In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul humbly wrote “…pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6)
Every weekend Pastors across the world open their mouths to speak, and when they do so congregations will be equal parts shocked, comforted, edified, horrified, gladdened, angered, awakened, and tucked into bed for a brief nap depending on what happens when the jaws of those pastors move at their hinges and words pop out. Rising from their hearts, shaped by their tongues, informed by their thoughts and fears and hopes and concerns, the words they utter will be offering the ministry of life or death. The tongue is a small but mighty instrument, as James reminds us, igniting conflagrations. ‘Life and death’, Solomon observed, ‘is in the power of the tongue.’ No wonder Paul asked for prayer.
I know I need those whom I seek to serve to pray for me as I serve them and others. I’m even more aware than they of how thin the sauce can be apart from the grace of the Spirit assisting my study and preparation. Yes, I seek to be what Paul called ‘a diligent workman, accurately handling the word’ – there’s no substitute for reading, study, reflection, research, wordsmithing, and careful consideration of application. And yet, even with all of that labor expertly done, there must be prayer on behalf of the workman.
We’re also aware that sometimes people aren’t listening for their own good but to offer scores on rhetorical effectiveness. Congregations can act more like Olympic event judges holding up scorecards for the quad-lutz/triple toe combination I attempted in the conclusion. “YES! He absolutely STUCK that landing!” You can see it in Corinth, Some there actually said about Paul, ‘Well he does write good letters but his preaching is pretty weak.” Alas.
What should preaching do? At its best preaching brings people into a transformational encounter with God through the power of the Holy Spirit. “Expository preaching”, John Stott said, “opens up the inspired text with such faithfulness and sensitivity that God’s voice is clearly heard and God’s people respond appropriately.” In that definition, there are convictions about Scripture (it must be opened and it is inspired), responsibilities of the pastor (faithfulness to the text and sensitivity to the people), and expectations of the work (God’s voice is heard and God’s people will respond).
We see all of this in Paul’s request for prayer to undergird his preaching ministry. He begs his friends for prayer. He asks for:
Utterance – the right words for the right moment; he has an open mouth but he needs the right words to fill it! Words must be clear to make an impact. The right word at the right time: apples of gold in settings of silver. Pray that Pastors, called to be masters of collections of wisdom, will drive the nails of truth straight and true.
Boldness – it is a great temptation to seek to please people with our words rather than please God. In seeking to be sensitive to where people are at, we may fall prey to man-pleasing, fearing we may offend rather than fearing more that we may offer only partial healing through inappropriate timidity.
Gospel-Centeredness – At the end of the day, whatever the subject of a sermon might be, the objective is always the same: preach Christ and him crucified; preach the Gospel. The Gospel is the power of God that saves, the message of the cross penetrating the dark places of our unbelief and changing us forever.
Do battle for preaching pastors this Sunday. Pray Stott’s definition for them. Pray Paul’s requests: utterance (wise and appropriate language); boldness (fearless declaration and application); gospel-centeredness (that Christ and his mercy is made known). In all these things pray for Pastors to speak in the sight of God. Every faithful Pastor I know resonates with Paul’s burden and we crave prayer that we may “speak as we ought to speak”. We live with the weighty ‘ought’ of preaching – and we can’t wait for every Sunday to see what God will do with our weakness when it is touched by the power of heaven that arrives through the prayers of God’s people.
How thankful I am to be part of a praying congregation, one that prays for me. Christ Community Church is faithful in this ministry and I pray they will always be so.
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