There is no secret behind powerful preaching – apart from secret prayer. The biggest mistake we can make as preachers is to think that we can learn to preach powerfully from books, from seminars, or from lectures on preaching. No, for preaching to be powerful it must be preceded by, accompanied with, and followed by prayer.

It is prayer that imparts reality to our sermons. It makes God real to us – His holiness, His power, His love. It makes sin real to us. It makes heaven and hell real to us. It makes eternity real to us. Such reality transforms mere lectures, talks, and Bible studies into living and life-changing sermons. This cannot be learned from books, manufactured or imitated.

It’s an awful experience to stand up to preach knowing that you have hardly prayed about the sermon; that you have spent too long on preparing the sermon and not enough on preparing yourself. Few things drain the power from a sermon as much as prayer-less preparation and delivery.

I’m sure we all pray to some extent before starting our sermon preparation, and hopefully at regular points in the preparation process. But what about praying when we have completed our preparation. I’m afraid that we often just pick up our completed sermon and run to the pulpit with it.

Pray before preaching
I would suggest spending a decent amount of time (maybe begin with 15-30 minutes?) praying over your finished sermon before preaching it. Go over every section, applying it to yourself.

  • If you are teaching a virtue, pray for that virtue in your own soul.
  • If you are preaching on a sin, confess your own sins in that area.
  • If you are teaching about the person of Christ, spend time praising Christ for this aspect of His character.
  • Pray for the right spirit and manner, for each section. (Try to feel the sermon in your own soul.)
  • Pray for courage in sections where the fear of man might intimidate you.
  • Pray to be spared from anger if you are condemning a certain sin in the congregation.
  • Pray for specific people you are aiming parts of the sermon at.
  • Pray that God will help you to foresee how some people might misunderstand what you will say.
  • Pray for help with timing.
  • Pray for help with complicated sections.
  • Pray for help to know what to leave out.
  • Pray for help to remember your message.
  • Pray that the Spirit of God will give you extra thoughts and words which you had not prepared.

Pray after preaching
It’s a good habit to go apart to pray as soon as you come home and before other duties distract you. Your prayer may be one of thanksgiving or of confession. It may be more for humility or encouragement for yourself. However, it should also be for those who heard it, that the seed sown would be protected and watered and bring forth fruit. Why is it that our prayers before preaching are usually longer and more common than prayer after preaching? Partly it may be natural tiredness after our exertions. But sometimes it may be simply because our own ego and reputation is no longer at stake!

Pray during preaching
We should cultivate the practice of not only praying before and after preaching, but during it. After every main point, or perhaps even after every sub-point, the preacher should briefly pause and silently pray for God to bless what has just been said and to guide in what is yet to be said. If you use notes then why not insert the word “PRAY” between each point in order to remind you. It will soon become an unconscious and unprompted habit. Prayer during preaching reminds us of our need, but also that we are not alone.

  • Brian G. N.

    Amen! Thanks so much for this great post. Martin Luther (1483-1546) once said that “There is no greater work than praying.” Indeed, for him prayer is even more laborious than preaching. As he wrote: “Prayer is a difficult matter and hard work. It is far more difficult than preaching the Word or performing other official duties in the church. When we are preaching the Word, we are more passive than active; God is speaking through us, and our teaching is His work. This is the reason why it is also very rare.”Quotations are from Ewald M. Plass, comp., What Luther Says: A Practical IN-Home Anthology for the Active Christian, (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), 1088.

  • William Macleod

    Excellent advice, but should it not also be said that even if we prayed all day (and all week), that will not guarantee power in the preaching. When we have done all we are unprofitable servants and depend totally on God’s sovereign grace to give the power.

  • Jo’s Eph Hansen

    When you mentioned pausing to lift up a prayer after each sub-point, this verse (see below) came to mind, but it may not apply. I would be interested to know what you think about it’s possible application.”And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.” Matthew 6:7 (NKJV).

  • Jo’s Eph Hansen

    @ William,I think God is sovereign over whose sermons pack a punch and one of the ways he regulates that is through prayer. That is, he has not only ordained the ends, but the means as well. God is the Lord of prayer.

  • David Murray

    Agree with you, Willie. And Joseph, you are right, it’s not the number of prayers we repeat that makes the difference. Praying while preaching is more about reminding ourselves of our dependence and need of divine blessing.

  • Joel Zehring

    If I want Jesus to express himself through me, I’ve noticed that I need to prepare by (1) confessing my sins regularly (weekly, for me) to another believer (2) reading the scriptures in large quantities and (3) praying the God would turn hearts toward himself. If I don’t do these things, I’m not ready.I just noticed how parenthetical that comment was. Wow.

  • Daniel Gomes Silveira

    I’ve just translated that article into Portuguese,

  • David Murray

    Thanks a lot Daniel.

  • Wababaa

    I can’t agree more, especially that the power of the sermon is in the timing of circumstance in the lives of the audience its our God who knows that.. Good post

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