A Minister’s Preaching, Part 4
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 pertaining 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 sorrows of thy people,
and 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.
On Fridays, I’ve been commenting on a prayer from The Valley of Vision – a wonderful book of Puritan prayers. The prayer is called “A Minister’s Preaching.” I found it so helpful in focusing my own prayers on Sundays that I copied it and put it in my Bible, often using it privately on Sunday mornings before I preached.
Today I’d like to look at the section I’ve highlighted in boldface. There are several requests in this section of the prayer. I’ll focus on three of them.
First, the author asks that God would enable him to preach to “leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting thy mercy.”
Faithful preaching is Gospel-centered preaching. Without forcing the passage to say what it does not, at some point in the sermon we need to make sure we are explaining what it means to trust in Christ. If people hear nothing more than a motivational talk or a list of behaviors to adopt or put off, they won’t hear the Gospel. They may even make the assumption that being right with God comes through doing good things.
Weaving the facts of the Gospel into a sermon is not always easy. We need to pray for God’s help in this, just as the writer does. It is almost certain that you will have people in your audience on Sunday who don’t know Jesus, so keep the mercy that God showed in Christ prominent in your sermons.
Second, the author demonstrates a shepherd’s heart by asking God to enable him to minister to the sorrows of his people and bring them comfort.
Certainly we want to motivate our people to a greater love for Christ and greater service. But many in your congregation are wounded, discouraged, beaten up, and sorrowing. They hurt.
Help them. Encourage them. Bind up their wounds. Teach them about the love and care of Christ, who urges us to service but is also a tender shepherd. I’m reserving a future blog post for this theme, because I honestly fear that too many of us are championing our church programs and “mission statements” at the expense of pastoral care.
Finally, note that the author asks God to “awaken the attention of my slothful audience.”
Wow. That sounds harsh at first blush, doesn’t it? No doubt there will be people in your church on Sunday who have prepared their minds and hearts. But think: you’ll also have some who are attending out of habit (which is not the worst thing in the world), some who would rather be somewhere else, and many who have other things on their minds, like the burdens of the week or the afternoon’s ballgame or activities. They live in a media-rich environment and are used to being entertained. They are not bad people. They are products of the culture. And so are we. But we happen to be preaching so we have to pay attention! In this part of the prayer, the writer is asking that God would wake them up and help them focus on what God wants to say to them.
Whether you are preaching or teaching on Sunday, these are worthy requests to bring before the Lord. He desires to use you to minister to the varied needs of your church. Maybe it’s a good Sunday to use this prayer on your own or with your elders before the worship service begins.
May God bless your ministry this weekend!