How To Pray For Your Pastor As He Steps Into the Pulpit

Charles Spurgeon

Preaching is scary business. Not the getting up in front of people part. I got over my fear of public speaking a long time ago. Plus, I have a high tolerance for making a public fool of myself, so I don’t get too worried about falling off the stage or accidentally tripping over something.

If all I were doing was public speaking I wouldn’t be nervous at all. I’m a decent public speaker. I mean, I’m no Martin Luther King Jr., but I think I’m tolerable (I do have a dream, but it involves wearing sweatpants for an entire weekend). People tell me that I’m a good public speaker. But there is a huge difference between preaching and public speaking. A person can be a good public speaker who is engaging, humorous, powerful, and insightful, and yet still be ineffective as a preacher.

In 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 Paul says:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Paul wasn’t a fancy pants preacher. He didn’t dazzle and shimmer with brilliant words and humorous illustrations. He didn’t have a big screen behind him, projecting him in larger than life, 3D fashion. He says that he came in weakness and fear, with much trembling. That doesn’t sound very impressive. That doesn’t sound like the kind of guy you want leading an evangelistic rally. It sounds more like the kind of guy who would work in a cubicle and play World of Warcraft every night.

And yet Paul’s preaching was incredibly effective. The Corinthians heard the word of God and were saved. Why? Because Paul’s preaching was accompanied by a demonstration of the Spirit and of power. In other words, the Holy Spirit took Paul’s “weak” words and caused them to detonate in the hearts of the Corinthians. Without the Spirit, Paul’s preaching was nothing more than weak, unimpressive words. But the Spirit made Paul’s words powerful – so powerful that the Corinthians believed in Christ and were saved.

So when your pastor steps into the pulpit, pray that his words would be accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit. Do you want your life to be changed by the sermon? Then pray desperately for your pastor. Pray that the Spirit would take his weak, feeble words, and transform them into a fiery spiritual weapon. Pray that your pastor’s words would pierce hearts and transform lives.

If your pastor has the “perfect” sermon, with the smoothest transitions, the most descriptive illustrations, and the best Bible explanation, yet doesn’t have the power of the Holy Spirit, he’s got nothing. His sermon won’t do anything.

When your pastors step up to the pulpit this weekend, pray for him to have power.

Pray For Your Pastor To Have Unction!

Unction.

It’s a term that sounds vaguely medical, as in, “I went to the doctor today and he told me that I have a bad case of unction in my lower GI tract.” Or it sounds like a term my mechanic would throw at me: “Yeah man, your unction piston is cracked right down the middle and we’re going to need to replace the entire engine block.”

But the word “unction” actually has a rich history behind it, even if we don’t use it too much any more. And let me tell you, I desperately need unction.

Unction is what separates a mighty sermon from a boring lecture. Unction is what causes a sermon to pierce the heart of a listener. Unction is what transforms a sermon from a boring load of facts to a mighty, God-filled, life-changing sermon.

Unction is what happens when the Holy Spirit puts life-giving power into the words spoken by a pastor. Unction is what happens when the Holy Spirit transforms a preacher’s words into weapons of divine warfare. Unction is what happens when the Holy Spirit causes the words of a pastor to become bullets of conviction.

See, here’s the deal. I could spend hours crafting the perfect sermon. I could have perfect illustrations that connect directly to people’s lives. I could have penetrating insight into the biblical text. I could speak with the tongues of men and angels! But without the Holy Spirit moving, without unction, absolutely nothing will happen. No lives will be changed. No hearts will be moved. No conviction or confession or adoration will take place. Christ will not be exalted. My sermon will be nothing more than words. The words may be interesting, they may be funny, but they won’t be life-changing.

Charles Spurgeon said:

Where there is no unction, it does not matter what we preach or how we preach it.

Spurgeon was the Prince of Preachers. If he needed unction, I do too.

When your pastor steps into the pulpit, pray that the Holy Spirit will give him unction. Pray that your pastor will be filled with Spirit-given passion and that his words will be propelled by Spirit-given power. Your pastor may not be Matt Chandler or Mark Driscoll, but with unction, the results of his sermon can be the same. Your pastor may not preach like Piper, but he can have the same Holy Spirit as Piper and the same unction as Piper.

So please, pray for your pastor. He desperately needs it. And you desperately need him to have unction too. Because without unction, there’s a good chance that the words of his sermon will bounce right off you.

How To Listen To A Sermon

SermonHave you ever had this happen to you? It’s 11:20 A.M. on a Sunday morning, and you’re listening to a sermon in church. Suddenly, your pastor says, “You know what I mean?” and you realize that you have no idea what he’s talking about, and that you’ve been thinking about college basketball for the last fifteen minutes, and that drool is leaking from the corner of your mouth. In fact, you have absolutely no idea what the sermon is about. Your pastor could be talking about the political and theological ramifications of the television show “Lassie” for all you know. I confess, I’ve had this happen to me.

Scripture places a high emphasis on preaching. In 2 Timothy 2:1-2 Paul commanded Timothy:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

Through the preaching of God’s word we hear God speak to us in a unique way that is different from when we read the Bible in private. Because of this it’s crucial that we hear the word of God preached and apply it to our lives. So how do we get the most out of a sermon? Here are four practical suggestions:

Remember Who Is Speaking

A pastor is someone who has been appointed by God to preach God’s word to God’s people. 1 Corinthians 12:28 says, “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.” When we hear our pastor preach God’s word, we’re not just listening to a nicely dressed man giving an Amway prep talk. We’re listening to one that has been appointed by God to proclaim the message of God. I don’t want to mess around with words from God. I want to pay close attention.

Listen Intently

Don’t let your pastor spoon feed you. Listen intently to what he is saying, and measure his words against the words of scripture. Be like the Bereans, who, along with having a sweet name, are described in Acts 17:11 as follows: “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” Notice the attitude of the Bereans. They were eager to receive the word of God. They desperately wanted to hear God’s word preached to them. But they also examined the scriptures daily to ensure that what they were hearing was really from the Bible. Let’s be like the Bereans.

Listen With Humility

It’s true, we must test the preached word. But it’s just as crucial that we listen to sermons with a spirit of humility. God himself has assigned my pastor (who also happens to be my dad) the job of instructing me in God’s word. It’s my job to listen to and learn from my pastor. This truth should instill a spirit of humility into me. I don’t want to approach listening to a sermon like a spiritual boxing match, ready for a theological fight. I want to listen with humility.

Apply The Word

Throughout the course of a sermon, we should be constantly asking the question, “How does this apply to me?” God intends us not just to hear sermons, but to be transformed by sermons. For this to happen, we must diligently seek to apply the truths we hear. During the sermon, ask yourself, How does this truth apply to:

  • My job
  • My marriage
  • My parenting
  • My Bible reading
  • My hobbies
  • My friendships, etc

A final word. Always pray before you listen to a sermon. Apart from the power of God, all our sermon-listening will be pointless. But the good news is, God is eager to meet us on Sunday mornings.

Now is when you, the alert and sagacious (a word meaning “full of life-changing wit, wisdom, and insight”) reader add your comments.  What helps you get the most out of sermons?  If you’ve never commented before, today is the day!

Originally published March, 2008

More Than I Ask Or Think

The Lord’s Day

O Lord My Lord,
This is thy day,
the heavenly ordinance of rest,
the open door of worship,
the record of Jesus’ resurrection
the seal of the sabbath to come,
the when saints militant and triumphant
unite in endless song.

I bless thee for the throne of grace,
that here free favour reigns;
that open access to it is through the blood of Jesus;
that the veil is torn aside and I can enter the holiest
and find thee ready to hear,
waiting to be gracious,
inviting me to pour out my needs,
encouraging my desires,
promising to give more than I ask or think.

Taken from The Valley of Vision

Five Prayers to Pray on Sunday

This is part five in the “Preparing For Sunday” series.

Here are five examples of prayers you can pray to help prepare your heart for Sunday. We serve an incredibly gracious God who is eager to answer these prayers.

  • Saturday night: “Oh Lord, please give me the gift of sleep right now, that I might awake refreshed and ready to meet with you. Give me the strength to rise early for the purpose of preparing my heart.”
  • Sunday morning before church: “Lord, open my eyes right now to see wonderful things in Your word. Fill me with Your Spirit now as I ready myself for church. Prepare my heart to sing songs of praise. Give me a soft heart to hear and apply Your word as it is preached.”
  • As the singing begins: “Lord draw my heart upward in worship to You. Warm my heart with affections for you, and guard me from singing with my lips but having a cold heart.”
  • As the preaching begins: “Lord give me a tender heart towards Your word. Let Your glorious truth grip my heart, and open my eyes to see Your glory. Guard me from the temptation of hearing Your word without applying it. Help me to listen with humility.”
  • At the conclusion of the service: “Lord give me grace now to fellowship with Your saints. My heart is selfish and would rather go home and sleep. Let me feel the very affection of Christ Jesus for these people. Help me to encourage them and build their faith for Your glory.”

Pay Close Attention

This is part four in the “Preparing For Sunday” series.

I had some teachers in college who were absolutely horrendous. They set world records for boringness, and I think they even bored themselves. They droned on and on in a monotone voice about things that mattered very little to me, such as the annual rainfall in Belize, or the formation of cumulus clouds (as you can see I had a weather class I disliked very much). By the end of each lecture, 90% of the class was either sleeping or had that glazed over look that comes with stupefying boredom. Paying attention was certainly optional.

But friends, paying attention to the preaching of God’s word is never optional. Hear the words of Jesus in Mark 4:24, “And he said to them, ‘Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you.'” The preaching of God’s word is a sacred, holy thing, and if we are to please God we must pay close attention to it.

Listening to God’s word being preached is not the same as listening to a lecture on biology. A lecture on biology makes no claim on our lives. We have the option of applying or disregarding what we hear. But God’s word always makes massive claims on our lives. God’s word is always calling us to something, whether that be faith, repentance, joy, thankfulness, or humility. We don’t have the option of applying God’s word; we must apply God’s word.

Another difference between a biology lecture and the preaching of God’s word is the teacher himself. A biology teacher has been commissioned by a university to communicate information. A preacher has been commissioned by God Himself to proclaim glorious, life-changing, soul-stirring truth. When we fail to pay attention to the preached word, we fail to pay attention to God Himself.

So by God’s grace, let us resolve to pay attention to the preaching of God’s word. Let’s do whatever is necessary to pay attention. Take notes, don’t take notes, sit in the front, sit in the back, sit with other people, sit by yourself. Do what it takes to pay attention to the preaching of God’s word, so that you might apply the truth to your life.

Friends, I have failed in this area so many times, yet I’m confident that God will help me change by His grace. He wants us to change more than we want to change, and He is eager to give us the grace that is necessary.

Meet With God First

This is part three of the “Preparing For Sunday” series.

It’s 7:42 on a Sunday morning, the birds are chirping outside, and you don’t have to be at church until 10:00 am. You crawl out of bed, slide your feet into a pair of slippers, and wander downstairs to make a cup of coffee. After making your cup of morning wake-up-juice, you grab the newspaper off the front porch and settle down to read the arts and entertainment section. From there you move casually to the sports section, the food section, and finally the obituaries. By this time it’s 8:49 am, and you have just enough time to hop into the shower, grab an onion bagel (and some mints), and head for church. Worship starts at exactly 10:01 am, and it’s at that point you have your first thought about God that day.

Sound familiar? I’ve been through that routine many times. The result is that I arrive at church unprepared to meet with God. My heart is distracted, my thoughts are scattered, and I never fully engage during the service. But there is an alternative. To properly prepare for Sunday, we must meet with God before we meet with God. To prepare our hearts for corporate worship, we must spend time in private worship. It’s crucial that we spend time in God’s word and in prayer before we leave for church. Why? Because the battle with sin begins the moment we step out of bed on Sunday morning.

Our sinful flesh doesn’t like church. No, let me rephrase. Our flesh hates church. Our sinful flesh is opposed to everything that is good and spiritual, and will make every effort to stop us from encountering God on Sunday morning. Our sinful hearts will try to condemn us during worship, distract us during the preaching of God’s word, and keep us from fellowship after the service. And so we must prepare for this battle by meeting with God in His word and prayer. We must have our hearts refreshed and focused even before we worship corporately.

And so friends, let us prepare for Sunday mornings. Let’s avoid the temptation to check our email or read the headlines, and let’s make a concerted effort to meet with God before we meet with God.

Sleep Matters

This is part two of the “Preparing For Sunday” series.

Nothing is worse than fighting to stay awake during a sermon. In terms of pure, unadulterated misery, it ranks right up there with poison ivy, sunburn, and listening to the band Petra (no offense to all you Petra fans). Your eyelids feel like they’re being weighed down by dumb bells, and your head begins to droop, ever so slowly, until your chin touches your chest. Then you catch yourself dozing, your head snaps back into place, and you take a quick look around to make sure no one caught you sleeping. A friend of mine once said that if he’s falling asleep in a sermon, he just lets himself go, then gets the CD. That might be wise advice.

But why is it that we often find ourselves fighting sleep on a Sunday morning? Why is it that we struggle to pay attention as God’s sacred word is being preached? Because we don’t make hearing God’s word a priority. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Friends, we desperately need the word of God so that we might be taught, reproved, corrected, and trained in righteousness. We need to hear the sacred word of God preached by men who have been called by God. Our faith will flounder and falter if we are not regularly hearing the preaching of God’s word. The battle against sin is won using the weapon of God’s word, and we must be taught to how to wield the Word.

But the battle doesn’t start on Sunday morning when we sit down to hear a sermon. The battle begins Saturday night when we choose to go to bed. Saturday night isn’t a night to stay up late and watch movies or chat with friends. If we are to honor God and and pay close attention to His word, we must get sleep, and lots of it. God isn’t honored when we simply show up to church and then zone out during the sermon. He’s honored when we go to bed early so that we might be alert and ready to hear God’s word.

I’ve failed in this area many times, but by the grace of God I desire to grow. Let us resolve to sleep early on Saturday night that we might treasure the word of God.

Sunday is Sacred

See if you can relate to the following scenario. It’s Sunday morning and church starts at 10:00 am. Because I was out absurdly late the night before, I don’t wake up until 9:00 am, which leaves me just enough time to take a shower, gulp down a cup of coffee, and eat breakfast before leaving for church. I arrive at church in a bad mood for two reasons. First, because I’m exhausted after the previous night’s escapades, and second, because I got into a heated argument with a family member on the way to church.

The worship leader invites the congregation to enter into worship. Enter into worship? I’m ready to enter a boxing ring. By the second song I’m feeling really guilty about the argument and don’t really feel like singing. Things don’t go any better during the sermon. I’m distracted by the fact that the preacher keeps lifting his eyebrow in an odd manner. I begin a tally, and by the end of the sermon have counted 72 eyebrow lifts. It’s only when the preacher concludes with prayer that I realize I didn’t get a thing out of the sermon. I leave church feeling frustrated, discouraged, and ready for a nap. Unfortunately, I think this is a common experience for many of us.

Sunday is a sacred day. Not because it’s the seventh day of the week or because observing the Sabbath will hasten the return of the Lord. Sunday is sacred because we get to sing corporate praises to God, fellowship with other believers, and above all else, hear the precious word of God preached. Yet how little we prepare for Sundays. In the Old Testament, the people of God prepared for sacred days, they consecrated themselves. There were special rituals of washing and cleansing that each person had to perform before being allowed to participate in the sacred day.

We’re not bound by the same rituals and laws the Israelites were, but there are still ways we should be preparing for the sacred day of Sunday. There are certain things we can do to prepare our hearts for participation in corporate worship and listening to God’s word. We can ready ourselves for the sacred day of Sunday.

For the next several days we will be looking at ways to prepare for Sunday, so as to receive maximum benefit from the Sunday meeting. By God’s grace, we will grow in our love for the day of Sunday and grow our love for the church.