Chapter 2

6 Times to Stop and Pray

Reminders for preparing prayer-filled sermons.

Every preacher would agree that prayer is foundational for preaching. We give much lip service to the power and place of prayer in the sermon preparation process. Seminary taught us this concept and our own personal experience as preachers underscores that prayer is important to preaching. Yet, sometimes we get into our routine of sermon preparation and prayer becomes an afterthought rather than a central part of preaching.

I’ve sometimes slipped into autopilot and cruised forward without stopping to pray for my sermon as I had intended—and taught. Below are six times when we can stop and pray as we prepare prayer-filled sermons for our listeners.

Pray Through the Text

As you begin the sermon preparation process and open the Scriptures to the passage on which you intend to preach—pray. Ask the Lord to give insight into the text. I’m not suggesting that what you’ll discover is out of sync with the intended meaning of the text. Far from it. Ask for wisdom and discernment as you try to understand the passage in its context, trusting God to give insight into the idea of the text.

Read through the entire book and then read over the pericope on which you will preach, leaning on the Lord for a quickened understanding of the passage. With every reading, every sentence, pray through the text.

I engage in this practice every time I preach. I pray through the text. I don’t see this as a burden but a privilege, an important step in the sermon process. Instead of assuming what the text is about, praying through the text forces me to focus on the passage and begin where I need to be—on my knees.

Pray as You Shape the Sermon

The next step in sermon development is to wrestle with the original languages and their relationship to various translations, all the while attempting to determine the idea of the text. Pray as you translate the text. Pray as you conduct word studies. Pray as you engage in other research on the passage—historical, grammatical, and language issues. Pray that you’ll be able to determine the idea of the text—and pray as you shape a clear homiletical idea so that your listeners will be able to apprehend the meaning of the passage for their lives. Pray as you form the outline.

This reminder to pray as we shape the sermon may be more obvious. We might confess that during this stage of sermon preparation we are dry and desperate as we try to find the way to understand the main idea of the text, put it into the best form, and use the right words, so that it impacts our lives and the lives of those who will hear the message. Sometimes at this stage I need to set aside the work and let what I’ve been doing marinate awhile—and pray for understanding and insight. When I do, I find that I’m better able to shape the sermon for my listeners.

Pray for Clear Communication

Clear communication comes with the preacher’s ability to state the exegetical idea of the passage and sculpt it in such a way that the homiletical idea is clear to the listener—and this idea is detailed in an outline and manuscript that is written in such a way that the listeners can easily understand. Pray for the ability to be free from any blockages that would get in the way of clear communication.

Finding the right words to communicate clearly can be a challenge. How do we make complicated theological concepts or long Pauline arguments understandable for our listeners? I find it helpful to picture regular, everyday listeners seated in front of me and imagine myself speaking to them about the concept I’m trying to communicate—and write to their level. I want to write for the ear, making what I say able to be grasped the first time.

Pray for Listener Reception

Clear communication also takes place when there’s listener reception. Ask the Lord to prepare your listeners for the preaching of the Word. As a preacher, I regularly prayed for my congregation as I prayed through the church directory, trusting the Lord to prepare them for Sunday’s sermon. I also frequently prayed for them in the sanctuary. A few days before Sunday, I’d move from pew to pew knowing where every person and every family sat. As I prayed, I asked God to do his work in them this coming Sunday—asking, too, that the Evil One would be prevented from getting in the way of hearing God’s Word.

Additionally, every time before I get up to preach I ask the Lord to do his work in the lives of my listeners, praying “Lord, please enable my listeners to be receptive to your work and Word today.” I’m grateful that the Lord sees fit to answer my prayer.

Pray for Yourself

All during sermon preparation and preaching, I pray for myself. I know myself all too well. I get in my own way, potentially preventing the Lord’s good work. Haddon Robinson used to pray before he’d preach, “Lord, you know how much of a sinner I am.” If we’re honest with ourselves, we’d agree. God uses “clay pots” like us with “clay feet” to communicate the greatest treasure of all: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Ask Others to Pray for You

The oft-told story of Charles Haddon Spurgeon taking a group of admirers of his preaching down to the basement of Metropolitan Tabernacle and showing them where the real power of his preaching lies—in the prayers of his congregation—is a potent lesson for us. We want to enlist others to pray for us in our preparation and in the actual preaching of the sermon. Start with your elders or deacons. Ask them to commit to praying for you as you prepare to preach. And move out from there—small groups, Sunday School classes, to the entire congregation. Don’t forget to engage family members to pray for you, too—your spouse, children, in-laws.

Right now I’m not serving as a pastor. But as a member of a congregation, I take it as my responsibility to pray for my pastor every day. Matt is on my prayer list and I ask that the Lord will guide him in his sermon preparation and his preaching. In addition, the church takes praying for the pastors seriously as they ask for volunteers to pray for each pastor—and the person praying is assigned to pray daily for one of the pastors.


The prayers for preaching involve praying from beginning to end—by the preacher and for the preacher—even as the Apostle Paul encouraged the Ephesian believers to “pray at all times” (Eph. 6:18). When we put these layers of prayer into practice in our preaching, we can be confident that we’re submitting ourselves to the will and way of the Lord who is the One who ordains and empowers preachers and the ones to whom they preach. I encourage you to put into practice prayers for preaching.