equipped to drive a cab. This was his first day at work. Furthermore, this recent immigrant behind the steering wheel knew only a smattering of English. 

Nonetheless, with great enthusiasm, the driver set out to impress his fare by demonstrating his driving skills. With great daring, he sped away from the terminal, and it was not long before they were speeding through the clustered streets of Manhattan, the new immigrant not at all concerned about driving politely. Making bold turns, he drove through Times Square, barely missing other cars and seemingly unaware that the horns and hand gestures of other drivers were directed at him.

All the while, he kept up a broken English conversation while looking back over his shoulder to make eye contact with his petrified passenger.Finally, the prize winner found the courage to ask the driver to slow down, heed the signs, and keep his eyes on the road ahead. "No problem, Boss," the taxi driver replied. "I'm in charge, and I got it all under my control."

"I'm in charge, and I got it all under my control!" Somewhere inside most of us who preach lingers the need to be in control. Being in control is what we do best as we go about our duties. Being in control is the worst thing we can be when it comes to preaching!

Scripture repeatedly spells out the need for the Holy Spirit to be our guiding force when we prepare and when we preach. We need to bathe each sermon in an ongoing prayer for the Spirit's guiding grace to inspire us and to keep us on the straight and narrow. Otherwise, we run the risk of thinking we know exactly what we are doing when all we are is a danger to ourselves and those who sit before us when we preach.

The Spirit's presence when we preach is more than an attractive option. Moreover, the Spirit is not the sole property of preaching's often fanatical fringe. Instead, He—the Spirit is a Person, not an It—is an imperative part of any sermon worthy of the name."The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified" (Isa. 61:1-3).There, in one paragraph, is Isaiah's justification for being a preacher.

Then, in case we missed it in Isaiah, Jesus took up Isaiah's words in His first temple sermon in Luke 4:18-19.The apostles, too, were empowered by the Holy Spirit; and on Pentecost we read that those who heard them preaching "were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?'" (Acts 2:7-8).Paul recognized this personally, as each of us must personally.

To the Corinthians he wrote, "Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor. 3:5-6). Are you listening, dear preacher? "God…has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit." If that were true for Paul then surely it must be true for us.

Is it not time we gave up control and invited the Holy Spirit to sit in the driver's seat and take the wheel? A sermon without the Spirit never will be effective long-term. Only when we open our lives to His lordship and His leadership can we hope to be what we surely all dream to be for Jesus' sake.

The Rev. Dr. Leslie Holmes is professor of ministry and preaching at Erskine Theological Seminary in Columbia and Due West, SC. A Presbyterian minister, he was most recently senior pastor of Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church in Augusta, GA.

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David Mende

commented on Jun 7, 2012

Excellent article with an important reminder! Since the Scriptures are inspired by the Spirit, we ought to rely upon Him to expound the Scriptures.

Drew Kizer

commented on Jun 7, 2012

What I don't understand is how two preachers, each claiming to be led by the Spirit, can preach very different doctrines. I have read a lot of books and articles on the Spirit, but this problem is never addressed.

Graeme Jones

commented on Jun 7, 2012

I really appreciated the article. It touches an area that many other articles on preaching miss. It's all about Him. When we are in control we miss the point.

Robert Bravo

commented on Jun 7, 2012

Drew I don?t think preaching doctrine is a spirit led thing. Doctrine points to mankind?s interpretation and it divides. The Spirit points to Christ, convicts man of sin, comforts Guides, leads to repentance?etc. It troubles me when I hear it done. That doesn?t mean Doctrine isn?t important it just shouldn?t be preached in my opinion. And if it is preached and the spirit moves it?s because of His Grace. The reality is none of us really know what we are talking about anyway LOL. ..

Jimmie Tempano

commented on Jun 8, 2012

Dear Reverend Doctor Professor Leslie Holmes, I don't know if authors read the comments from their articles or not. From some of the fiery comments I've read, I am hesitant to read them. I'm not saying there are those type of comments in response to your article, I'm just hoping you read this and perhaps respond. I appreciated your article. I agree whole heartedly that the Holy Spirit needs to be in control of a person giving a message from the Lord. I have heard sermons where the Holy Spirit probably wished He'd been invited and not just a few. I've also heard some that I bet He was glad He wasn't involved. However, I would caution you that speaking the way you do about letting the Holy Spirit be in charge gets you close to that "fanatical fringe" I consider myself to be in and I love the freedom. I will let you know where I am coming from. I am a pastor. I do mostly ministry and counseling, addressing individuals, couples and families. I do very little speaking or preaching. I believe I am qualified to carry the title "Pastor" when I look at your Isaiah reference. I am speaking of the spiritual realm. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. The Lord has anointed me and I bring good news to the poor. He sends me to bind up the brokenhearted. He sends me to proclaim liberty to the captives. He sends me to open the prison to those who are bound. He sends me to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor. He sends me to proclaim the day of vengeance of our God. He sends me to comfort all who mourn. He has not sent me to grant to those who mourn in Zion but I have received personal prophecy that I will be doing that. He sends me to bring the oil of gladness instead of mourning. He sends me to bring a garment of praise to replace a faint spirit. I minister so the ones I minister to may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD. In all this, I give the glory to God because all healing and deliverance come from Him. I am privileged to be an instrument in His hands and He blesses me. If I may be so bold, let me ask a question. When was the last time people were amazed and astonished by your preaching? Just wondering. Blessings to you in His name.

Robin Gates

commented on Jun 9, 2012

A sermon without the Spirit will never be effective...period. Amen to that! The Holy Spirit speaks with power that results in exponential effect. It's not about doctrine, and doctrine is not a bad word or a bad thing. Traditions of men, that's a bad thing. The foundation is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. If we agree on that we are headed in the right direction! Brother Holmes is talking about preaching with power. Let go and let God! Amen! Pray for it and see what God can do! Yes, it is time to put the control back where it belongs! Preach the truth, preach with Power! Amen! Agreement, tolerance and love brothers.

commented on Jun 11, 2012

@ Drew Kizer, the litmus test for any speech or book you read is Isaiah 8:20 ''To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them''. this is the reason why we need to know our bible for ourselves and compare whatever anyone say and write. We at the receiving end should be able to discern if what we read or listen to is actually according to the scripture. however, concerning those that are ignorant about the bible we can be sure God will always be faithful to show anyone who really want to know the truth but I believe it should start with those of us who can read the bible for ourself. God bless!!

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