Fidelity, Freedom, and Fire
Fidelity, Freedom, and Fire
Praying for the 3 F’s in your preaching.
It’s Sunday morning. I am about to leave my house to preach God’s Word and herald the excellencies of Jesus, when I hear my pregnant wife scream. It was not a good scream! Our dog got a hold of one of our young son’s dirty diapers and tore it apart in our dining room. To make matters worse, the smell of the incident triggered my wife’s morning sickness. I found myself derailed from my preaching mindset, and instead was on my hands and knees cleaning up hundreds of pieces of soiled diaper and trying to console my poor morning-sick wife.
Sunday mornings are such a unique time in the life of a preacher. The entire week of study, prayer, and preparation is about to come to the culmination of the sermon. But what is on the preacher’s mind? Naturally, there are a lot of pressures weighing down preachers in the time preceding preaching. I’m convinced that the mind of a preacher is never more vulnerable than in the hours and minutes leading up to their approach to the pulpit. With the inevitable mental assault coming, the sure and best response for anyone who stands to proclaim God’s Word is prayer.
But what should a preacher pray? I have read that Charles Haddon Spurgeon allegedly used to ascend the steps to his pulpit at the Metropolitan Tabernacle repeating “I believe in the Holy Spirit” over and over again. Over the past fourteen years of preaching, I have come up with my own pattern of praying before preaching. It’s easy for me to remember and helps to focus my heart and mind to where it should be and serves to beat back the many and varied assaults against my mind. I pray for three “F’s.”
When we were young preaching students in Bible College, our biggest fear was saying something heretical. The sermon delivery could be hot garbage, just so long as we didn’t accidentally deny the historic orthodox view on the trinity. The danger that comes with preaching reps is that fidelity loses its omnipresent concern that it possessed at the start of our ministries.
Each Sunday I pray that God would help me to be faithful to the text and context of the Scripture that I will be expositing. Certainly, this must be a request that is being prayed during the week of preparation as well. This request is especially important because there are words, phrases, and ideas that are improvised into the sermon that were not part of the preparation process.
Everything I say from the pulpit I want to be faithful to God’s character, the gospel, and to the text being taught. I even want to guard against saying right things from wrong passages. By this I mean, I don’t want to use the text illegitimately, even if I am trying to make a biblical point.
Most of all, I pray for fidelity because I don’t trust myself–– I need divine guardrail, otherwise I will end up in a ditch.
I don’t know about other preachers, but I need freedom to preach. I need freedom from self-glory. I need freedom from the fear of man. I need freedom from my own anxiety. I need to be unrestricted to proclaim the truth of God’s Word, despite a swarm of negative thoughts, fears, and concerns that are trying to impede the proclamation. I need freedom to deliver the sermon without distraction, which for me is a constant battle.
Every Sunday morning there is a battle for my heart and mind. My mindset is under attack. I repeatedly ask God to give me liberty to focus on his glory, his truth, and his gospel. When I pray for this freedom, I am asking that God would not allow me to get in the way of his Word, his power, and his agenda.
Lastly, I ask for fire. All week long, I spend time in prayer and study gathering kindling for Sunday morning’s bonfire. Naturally, my mind thinks of the famous account of Elijah and the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. Elijah mocked and joked as the prophets of Baal brought their sacrifice to Baal begging for the false god to bring down fire to consume the sacrifice. Conversely, Elijah endeavored to make this task difficult for Yahweh. He drenched his sacrifice in water proving beyond a doubt that only Yahweh was the one true God.
When I pray, I envision myself on Mt. Carmel, and I ask for God to send down fire on the sad, pathetic collection of firewood (i.e., my sermon manuscript) that I brought to the altar (i.e., the pulpit). I also use this time to confess my sins. I recognize that my sins are akin to Elijah’s water. I unwittingly dumped water on my own kindling. Yet, I know God can still ignite that sacrifice on fire despite my failures.
Ultimately, my request for fire is a prayer that God would work supernaturally in my feeble attempt at preaching. There is a word to describe this request which has fallen out of common use. When I ask for fire, I’m asking for unction. E.M. Bounds writes about unction, saying,
This unction is the art of preaching. The preacher who never had this unction never had the art of preaching. The preacher who has lost this unction has lost the art of preaching. Whatever other arts he may have and retain -- the art of sermon-making, the art of eloquence, the art of great, clear thinking, the art of pleasing an audience -- he has lost the divine art of preaching. This unction makes God's truth powerful and interesting, draws and attracts, edifies, convicts, saves. This unction vitalizes God's revealed truth, makes it living and life-giving.
Spurgeon, in talking about unction, said, “Yet he who preaches knows its presence, and he who hears soon detects its absence.”
In praying for fire, or unction, I am asking for God’s Spirit to convict, convert, and transform people into the image of Christ. I’m asking God to do only what he can do. I am confessing my own weakness and inability to change anyone, while believing, God can take my foolish preaching and use it to save and sanctify souls. The request for fire is a rehearsal of my weakness and of God’s power. As Paul so fittingly confesses in 1 Corinthians 2:4: “and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power ….”
The proclamation of God’s Word is of the utmost importance in the life of each church. Each messenger must seek to guard their heart and mind leading up to this time. Praying for fidelity, freedom, and fire serves to sharpen the mind and protect the soul for the sacred task of preaching.