Praying for God’s "Sacred Anointing" on your Preaching
- Glenn Wagner
- 2009 9 Sep
Few things can stir up a lively conversation among pastors as quickly as mentioning the role of the Holy Spirit in the church today. Some believe the gifts of the Spirit remain active, while others believe some of them ceased with the early church - and both views are perfectly acceptable among orthodox Christians.
One thing we all can agree on, however you choose to define it, is the absolute necessity of having the Holy Spirit show up in power when we preach. This anointing has been understood in various ways throughout church history. If you read the ancients much, as well as many of God's choice preaching instruments even in our own day, you'll quickly understand that they longed to experience "The Presence" of Jesus in their ministry.
This longing is far more than a superficial penchant for a mystical experience. It was -- and is -- a clear understanding that preaching is essentially an encounter with the living Lord Jesus. And although Jesus is present everywhere and at all times, there are times, seasons and places where He chooses to manifest his presence in exceptional ways. Preaching and the Lord's Supper, for example, are two places where Jesus has committed His extraordinary presence.
Many church fathers experienced this special presence. So did men such as Robert Murray McCheynne (and many other Scottish divines), Evan Roberts, A.W. Tozer, D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, Jonathan Edwards, Richard Baxter, Martin Bucer, George Whitefield, John Wesley, C.H. Spurgeon and D.L Moody. These men testify of encountering Jesus through preaching in such a way that hearts were melted; spiritual victories were gained; repentance and salvation were given; and a prevailing sense of love and affection for Jesus Himself was experienced.
This encounter with the Presence of Jesus often would happen during the preaching, or sometimes just before or after it. In the ministry of Evan Roberts (who ministered during the Welsh revival), the Presence would descend on the congregation when a particular young woman sang. The Spirit would break the hearts of the congregation even before Roberts preached.
What these servants sought and often experienced was, technically speaking, the present ministry of the Holy Spirit. The New Testament, and the book of Acts in particular, is the record of the Spirit's formation and influence on the early church. The Spirit of God blowing through the lives of people resulted in an incredible bearing of fruit, growth and blessing. Ministry and transformation happened as the Spirit chose to intersect with the lives of real people in real time. It is no different today, nor will it ever be. If we're going to experience lasting transformation through preaching, it will be the result of the Spirit's anointing of both pastor and congregation.
Throughout the history of the church, I have found, there are those who give testimony to the present and special ministry of the Holy Spirit. They are from a variety of theological backgrounds and perspectives. Although some have abused it and others through fear have avoided it, many give testimony to what it means to preach with the blessing and anointing of God. This is not a charismatic, Pentecostal, reformed, dispensational or fundamentalist issue. Call it what you want, but may we never preach merely from intellect, skill and flesh.
The anointing of the Spirit in your preaching is everything.
- It is what grants the freedom, power, authority and connection with your congregation that transcends your normal abilities.
- It's what takes the earthen offering you make and transforms it into a spiritual vessel.
- It's what makes preaching more than oratory.
- It's what makes communication an encounter with the divine.
- It's what reaps spiritual fruit.
- And it's what brings about God's purpose and kingdom on earth.
One way I practically demonstrate my longing and desire for the Spirit's anointing is through spending time in prayer with a group of people before I speak. To kneel together, with their hands on me as a sign of blessing and faith, and pray for the Spirit to fill and use me. Then, when I leave to preach, they remain in the room and pray for me throughout the entire service. Without a doubt, this has been a power source in my preaching life. I sense their prayer and often can tangibly feel God's answer to their prayers on my behalf.
Congregations also can experience the anointing of the Spirit. The Spirit must energize and open people's hearts if they are to receive the blessing of the preached Word. The congregation is as needy of the Spirit's touch as the pastor. Without the Spirit, our congregation is just an audience rather than a flock of hungry souls. Encourage your congregations to pray and prepare for their encounter with Jesus on Sunday morning. We need to move our congregations beyond just showing up for church and lead them into the attitude of preparing for and expecting to experience the presence of Christ.
One thing that pastors and congregations have in common is that we must seek the Spirit's ministry among us. God desires to be sought and pursued. Think of some of the Bible passages that direct us to seek God:
"But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart" (Deuteronomy 4:29).
"But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for He who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6).
This seeking of God, this longing after Him, is something we do primarily in the context of prayer. We must constantly pray for the Spirit's touch upon our preaching. I never assume that the Spirit will touch my lips and anoint my preaching. And although I know that I cannot earn or deserve the Spirit's energizing, I can long for it, and by doing so, I bring pleasure to Him and open my life to His present power.
A practical way that I pray for the sacred anointing is that before I go to kneel with the prayer team, I kneel or lie prostrate in my study, praying through my sermon one last time In recent months, I have been using the following prayer as a guide during that time.
A Minister's Preaching
My Master God, I am desired to preach today,
but go weak and needy to my task;
Yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth,
that an honest testimony might be borne for Thee;
Give me assistance in preaching and prayer,
with heart uplifted for grace and unction.
Present to my view things pertinent to my subject,
with fullness of matter and clarity of thought,
proper expressions, fluency, fervency,
a feeling sense of the things I preach,
and grace to apply them to men's consciences.
Keep me conscious all the while of my defects,
and let me not gloat in pride over my performance.
Help me to offer a testimony for Thyself,
and to leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting Thy mercy.
Give me freedom to open the sorrow of Thy people
and to set before them comforting considerations.
Attend with power the truth preached,
and awaken the attention of my slothful audience.
May Thy people be refreshed, melted, convicted, comforted,
and help me to use the strongest arguments
drawn from Christ's incarnation and sufferings,
that men might be made holy.
I myself need Thy support, comfort, strength, holiness,
that I might be a pure channel of Thy grace,
and be able to do something for Thee;
Give me then refreshment among Thy people,
and help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way,
or bear a broken testimony to so worthy a Redeemer,
or be harsh in treating of Christ's death, its design and end,
from lack of warmth and fervency.
And keep me in tune with Thee as I do this work.
("The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions," Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1975, p. 191.)
How about making the present ministry of the Holy Spirit an important part of your worship service? You could:
- Have a pre-service prayer time, encouraging people to seek the Spirit's touch.
- Revive the practice of having a prayer of invocation. Invite the special presence of God to fall on your gathering.
- Develop a "Pastor's Prayer Team" ministry.
The great fathers of the church, from the Apostle Paul to the reformers to the present day, realized they were powerless without God's sacred anointing. In our tumultuous times, we can afford to do no less.
E. Glenn Wagner is the founder and president of FutureLead (www.futurelead.org), an organization committed to equipping people to live and lead with purpose, passion and power. He's the author of numerous books including, God: An Honest Conversation for the Undecided (Waterbrook Press) and his latest book, Fire In Your Bones (Life Bridge). To schedule Glenn to speak or for more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Original publication date: September 22, 2009