(This is the first “real” post on For Younger Pastors. My plan is to post at least three times each week, with the post closest to the weekend speaking to the subject of Sunday ministry in general and preaching in particular. However, since this first post also coincides with the end of the week, we’ll go right to the topic of preaching. So here we go!)
Let me recommend a book to you. The Valley of Vision is a compilation of prayers written by the Puritans. It is edited by Arthur Bennett, published by Banner of Truth, and available at Amazon or Westminster Seminary’s bookstore.
I often used some of these prayers in public worship. While the language may be somewhat antiquated and needed to be adjusted, there were several that were perfect for preparing our hearts and minds for the Lord’s Table. But there were two in particular that came to have great meaning to me. In fact, I copied them onto half sheets and tucked them inside my Bible. One of them is called The Minister’s Prayer. I found myself turned to that often before I went up to preach. It expressed my desires and hopes far better than I could, so I would often pray this prayer:
My Master God,
I am desired to preach today,
but go weak and needy to my task;
Yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth,
that an honest testimony might be borne for thee;
Give me assistance in preaching and prayer,
with heart uplifted for grace and unction.
Present to my view things pertaining to my subject,
with fullness of matter and clarity of thought,
proper expressions, fluency, fervency,
a feeling sense of the things I preach,
and grace to apply them to men’s consciences.
Keep me conscious all the while of my defects,
and let me not gloat in pride over my performance.
Help me to offer a testimony for thyself,
and to leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting thy mercy.
Give me freedom to open the sorrows of thy people,
and set before them comforting considerations.
Attend with power the truth preached.
and awaken the attention of my slothful audience.
May thy people be refreshed, melted, convicted, comforted,
and help me to use the strongest arguments
drawn from Christ’s incarnation and sufferings,
that men might be made holy.
I myself need thy support, comfort, strength, holiness,
that I might be a pure channel of thy grace,
and be able to do something for thee;
Give me then refreshment among thy people,
and help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way,
or bear a broken testimony to so worthy a redeemer,
or be harsh in treating of Christ’s death, its design and end,
from lack of warmth and fervency.
And keep me in tune with thee as I do this work.
It’s been awhile since I preached, but man those words still move me. May I work through this prayer with you in my end-of-the-week posts?
“My Master God, I am desired to preach today, but go weak and needy to my task;”
Preaching has never come easy to me. In fact, when I was serving as an Associate Pastor, I preached only one time in a 23-year period. I taught classes, led groups, but I was perfectly content to let others on staff do the preaching.
That all changed in 2003. To make a long story short, our Senior Pastor had resigned and I asked our Elders if they would allow me to preach for a couple of weeks to see how it went. That was in early March. Those couple weeks turned into a couple of months and in November of that year I became the Senior Pastor. I spent the last fourteen years of my ministry preaching nearly every Sunday.
For many of us, public speaking doesn’t come easy. In addition, preaching can be discouraging (Does my preaching matter? Does it make any difference? Is anyone growing?). Preaching can also be challenging (How do I best communicate this passage?). I had days when I wished I could ask my people, “Could you guys come back after lunch and I’ll try to get this right?” But I also had days when I sensed God’s hand in a special way.
I resonate with the words of the Puritan brother who wrote the words I quoted above. I believed that God wanted me to preach. But perhaps because it didn’t come easy, I was grateful for each Sunday that God gave me the opportunity to share His Word. Yet if someone asked me if I felt competent to preach, I would have said, “I’m prepared, but I’m a long way from feeling like this is a walk in the park.”
Of course, preaching should never be a walk in the park. But I suspect that it is possible to be so comfortable in preaching that doing it becomes almost second nature. And as a result, hardly a thought is given to the magnitude of the task or the consequences in the lives of people. Pray that will not happen in your life. Guard your heart against that way of thinking.
Whether you are preaching or teaching this weekend, you come “weak and needy to your task.” Whether you know it or not. Whether you believe it or not. If we fail to grasp this, I fear that our sermon becomes little more than public speaking. We can do that without God. But we can’t minister to the hearts of our people without God’s strength.
So before you get into the pulpit or stand in the classroom this Sunday, remind yourself that you are weak and needy, and ask God to give you strength.
What makes you feel “weak and needy?” I’d be interested in hearing from you.