Preaching in the Power of the Holy Spirit
3 ways to understand the Spirit’s role in preaching.
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There are five minutes to go before the service starts and the room is packed. You look through your notes, but they suddenly don't seem to make any sense. You find a pen and a blank page, but your mind seems to be following suit. It's a long preaching slot, and a theologically dense passage. And now its time to walk to the front.
Someone is praying for you. You willingly and gladly receive their prayers, but each petition reminds you of the ever-growing weight of responsibility on your shoulders. Yes, there are people here giving church one last chance before they walk away from faith for good. There are those here because their spouses or partners have dragged them along to hear a clear gospel message. As this earnest intercessor carries on, you blink to survey the gathering congregation. Some are older, maybe coming faithfully for decades. Some are younger, with a whole lifetime ahead of them to serve God. Some are in wheelchairs. Some are dependent on the simultaneous sign language translation. There are probably people there who are illiterate, as well as those with doctorates. Some may be going through marriage breakdown, or facing significant medical challenges. This sermon may be the last opportunity to give them what they need to carry on. If you were nervous before then this prayer has made things ten times worse.
I was in this situation a few weeks ago. In my case, I had the additional bombshell dropped by my personal prayer warrior, that following my talk—which would be live streamed around the country—there would be a discussion on a compassionate and orthodox approach to same-sex attraction. Never before had I felt so dependant on the power of the Holy Spirit in my preaching.
The stakes of our preaching
Preaching opportunities, whatever the circumstances, length, or audience numbers, can carry more significance in the lives of people listening than we realize. We never know whether next Sunday morning will be the one where a friend or neighbour will finally take up the offer of turning up to explore Christianity. We never know whether this Sunday will be the tipping point for a young person who is wrestling with their parents about whether they need to keep coming to church with them. We can never be sure if this is the week that someone in your church will be receiving life changing news about their work, health, or family. We never know whether this will wind up being the last sermon a person hears in this life. I'm reminded of the Apostle Paul's question "And who is equal to such a task?" 2 Corinthians 2:16
I once caught a public bus very late at night and the bus driver and I were the only ones on the vehicle that usually was filled with 50 people or more. As we struck up a conversation, I asked him how he felt about the weight of responsibility of the safety of so many people's lives. He looked at me for a second and said, "I never, ever, think about it." I don't think it was because he didn't care; I had seen him drive that bus carefully many times before. I think it was because it was too scary to confront the fact that he was responsible for the life and death of thousands of passengers on a daily basis.