I believe in the role and anointing of the Holy Spirit in our preaching. However, sometimes I think we can make this role more mystical and undefined than it should be. For instance, much of what we pursue regarding the power or unction of the Holy Spirit in our ministries should be closely related to our personal purity. In other words, we are more likely to be used by the Spirit in our preaching when we are close to the Lord in our personal lives. Or to put it negatively, we should not expect to be used by the Spirit in preaching when our walk is far from the Lord and we are living in sin.
So, I would say seek the anointing of the Spirit when you preach but also submit to Christ as we live. I believe this is the basis of what Paul is getting at in 1 Timothy 4:16. “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”
At a minimum, then, we must understand that the Holy Spirit will not bless our preaching, or our ministries in general, if our lives are at odds with the Word of the Spirit. Therefore, when I talk about anointing or unction in preaching, what I am really talking about is being a “Text-Driven Man.” As my life conforms to the Word of God so will my preaching display the power of God. In this article, I offer three thoughts for understanding the role of the Holy Spirit in our preaching . . . or how you should understand becoming text-driven in your living that leads to being Spirit-led in your preaching.
First, Being Spirit-Led in Your Preaching is always associated with Your Regular Walk with the Lord.
If we believe that we can mount the pulpit having spent no or minimum time with Lord during the week and have Him powerfully work through us in His people during the moment of proclamation, we are playing a dangerous game of Russian Roulette. In other words, if the Lord does use us on these occasions, it will be the exception not the rule. More times than not, we will find ourselves empty and trying to preach in our own power.
Nothing of spiritual significance will occur. Nor should we expect it to. If the Lord does happen to move, it is in spite not because of our walk with Him. There must be a regular pursuit of holiness, time with the Lord, Bible intake, and prayer in the life of a preacher of God’s Word. We should not pursue our walk with the Lord so that we can be mighty in the pulpit. We should pursue Him in our personal lives for much more significant reasons than this.
Yet, faithful preaching is a result of such a discipline. And as mentioned above, we should not dare to presume that it happens separate from it. I believe it was E. M. Bounds who wrote that cruciform preaching comes from a crucified man.
Second, Being Spirit-Led in Your Preaching is regularly connected to Your Diligent Preparation for Preaching.
It rarely occurs separate from our plan for preaching. There are a couple of components in preparing to preach and several methods for planning your preaching. In preparing to preach, I mean the selection of what text you will exposit on any given Sunday and the diligent process to go through in order to be as prepared as possible to faithfully deliver that text to your people.
There also are several ways you can go about putting together a preaching calendar. Some of these include systematically preaching through books or large portions of the books of the Bible, the plan of which I am an advocate, planning a series on a doctrine or a biblical topic, or scheduling a series based on the church or national calendar. Even though I have my preferred method, any or all of these can be used. The point I am making, however, is that the Holy Spirit usually works through our preaching in and through advanced planning and study rather than separate or apart from it.
There are some that believe we have to wait until the “preaching moment” before the Spirit can give us “a word.” They argue that advanced planning and preparation is failure to trust the Lord or rely upon the Spirit’s power. I believe the opposite is true. I believe the Spirit knows on Monday just as well as on Sunday what will happen and what is needed in the sermon. And quite frankly, on many occasions failing to prepare to preach is nothing more than laziness. In these instances, often the Holy Spirit has been given credit for bad sermons for which He does not want the blame.
Furthermore, some argue that weekly you must wait for the Spirit to move, speak, or reveal the specific text He is calling you to deliver. I have been asked where the Spirit is in planning systematic expository sermon series. My response to this is that He is the centerpiece because all of the Bible is His Word. He authored all of it. He was involved in our preaching ministries long before we were born because He inspired every one of the texts we preach. I am not saying that you may never be led or convicted to preach a specific passage of Scripture. But, in my ministry and weekly sermon prep this is rare.
If you are waiting for that “word” from the Lord, what if it never comes? What happens if you get to the end of the week and you still haven’t heard Him say “This text!.” My concern is most of the time you will find yourself waiting with no direction. I believe all of the Bible is God’s Word, and any of it preached rightly is an edifying word from the Lord for your people. We should not expect a special leading or direction to a certain text to be the norm in our preaching. The Holy Spirit usually moves in our sermons through our regular preaching plan and practice.
Finally, Being Spirit-Led in Your Preaching never contradicts or adds to what the Spirit has said already in Scripture.
I am sure for most if not all of you reading this blog, this point goes with out saying. But I feel compelled to be explicit anyway. Since the first century, He has not given a “new” or “fuller” word. He will not give you one either. So, If you find yourself looking for a new word, stop! The cannon is closed. God has communicated perfectly and completely to us in His Son. We have all we need in the Bible.
You do not need a new word or a fresh word. You and your people need the inspired Word; the inerrant Word; the infallible Word; the sufficient Word; the Word with the old old story! The Spirit’s work and anointing in your preaching is not separate from or at odds with how He has communicated already in the Bible.
Perhaps Ned Mathews explained it best in his chapter in Text-Driven Preaching. “Any preacher, then, who becomes a text-driven man will not only become more fired up to proclaim what he has experienced in his close study of biblical texts; he also will stay on message in his preaching. . . . Because his way of thinking, his personal goals, and his ways are exposed and judged daily by his study of the Scriptures, he finds himself inevitably brought under conviction of his waywardness by the Holy Spirit. Moreover, when he is this humbled by that experience and willing to be compliant with the Spirit’s direction for his life, he is also inevitably changed in character and conduct. And if such is the outcome in his life, he is accordingly determined to preach this same truth to his people so that they too may be convicted to put the Lord’s way and glory above their own ambitions.”
May it be so of us. May we be the ones that by our faithfulness and obedience to the Truth, “Preach the Word” in the power of the Spirit.
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Ned L. Mathews, “The Disciplines of a Text-Driven Preacher” in Text-Driven Preaching: God’s Word at the Heart of Every Sermon, ed. Daniel L. Akin, David L. Allen, and Ned L. Mathews (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 88.