It is Sunday morning, nearly 168 hours from the beginning of last week’s sermon. It is about time for you the preacher to take that walk again. You are going to walk alone to the sacred desk to preach. Are you ready? As you reflect on this question you realize that your mouth is dry and don’t have any water. Your opening to the sermon just got eclipsed by the reminder of a heavy pastoral concern. But you have to take this solitary walk. It is time. Are you ready? As you walk you throw up a petitionary flare, “God, help me.”
This question of readiness is really subjective. Some guys will answer it by considering what they have done in sermon prep. They have spent adequate time in prayer, studied the text, made a sensible outline, drew out some practical implications, and are ready to help people to understand God’s Word.
These are all good, even very good things. I aim to do them all each and every week. However, I wonder if sometimes we miss a very important aspect to sermon prep. Preachers should be wrecked and rebuilt by the text before preaching the text.
Be Wrecked by the Text
When you are wrecked by the text you have been stripped of your pride. Like a divine power-washer, the Bible has blasted off the mildew, dirt, and residue of self-reliance. The text has shown you God’s character and made you feel very small. You have been made to see something of …
Enlarge my heart, warm my affections,
open my lips,
supply words that proclaim ‘Love Lustres at Calvary.’
There grace removes my burdens
and heaps them on thy Son,
made a transgressor, a curse, and sin for me;
There the sword of thy justice smote the man,
There thy infinite attributes were magnified,
and infinite atonement was made;
There infinite punishment was due,
and infinite punishment was endured.
Are you supportive of Kim Davis?
As most people are aware, Kim Davis is the county clerk in Rowan County Kentucky who is now sitting in jail because she refused to sign marriage certificates that would violate her conscience informed by her religious (Christian) beliefs.
There always seems to be some sort of news of a scandal or shameful practices concerning professing Christians. Somewhere a pastor or professing Christian’s secret life of rampant sin gets revealed. As a result, we all (rightly) lose our collective breaths and our stomaches turn.
Then questions come. Why? How did this happen?
I remember hearing John MacArthur say,
“Nobody just falls out of a tree. They climb up in it, move around a bit, and then fall out.”
His point is obvious: this doesn’t happen overnight.
The apostle Paul seems like someone who took the initiative. If we could imagine Paul we would think of a guy who would parachute into a town and talk to everyone about Jesus before lunch. He was a guy who fearlessly and faithfully got it done.
We might be tempted to think that this was just how Paul was wired. After all, he was the guy who reminded Timothy not to fear men but to be bold with the truth.
But what if Paul wasn’t naturally bold? What if he was supernaturally bold? What if he knew that he was weak and as a result prayed for God’s help? What if Paul was just like us? Then we would be encouraged and instructed by his praying.
Most books on prayer are convicting. The authors don’t have to work too hard to give us the Bible verses, make some helpful observations, and point us to simple application. On the other hand, I have found it somewhat rare to find books on prayer that also provide clear, practical instruction. Perhaps this is due to people being afraid of imposing standards or practices that are not mandated in the Scriptures. At any rate, I am very excited when I can find a book that does both: provide conviction and instruction.
The Hidden Life of Prayer by David McIntyre is one of those books. It is not a long book. It weighs in as a paperback at about 120 pages. However, whatever is lacked in volume it brings in substance. Think of it as a cup of espresso for the discipline of prayer.
McIntyre (1859-1938) was a minister in Scotland. His daily faithfulness precedes this volume. It is helpful to remember that this book was an outflow of a life that was bathed in prayer and the ministry of the word.
I can still remember my mom encouraging me to count sheep as a viable option to cure my adolesent insomnia. Even though it seemed strange to me to count sheep I was compliant. I can’t remember if it worked or not. At any rate, the saying endures through another generation.
I can tell you first hand, from a pastoral perspective, that counting sheep will not put you to sleep. In fact, it will do the opposite. If I wake up in the night and something comes to my mind concerning members of Emmaus or other believers that I love, then I am toast. I will toss and turn, restlessly praying for them.
The fact that there is boundless, endless, bottomless grace in Christ is a deep consolation to the one who has been made to feel weary and heavy under the weight of their sin. John Owen says beautifully, “Drink, O my friends, yea, drink abundantly!”
…if all the world should (if I may so say) set themselves to drink free grace, mercy, and pardon, drawing water continually from the wells of salvation; if they should set themselves to draw from one single promise, an angel standing by and crying, “Drink, O my friends, yea, drink abundantly, take so much grace and pardon as shall be abundantly sufficient for the world of sin which is in every one of you;” — they would not be able to sink the grace of the promise one hair’s breadth. There is enough for millions of worlds, if they were; because it flows into it from an infinite, bottomless fountain.
Will not this suit us in all our distresses? What is our finite guilt before it? Show me the sinner that can spread his iniquities to the dimensions (if I may so say) of this grace. Here is mercy enough for the greatest, the oldest, the stubbornest transgressor, — “Why will ye die, O house of Israel?” Take heed of them who would rob you of the Deity of Christ. If there were no more grace for me than what can be treasured up in a mere man, I should rejoice [if] my portion might be under rocks …
Sometimes we may get caught in a bit of a trap of thinking about God simply in broad, non-precise terms. For example, we may think and pray about how God has saved us from our sins and promises to bring us to dwell with him forever.
This is a beautiful and infinitely glorious truth! But there is more.
As Christians when we think of God we think in Trinitarian terms. There is one God, one being that is God. At the same time, within the one being that is God there are distinct, coequal, coeternal persons. The distinct persons are: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father sent the Son. Jesus, the Son, lived and died for us, purchasing our redemption. The Holy Spirit was sent to apply what the Son has accomplished according to the what the Father has decreed. Look, you just went from a “Costco sample sized” prayer or theological thought to a 48 oz ribeye!
But we do not fight this war, this spiritual battle on our own. We fight it together with other Christians in the church and under the leadership and command of Christ. And we fight it with powerful weapons that God has provided for us. Prayer connects us with the unlimited resources of our Father in Heaven.
In evangelism we clearly see the need for prayer for this spiritual battle. When we read the Bible we see that prayer and evangelism are inextricably linked. This is because prayer fuels mission. Evangelism is a spiritual work, so we must pray for the Holy Spirit to open doors and hearts.
But how do we pray for evangelism? What do we pray for?