You can help your pastor become a more useful preacher. You can help him preach sermons that affect your life like rain and sunshine affect flowers. How? By praying for him. When there’s prayer in the pew there will be power in the pulpit.
The Holy Spirit is Given in Answer to Prayer
God wants your pastor’s preaching to be useful to you. 18th Century Christian writer William R. Nicoll said of his preacher friend Joseph Parker, “I never hear him preach without wanting to be a better man.” God wants us to be able to say the same about our preacher’s sermons. Like having surgery or falling in love or reading a self-help book, the preaching we hear is supposed to make a difference in our lives. Jesus says preaching is sowing seed that’s intended to produce fruit (Matthew 13:18-23). God intends the sermons we hear to change us the way Peter’s sermon changed three thousand people on the Day of Pentecost. He wants each sermon to be an OR where the Divine Plastic Surgeon called the Holy Spirit shapes us more and more into likeness to Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Yet honesty compels us to say that we hear lots of sermons that leave us unchanged. We hear Father Mackenzie sermons. Remember the good padre from the Beatle’s song “Eleanor Rigby?” “Father Mackenzie, writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear.” We hear many sermons as indifferently as seasoned airline passengers listen to the flight attendant’s pre-flight safety message. I know I’ve preached my share of sermons that have no more changed people than plastic fruit can satisfy our appetite. I’ve heard my share of these kinds of sermons, too. Fact is, if many preachers, including me, lived on commission and got paid by how useful our preaching is we’d make even less than most of us do now!
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The explanation for sermons that do nothing for us is the fact it’s the Holy Spirit alone who can make preaching useful. You can listen to a sermon that’s put together as beautifully as the Taj Mahal, that’s got stories as interesting as an Elmore Leonard novel, and spiced with a tasty bit of humor. But if the Spirit isn’t present you’ll say of that sermon what Mary said to Jesus about Lazarus: “Lord, if you’d been here my brother wouldn’t have died” (John 11:21). So, Holy Spirit, if you’d been in today’s sermon it wouldn’t have been useless. Paul plants and Apollos waters but God the Spirit gives the growth (2 Corinthians 3:6-7). The Spirit’s got the only green thumb when it comes to spiritual growth.
Wonderfully, when the Spirit is present glorious things happen. He can make the sermons of even an ordinary preacher like me useful. Years ago I saw a picture (I think in Life or Look Magazine) of a piece of straw that’d been driven through a telephone pole by a Kansas cyclone as though the straw were as stiff and strong as a nail. The Spirit can make the simple declaration of God’s word that powerful. We need this kind of preaching “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
The question is “How do we help our preacher get the help of the Holy Spirit?” The Bible answers, the Holy Spirit is given in answer to prayer. The awesomely useful Charles Haddon Spurgeon, whose sermons were used by the Spirit to translate thousands out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, was asked what made him so successful. He answered, “My people pray for me.” No doubt they prayed that he’d preach with the Spirit’s help. Here’s what makes this so encouraging for us: the Spirit’s given in answer to prayer. Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him” (Luke 11:13). You can bring the help of the Spirit to your pastor’s preaching by prayer.
So, if you want power in the pulpit there’s got to be prayer in the pew. Tony Campolo was preaching in an audience participation church. The kind where the people in the pew make clear to the person in the pulpit that he’s doing well by giving him immediate oral standing ovation feedback with “Amen!” and “Yes!” and “Preach it brother!” applause; or, signify the sermon’s flopping by a silence so loud it could wake the dead. Campolo’s getting silence. After a few minutes, a woman shouts, “Help him, Jesus, help him!” There you go. That’s what you should be asking the Lord to do for your preacher every time he preaches. Help him, Jesus, help him by giving him your Spirit.
I’m so convinced of this truth that when there’s prayer in the pew there will be power in the pulpit that I pray for the Spirit’s help for myself and others. I never do a GFO devotional without crying, “Help me, Jesus, help me!” Even when I speak to children in grades 1 – 6 as I did for eleven years as a school chaplain I never spoke without crying “Help me, Jesus, help me!” And there are about ten preachers I know whom I pray for every week. Saturday by Saturday I pray for what they do Sunday by Sunday. I pray “Help them, Jesus, help them by giving them your Spirit.” And every Saturday I shoot them a text telling them I’ve prayed for them in the hope it will encourage them.
Brother, sister: begin praying this way for your preacher. Ask the Lord to pour out his Spirit on him as he prepares to preach. Ask the Spirit to help him prepare his sermon as carefully, thoughtfully, and lovingly as a mother prepares her Thanksgiving dinner. Ask the Spirit to go with him into the pulpit and cause his sermon to help you grow like a teenager weekend and week out. Do that and you can begin coming to church as a Grace-Focused Optimist. You can begin coming with optimism that the Lord will do you good through your pastor’s preaching. How can you be sure? Because when there’s prayer in the pew there will be power in the pulpit.
Make your pastor a more useful preacher.
Pray for him. Week by week. Sermon by sermon.
Help him, Jesus, help him!