In the early church, two important ministries were joined together: namely, prayer and preaching. When the first believers met to pray, the power of the Holy Spirit came (Acts 1:12-14; 2:1-4). Immediately afterward, Peter preached with unusual power and three thousand souls were saved (Acts 2:14-41).
Prayer and preaching are inseparably connected. With prayer, we talk to God about men. With preaching, we talk to men about God. These two ministries are listed when Peter says, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).
Prayer must dominate our preaching. We must pray before we preach, we must pray as we preach, and we must pray after we preach. We must prepare our hearts in prayer for our study of the word. We must pray as we deliver the truth. And we must pray after we preach, that the word will remain in our listeners.
To guide your prayers as an expositor, here are nine areas of prayer that will fuel your pulpit ministry:
While Preparing Your Heart
First, your preaching ministry should begin with your own heart preparation in prayer. As you study the Scripture, there should be a great sense of dependence upon God in prayer. You are like Moses standing at the burning bush, because when you study the word, you are approaching holy ground. You must be gripped with a profound sense of reverential awe for God every time you come to His word.
You must come to the Bible as a worshipper of God, consciously aware of His holiness. You must confess your sin in order to have a pure heart. Confess your sin and give thanks to God in prayer for this unbelievable privilege to preach His word.
While Selecting Your Passage
Second, pray for the selection of verses you will preach. You must come to God and seek His guidance for which portion of Scripture you should preach. For those who exposit books of the Bible verse by verse, we must still pray that we will know how many verses to preach. Be consciously aware that God is at work within you, both to will and work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). You need to pray that God will impress upon your mind how many verses you should preach. Likewise, when you preach topical sermons, you need to be led to a particular topic and specific verses.
While Studying the Text
Third, you must pray you will carefully make observations in your selected passage. Some men are given more insight to see what is in their text than what other men see. You cannot preach what you cannot see. You cannot interpret or apply what you cannot see. The psalmist prays, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things from your Law” (Psalms 119:18). You must pray that God will open your eyes to see into the Bible with the penetrating power of observation. You must petition God that He will illumine you as you look into His word.
While Interpreting the Verses
Fourth, pray for an accurate understanding of the biblical passage. Every expositor must ask God, “What does this text mean by what it says?” We must be led by the Holy Spirit to grasp the authorial intent of the passage. We must discern what was the author’s intent as he wrote this. How did the original recipient understand this particular text? Every preacher must pray that God will guide him in his study of the text. God must lead him to a proper interpretation of what he sees in the biblical passage.
God uses many human teachers to help us interpret the Scripture, but they are merely secondary teachers of the word. There is only one primary Teacher of the written word, the Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible. Preachers must be taught by the Holy Spirit before they can teach others. We can understand Scripture at a spiritual level only by His ministry to us. This is why the psalmist repeatedly prayed, “Teach me Your statutes” (Psalm 119:12; cf. 26,64,108,124,135,171). If the author of this psalm, who is so devoted to the word, prayed to be taught by God, how much more must we pray the same?
While Organizing the Sermon
Fifth, pray that God will give you an ability to skillfully organize your sermon. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for wisdom (hokma) means ‘skill.’ It refers to a God-given ability to perform a task with excellence. This wisdom is involved in making something with “craftsmanship” (Exodus 31:3,31). For example, it was used to describe the expertise required to make the high priest’s garments with exceptional beauty (Exodus 28:3). In like manner, every expositor must pray that God will give him wisdom to craft his sermon with excellence.
While Internalizing the Truth
Sixth, pray that God will enable you to internalize your sermon in your mind and heart. In this petition, you should pray for the renewal of your mind to retain the truth you have studied. Pray that God will reignite your heart for this truth. Ask God to ignite your heart for what is taught in this passage. Only the Holy Spirit can ignite the preacher with passion. Pray that God will seal these truths to your heart.
While Delivering the Sermon
Seventh, as you stand in the pulpit, pray for an effective delivery of the sermon. The Spirit of God must be mightily at work in us as we preach. Even as you preach the Bible, you must be in an attitude of prayer that God will be continually empowering you. Be dependent upon Him to enliven you, and bring into your mind what needs to be said that is not in your notes. These often make for the best parts of the message. The Holy Spirit works in response to these pulpit prayers.
While Addressing the People
Eighth, pray for the people to whom you are preaching. Ask God to give the listeners eyes to see the truth you are proclaiming. You must petition Him that He will give them ears to hear. Intercede that God will help them to be attentive to what you are preaching. Pray that God will open the windows of heaven and pour out His blessing upon our listeners as they are sitting under the truth that we are bringing. The apostle Paul prayed like this: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling” (Ephesians 1:16-1). Even so, we should pray that God will enlighten those to whom we preach.
After Preaching the Word
Ninth, pray that God will seal the truth to the hearts of your listeners after you have preached. You should ask Him that the seed of the word will have fallen upon prepared soil in their hearts. Pray that the truth did not fall upon hardened soil. Intercede that it was not sown upon shallow soil. Pray that God will plant the truth into the soil of their hearts. The Spirit must cause the word to germinate and not be stolen by the scheming of Satan.
Prayer, Start to Finish
From start to finish, prayer should accompany every phase of our preaching. It must be the driving influence in every stage of our sermon preparation and delivery. As you prepare your sermons, remember how vitally important prayer is in the life of the expositor. It is our lifeline to God that brings ample amounts of His enabling grace as we preach.