Preaching as a Divine Task and its Power

Preaching is more than public speaking. It is certainly greater than the shouting of words and ideas to convince its listeners. It is certainly even more than an activity, or task, that is practiced weekly among churches. Preaching is, essentially, along with the reading of the Word, the main method chosen by God to reveal Himself to man. It is by the preaching of the Word that the lost is saved and the Church is strengthened. Preaching is a divine task, and its power is divine in nature.

Romans 10:13-14 (KJV) For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?

1 Corinthians 1:17-19 (KJV) For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.

The spirituality of preaching is something that is not fully acknowledged by the Church today, even among its preachers. Too often we tend to look at it only as a technical task. Of course we pray for it, and ask the prayers of others, but deep within our hearts we don’t fully acknowledge its spirituality and the source of its power. I have written a separate article about its importance, “The Primacy of Preaching”. Also, in an another article, “Preaching as Public Speaking”, preaching as a form of public speaking is discussed, focusing on its technical aspects. In this article however we will deal about its spirituality and power.

Every true preaching affects the heart and mind of its listeners, driving them towards positive change, which is reflected thru repentance and genuine sanctification. That is why it is puzzling today, why many preachers today do not positively affect their listeners; after hours and minutes of preaching, there is not a single sorrow for sins felt, nor a determination to do what is right. Alas, preaching has become a scholarly class, an informational yet dry discourse of Biblical truth. Where is the power in today’s preaching? The absence of its power can immediately be attributed by the preacher’s negligence of its spiritually.

Before we discuss the reasons for the lack of power in today’s preaching, let us first lay down some clarifications to avoid confusions later.

Firstly, the Word of God in itself is alive and powerful, and its power never at any time diminish or increase, rather it is constant in its purity and power, and shall accomplish the holy and immutable precepts of God.

Hebrews 4:12 (KJV) For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Isaiah 55:11 (KJV) So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

Throughout this writing we will talk about certain times why preaching sometimes lacks power. This however, does not in any mean try to say that there are times when the Word of God itself lacks the power and authority to deliver what God intends to accomplish, for the Word’s power is tied directly to the very personhood and character of God, which is of course immutable so is His Word and its accompanying power. Rather, there are certain factors that may sometimes hinder or stop the flow of power of God’s Holy and authoritative Word.

Secondly, being called to preach is surely one of the noblest callings in God’s economy and kingdom. Though this writing will deal in some parts with the weaknesses and failures of today’s preachers which often contribute to the lack of power in today’s preaching, still, we go with the Scriptures that highly esteem the call of preaching. We never intend to belittle preachers and their preaching but rather try to expose their weaknesses which are mostly spiritual in nature in an effort to strengthen both the preacher and his preaching.

Isaiah 52:7 (KJV) How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!

Now that we have laid down our clarifications, we are ready to talk about the reasons for today’s lack of power in preaching. These reasons revolve around two distinct yet complementary areas, namely the preacher himself and the practice of preaching.

The preacher could never be separated from his task of preaching. If we want to know why there is the presence or lack of power preaching, it will always be good to look unto the preacher himself. There are some reasons why the preacher could be devoid of the power in his preaching.

Firstly, a preacher will lack the power in his preaching if he lives in sin. This could not be overlooked. We all know as Christians that prevailing sins in our life will cut us off from the eternal supply of power from the Holy Spirit that is available to us in Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 59:1-3 (KJV) Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness.

John 15:4-5 (KJV) Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

In this regard we have to clarify two things. The first one is that there is a big difference between living in sin and sinning everyday. All believers, preachers or not will surely sin everyday; that is something painful that we need to face everyday, and only in heaven in our second life will sin be completely removed (1 John 1:8-10). However, living in sin means dwelling in the same sins in the sense of having pleasure in them – and this is very dangerous and destructive, yet present in the Church not only in the life of some preachers. This does not only cut off the preacher from God’s power in his preaching, but worse, his life becomes a stumbling block to many.

The second clarification is that sometimes, though rarely, in God’s grace and mysterious ways, He will bless the preaching of those preachers who live in sin. This is of course not because of any merit in the life of the unrepentant preacher (even righteous preachers do not deserve this blessing for we are all unworthy), but because God desires to advance His Kingdom through the act of preaching. This is evident in the ministry of the Apostle Paul when he showed gratefulness that the Gospel is preached even by those who had wrong motives (Philippians 1:18).

Secondly, a preacher will lack the power in his preaching if he lives a weak prayer life. The important role that prayer plays in the holy business of preaching could not be overstated; God’s anointing is not just a matter of our position in Christ, it is also surely brought out in power by continuous and heartfelt prayers. Without our fervent prayers, our preaching will be devoid of power. Since preaching is more of a divine task and calling rather than a mere mechanical speech, we need prayer to supply its power, and there is no other way. No matter how good the peacher is in terms of oratory skills, there will be no divine fruits in his preaching if he doesn’t know how to kneel down in humble and dependent prayer before God.

Thirdly, a preacher will lack the power in his preaching if he does not care to apply his preaching in his own life. The old advice is well said, “Walk your talk.” A preacher loses his sense of authority in preaching if the people around him do not see him live it. The Pharisees and scribes in Jesus’ day lacked authority in their teaching and that is because they do not live their own message (Matthew 7:29; 23:2-4).

To summarize, Robert McCheyne has said, “A holy minister is an awesome weapon in the hand of God.” Avoiding sin, having a strong prayer life, and living out your preaching will all lead to a holy life, certainly making you a powerful instrument of God.

I could stop right here but there’s one more concern that somehow exerts an influence on the power of preaching, though maybe not as much as the preacher himself. This one talks about the practice of preaching.

Firstly, preaching will lack in power if the preacher does not study his Bible enough. The noble task of preaching demands a deeper study of the Bible than the regular devotions, journaling, or almost any other Bible-related tasks. There is a saying that in order to fully understand a Scripture text for a sermon, one has to read it at least forty times. The constant companion of a preacher are his different Bible translations, a Bible dictionary, a notebook and a pen or pencil. A good Study Bible also gives valuable help. If one does not study well his sermon, it will be reflected in a few minutes of his preaching – it will be a confusing message with no one big idea to talk about, or a message that does not speak clearly the message of the chosen text.

2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV) Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Secondly, preaching will lack in power if the preacher is not aware of his own methodology in preaching. As preachers we are not being legalistic nor mechanical but every preacher must be sure of his own style or methodology in his preaching. It is like a driver that knows well his car; he is the person that could drive it well. A preacher that has not yet mastered his way of preaching will result in a preacher that lacks confidence and authority in delivery. It needs to be said however, that ultimately, it is not really our methodology in preaching that gives the spiritual power of preaching, nor gives preaching its divinity. Rather, in the mystery of God, His Spirit anoints even our methodology to give it power in perfect harmony with the innate power of the Holy Word.

On the outside, preaching seems to be a mechanical task, an act of oratory or public speech. But what happens in the preacher and his listeners before and during and after the act of preaching is for the most part, divine and spiritual. Let us therefore pray earnestly always that God give us the power to affect souls and eternity thru our heartfelt and mind-invested preaching.

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What Makes a Preacher Good

by: Ben Mandrell, Pursuing a doctorate at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.

http://www.crosswalk.com/church/pastors-or-leadership/what-makes-a-preacher-good-11635719.html

You probably have noticed that preachers come in all shapes and sizes. There are big, gregarious, sweaty-foreheaded preachers. There are short, slim, soft-spoken preachers. There are creative preachers who always have a slick gadget or a clever object of illustration. There are King James preachers who love the Thees and the Thous of Thy Holy Word.

So, what makes for a faithful preacher? Because God has not called preachers to be successful but faithful, how can we be sure we are staying true to the call? Here are a few biblical criteria to keep us on track:

The preacher should give people a bigger picture of God.
“For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Cor. 4:5).

Ultimately, people need to be told repeatedly  that the God of Scripture is bigger than all of man’s problems. While preachers are wise to speak regarding complex issues of the culture, the need for people on Sunday morning is actually quite simple: Their minds need to be reprogrammed to the idea that God is in control, that He loves them tremendously and that nothing is impossible for Him. How quickly we forget these truths! With the constant barrage of media messages, the average person struggles to maintain a biblical perspective about life. Our world drifts off kilter fast, but the preacher can have a powerful role in bringing the listener back to the center as he or she proclaims the unchanging gospel.

The preacher should train people to turn to the Bible when problems arise.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

The type of question I must answer as a pastor every Monday morning is: Are people being pointed back to the Word when work dries up, a child is diagnosed with a terminal disease or when in-laws sabotage a vacation? The Bible is able to meet all of their needs; a pastor is not. As the preacher brings forth the Word week after week, people should be increasingly convinced “all Scripture is God-breathed” and that His Word is able to equip them for every good work.

The preacher should show people how to read, study and handle the Bible for themselves.
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).

The Bible is a very difficult book to read. Let’s face it—we find it easier to read a New York Times bestseller than Leviticus or Amos. A keen understanding of Scripture requires a certain level of skill and a special illumination of the Spirit. In corporate worship, the preacher should challenge people to cry out to God for the wisdom that flows from Isaiah, Deuteronomy and Revelation. In addition, the preacher should demonstrate how God has penetrated his own heart with the truths he presents. His interpretation not only has been defended in the sermon, but it has been digested. The congregation sees this Word after it has been made flesh, and this heightens their interest, as well as his credibility. He handles the Word with precision.

The preacher should teach all parts of the Bible and show how unique and wonderful each section truly is.
“For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God” (Acts 20:20, 27).

Personally, I could camp out in James for a decade. I love that book. It is short, fast-paced and practical for everyday life. However, Malachi was inspired by God, too, and was placed in the Bible because it contains essential truth for spiritual growth. The preacher should deliver a well-rounded meal throughout the calendar and proclaim all parts of the Bible, not just his “bread and butter.” The best preachers make themselves servants of the Word and handle it all with reverence.

The preacher should challenge people to own the truth by responding to the message.
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22-27).

What good is knowledge if it does not lead to life change? Every person who went to school can recall a particular lecture on math or science that left students wondering, “What good will that ever do me?” Unlike that moment, congregants should leave on Sunday knowing the message demanded a real and practical response from them. That reaction will vary from person to person. It might include an inward decision to trust God with this week’s electric bill; it may be an act of humility demonstrated through a heartfelt apology; or it may be an act of generosity as one writes a check to the homeless ministry. There must be some reaction when the Word is preached. Faithful preachers do not hesitate to bring the challenge.

The preacher should prove that the Bible is ancient yet it speaks to us today.
“Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day…They are not just idle words for you—they are your life” (Deut. 32:46-47).

Flip through the Bible for five minutes, and you will find this book contains all kinds of bizarre history, visions and facts. There are golden cows, weird temple furnishings and visions of wheels in the sky. The preacher must do more than just prove to have studied all week long. He must show how through his or her study of history the present and future can be impacted by how others benefit from this study. Harry Emerson Fosdick declared, “Only the preacher proceeds still upon the idea that folk come to church desperately anxious to discover what happened to the Jebusites.” That is so true! Pastors must work hard at the task of application and contextualization. What does this passage have to do with his or her life on Monday? Effective preachers answer that question carefully and thoughtfully.

The bottom line is this: Just because a person appears on television or has his or her face pasted on a billboard does not mean he or she is an effective, faithful preacher of the Word. Pastor, be true to your call; and be sure you are fulfilling your God-given role as a proclaimer of that Word.

Preachers are Broken People (most of the time)

not strong but weak
A preacher is often weak on the inside.

Generally, preachers are not strong people, but weak individuals strongly used by God for His Kingdom purposes.

Dynamic preachers are usually seen as strong people, not knowing the aches and struggles they face behind the pulpit. Preaching for more than five years already, I could say from experience and observation of others some facets of the weaknesses preachers face from time to time.

1.) Lacking the zeal to study harder. Preachers should study not just to prepare sermons, but also to nourish the self. Hard study and meditation and memorization should ever equip the heart and mind of the preacher – and that is an absolute rule. Every man of God, and certainly the preacher, should have his blood with the Word on it.

2.) Lacking the desire and effort to live what he preaches. One frustration of the preacher is failing to measure up his own life for what he preaches. Yet, even worse, the lack of the desire to live his message. Sometimes, the heart could be so cold and dark that there is no real desire to walk his talk.

One of the biggest fulfilment of a preacher is seeing his life living out his sermon. It has always been an ideal for me to follow the great example of the great teacher and reformer Ezra: study the Word, then live it up, then teach it to others. And that is Ezra 7:10.

3.) Lacking the humility to pray more than enough. The persistence and intensity of the preacher to pray for the power of his sermons has no limitation. But often, he is easily caught by the temptation to pray just enough or less than enough – with no tears at all. Not willing enough to pray for more reflects a heart hardened by pride. It is an indication that he relies on himself a little bit (or too much) and not totally on God.

Often, I have found my preaching to be very dynamic and fruitful, not so much because of my own prayers – thanks to the prayers of others. Again, this is one great gem in the secret of Spurgeon’s power in preaching – his congregation continuously prays for his preaching.

Preachers are broken people. But maybe it is more truthful to say that the most powerful preachers are those who are truly broken – not necessarily broken by sin, but is broken before the Lord in utmost humility, dependence, and submission. It is truly a paradox in God’s design that He uses weak vessels to contain the insurmountable divinity of the Word, spilling out His grace, mercy, and love to the lost world. And it is still a greater paradox that even if God uses the weak to display His strength, there is still the great standard for every preacher to imitate dearly the holiness of Jesus, the Master Teacher.