I can’t help but wonder how many preachers and teachers spend a great deal of time in prayer before they undertake their sacred task. There is a story about Martin Luther King Jr. that illustrates my point. Rosa Parks, the woman who famously started the Montgomery, Alabama bus strike to fight for equality for African Americans recounts that Dr. King had a very hectic day and was unable to invest the usual amount of time in preparing his speech before the Montgomery Improvement Association. He ordinarily took fifteen hours to prepare a sermon but in this instance only had twenty minutes before he took to the rostrum. Ms. Parks says that Dr. King took five minutes to sketch his remarks and then the next fifteen in prayer. How many ministers would have spent the whole twenty minutes madly scribbling something down and no time in prayer? I think this poignant vignette illustrates the importance of prayer in preaching and teaching.
In his famous book, On Christian Teaching, St. Augustine (354-430) writes about the teacher’s need for prayer before he undertakes his task: “As the hour of his address approaches, before he opens his trusting lips he should lift his thirsting soul to God so that he may utter what he has drunk in and pour out what has filled him.” Augustine writes wisdom and truth. If the only time you pray is immediately before you preach in the pulpit during the worship service, then you miss a vital opportunity to fill up with the grace of Christ. Before you begin your sermon preparation you should bow in prayer to beseech the Spirit’s assistance. As you prepare you should cry out to God and plead his grace for understanding. Before you mount the pulpit you should call on Christ to grant you unction, clarity, and power as you deliver God’s word to his people. In all of this, as Augustine writes, your hope should be that as the Spirit fills you, so through your meager words he would fill your congregation.
The same holds true, I believe, for the congregation. During the week are you praying for your pastor as he prepares his message? On Sunday morning do you pray for your pastor that he would preach powerfully and effectually?
Again, Augustine’s words are powerful when he writes: “Whether they are going to speak before a congregation or any other body, or to dictate something to be spoken before a congregation or read by others who are able and willing to do so, speakers must pray that God will place a good sermon on their lips. If Queen Esther, when about to plead before the king for the temporal salvation of her people, prayed that God would place a suitable speech on her lips, how much more important is it for those who work for people’s eternal salvation ‘by teaching God’s word’ to pray to receive such a gift?”
All too often I believe preachers blow a lot of dry dusty data at their congregations absent of the anointing of the Spirit because they have failed to pray. Our hope should be that this would not be the status quo. Pray, therefore, for your pastor. Pastors, pray before you preach.