In his classic book Between Two Worlds, John Stott writes, “I have always found it helpful to do as much of my sermon preparation as possible on my knees, with the Bible open before me, in prayerful study.” This image of John Stott kneeling over his Bible comes to mind weekly as I begin my sermon preparation, reminding me that prayer is not an optional “add in” or a step in the preaching process, but an essential element that should permeate the journey from sitting to study to standing to speak. We are dependent upon the Spirit of God to illuminate the Scriptures to us, to guide us in our preparation, to give us unction in the pulpit and to soften hearts in the pew. We pray in our preparation to preach because preaching without prayer is presumption.
Then each week, after worship, I return to my car to drive home and my soul sighs from the exhaustion of exposition. The joyful labor complete, my heart turns from the Word preached to the day of rest ahead. But though my work is complete, the work of the Spirit is just beginning. The battle is afoot for the hearts of the flock. Will they slot my exhortations away with the hundreds of other sermons they’ve heard, filing any encouragement or conviction away to be dealt with later, or will the Spirit use the truth proclaimed to work a lasting change in the lives and hearts of my people?
Our dependence upon the Lord drives us to our knees all week as we prepare to preach, but once the joyful labor of preaching is complete, do we pray for the Holy Spirit to continue using the preached word to work in the hearts and lives of our people? After you preach, pray!
Here are three things to pray as you drive home on Sunday afternoon:
1. Pray Against Distraction
It’s amazing how easily we file away God’s preached word. One moment we’re overwhelmed by the majesty of God or deeply convicted of sin and the next moment we’re focused on where to have lunch. Lunch is good, watching football on a Sunday afternoon is good, but using good things to distract us from the most important things is a subtle yet well worn tactic of the enemy.
After you preach, pray against distraction. Pray that the Spirit would protect his truth from being like a seed amongst the thorns, choked out, or like a seed in the rocky soil, springing up only to be scorched. Pray that the Spirit would dangle his truth before your people throughout the day and the week, not allowing them to slot it away. Pray that the Spirit would prompt conversation in cars on the drive home and across lunch tables. Pray that the truth would linger long enough to shape the hearts and lives of the people you love.
2. Pray Your Application
As we bridge the cavern between the world of the Bible to today’s world, we long to see God’s ancient truths shape the hearts, minds and lives of our people. We expound God’s word for a response, applying it as salve to weary souls, a goad to exhort the immobile and a call to the unrepentant. Our sermons result with a call to action where we help our people apply God’s eternal truths to their minds, hearts and lives today.
After you preach, pray that week’s application back to the lord. Pray, that those you exhorted would now be prodded to respond. Pray that the Spirit would remind and empower their responses. Pray broadly for the church family and narrowly for those who you know need that week’s exhortation. Pray that the unregenerate would turn to Christ in repentance and faith. Pray that the fruit of the Spirit would flourish in the hearts and lives of your people.
3. Pray for Worship
Our highest goal in preaching is that by it and through it God would be glorified. We put on display the majesty of God in order to magnify his glorious goodness, his unfathomable attributes. We seek to apply the passage in a way that, if heeded, will lead our people to live lives that bring glory to their king. We seek conversion so that, by repentance, these lives once in rebellion would turn to worship the one for whose glory they were created.
After you preach, pray that your people would stand in awe of God’s splendor and majesty. Pray that this would lead to a still deeper hunger to seek and savor the things of God. Pray that they would be struck afresh by the scandalous beauty of their Savior’s love and long zealously for others to be struck as well. Pray for them to share the message with others, believers and non-believers in a genuine and winsome way. Pray for ripples of obedience and joy that will catch others in their wake.
When the work of preaching is complete, the work of the Spirit is just beginning. Pray for him to do the work that only he can do.