Here is an amazing prayer for all preachers to pray, and for those who pray for preachers to adapt to the third person. It’s taken from The Valley of Vision which is a collection of Puritan prayers. This prayer is called “A Minister’s Preaching” on pp. 348-349 in the leather edition printed in 2002.
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 sorrows 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.
This prayer is written by Augustine of Hippo and can be found in his spiritual autobiography Confessions. As a preacher, it’s a prayer that I find myself needing to pray.
“Lord my God, ‘hear my prayer’ (Ps. 60:2), may your mercy attend to my longing which burns not for my personal advantage but desires to be of use in love to the brethren. You see in my heart that this is the case. Let me offer you in sacrifice the service of my thinking and my tongue, and grant that which I am to offer, ‘for I am poor and needy’ (Ps. 65:15; 85:1). You are ‘rich to all who call upon you’ (Rom. 10:12). You have no cares but take care of us. Circumcise my lips (cf. Exod. 6:12), inwardly and outwardly, from all rashness and falsehood. May your scriptures be my pure delight, so that I am not deceived in them and do not lead others astray in interpreting them… See, your voice is my joy, your voice is better than a wealth of pleasures (Ps. 118:22). Grant what I love; for I love it, and that love was your gift.”
– St. Augustine, Confessions, Book XI. ii (3)
In the midst of the countdown to Sunday, I’m learning to bathe my sermons with these five specific prayers.
Preaching, week in and week out, can be a grind. I remember hearing Bill Hybels refer to it this way, “You can only hit the same nail for so long before it gets old.” I was younger when I heard his comment, and remember thinking “I can’t imagine a day when I won’t be absolutely energized by getting up to preach on a Sunday morning.” Now I know better. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a worthy endeavor and I feel undeniably called to it. But when you speak almost every week, sometimes multiple messages, it can start to wear you down. And when it does my default is to focus more on content (What do I want to say?) than on my own spiritual engagement (Who do I want to be?).
So in the midst of the countdown to Sunday, I’m learning to bathe my sermons with these five specific prayers. I wish I could tell you I pray these prayers diligently every week that I speak; I don’t. But when I do, I’m better prepared to wrestle down what I think God may be prompting me to say and deliver it with power and clarity.
So allow me to humbly submit my five prayers for preachers:
My natural inclination is to pursue topics, passages, or themes I already know. It’s easier to preach a new angle on a familiar concept or recycle an older sermon altogether than start from scratch. But whether I’m preaching an old idea or a new one, I need to pray “Lord, teach me what you want me to teach.” Maybe another way to phrase it is “Lord, preach to me in order to preach through me.”
This is easily the scariest preaching prayer to pray as it asks God to reveal the pressing issues in my own spiritual journey. I’d rather communicate without moving towards self-awareness, confession, and personal sacrifice, but to teach of God without learning anything from God is just another form of hypocrisy. “So Lord, please don’t let me preach a truth I’m not living, or at least not seeking to live.”
“Lead me in each moment of study. I need to sense your presence at every point in my preparation time.” The good news about having a study routine is it keeps us focused and anchored in a sustainable rhythm. But here’s on potential pitfall of working off such a schedule: it can become rote and staid. I can work through my sermon preparation checklist and still fail to capture the specific message God may have for our community.
Yes, quantity of time matters, but invariably there will be weeks when we end up with less time than we budgeted. There are hospital visits and funerals and board meetings that go long. Or I just procrastinated. As much as I want to believe I had a great preparation and study plan, sometimes I’m just not feeling it and it’s hard to get the words on the page.
In these moments, I’ve often leaned on the words of Proverbs 16:3: “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” That leads me to pray something like, “Lord, I don’t love what I have here. It’s not what I worked for, hoped for, or imagined in my mind’s eye. But it’s what I have now and I’m committing it to you. Establish it as only you can and use it for your purposes.”
“When I finally step into the pulpit, anoint the delivery of this message.”
When I’m not careful, and I feel comfortable with my material, I can be guilty of ordinary public speaking with biblical content. Instead, I want to be ever mindful of what the Spirit is doing in and around me throughout the very act of preaching.
Have you ever been at a worship service where the pastor, after ascending the steps to the podium, says, “I had a message prepared for today, but I feel the Lord has given me something else to say”? I confess the cynic in me questions if there was ever an original sermon to begin with, or if this is just sloppy preaching cloaked in the guise of “being sensitive to the Spirit.” However, if there’s no supernatural dimension to our preaching, if every time we arrive believing we’ve managed the uncontrollable fire of God like a tiger on a tight leash, then something’s wrong.
I’ll never forget hearing Brenda Salter McNeil talk about her pre-game preaching ritual. She spoke of how all the greats in sport and theater have a specific set of practices to help them focus before steping into the lights. Then she mentioned how before she goes up to speak, she anoints her hands with oil, asking God to anoint her preaching in a compelling and undeniable way.
God doesn’t owe the preacher anything. But I believe God works in spite of me, not because of me, more often than I choose to admit. So this prayer goes something like this: “When I stand up to preach, do what I can’t. Bridge the gap. Fill what is lacking.”
About thirty minutes before a service begins, I try to imagine where the people who may be in attendance are and what they’re thinking. At our church our staff estimates our “regular” attenders may only come to weekend services twice a month. So at 8:30 or 10:00 on a Sunday morning I picture young parents buckling their kids into a minivan or a couple of empty-nesters finishing breakfast at their favorite diner. And I pray, “Lord, prepare their hearts. Not to receive my thoughts, but to hear your voice. Meet them at their point of greatest need. Till the soil of their soul, so that, if they choose to, they might welcome the seed you would sow.”
It used to be “Lord, change them.” But I’m learning I’m not an unmoved actor in the preaching process. I’m not an unconscious delivery agent of some transcendent spiritual truth. The preacher is not static in the act of preaching; he is a fluid, organic participant in both the speaking and the hearing of the Word. This is why Mark Labberton warns against the preachers proclaiming “from above,” rather than “from among” their people. God doesn’t transform the preacher so that, through him, the gathered hearers might be transformed. I believe God, rather than leading the preacher and the people on parallel tracks at varying paces, looks to take a unified, local church body on a singular journey. So the prayer can’t be a cop out: “Lord, change these people, for they are broken.” Instead I can pray “Lord, change us together, that we might be a collective prophetic voice in the context of our homes, schools, businesses, and city.”
It could be only a few of these prayers resonate with you, or maybe none at all. That’s okay, as long as you find your own set of prayers, based on your style, personality, and struggles. You can’t stop Sunday from coming, but you can be primed and ready when it gets here.
Steve Norman is the senior pastor of Kensington Church in Troy, Michigan.
Donald Trump bowed his head in prayer alongside Mike Pence and several evangelical Christian leaders in the Oval Office on Tuesday. While that act wasn’t illegal, it showed just how much access right-wing Christians have in this administration.
Rev. Johnnie Moore, an advocate for “religious freedom,” posted the prayer photo after an “all day meeting” with evangelical leaders and the White House Office of Public Liaison. He said it was an “honor to pray within the Oval Office” for Trump and Pence.
Such an honor to pray within the Oval Office for @POTUS & @VP . pic.twitter.com/JrDOSJyFeN
— Johnnie Moore ن (@JohnnieM) July 12, 2017
Pastor Jack Graham, the head of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Texas, was also present during the rain dance religious expression. He called for his Twitter followers to start “covering” Pence and Trump “with prayer.”
Please join us in covering POTUS and VPOTUS with prayer
— Jack Graham (@jackngraham) July 12, 2017
Others who participated in the prayer include Pastor John Hagee, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, and American Values President Gary Bauer.
Some people criticized the Oval Office prayer, with author Michael Deibert simply replying “Separation of church and state…”
Separation of church and state…
— Michael Deibert (@michaelcdeibert) July 12, 2017
Deibert added that his grandfather was a “Lutheran minister who would have been equally repulsed” by the Christians praying with Trump.
Did he have a point? I don’t think so. We have seen prayers, even denominational ones, in the Oval Office before. But the fact that it isn’t illegal doesn’t mean it isn’t a sign of something potentially more damaging.
According to Moore, the photo actually shows “a substantive relationship between the evangelical community and this administration.” Now that’s scary.
“We enjoy an open door, not just in the Eisenhower Building, but in the West Wing… When the West Wing became aware that we were on the property, they invited us over to spend a few minutes.”
Regardless of the prayer, there’s a bond between Trump and evangelical Christians that should concern anyone who believes in (actual) religious freedom, reason, and evidence. Trump will bend over backwards to appease his ever-shrinking base, even if it means screwing over all other Americans with policies that make their lives worse.
That wasn’t the only criticism, either. As many people pointed out, this public display of prayer directly contradicts what the Bible says about praying privately.
Matthew 6:6 says when you pray you should do so behind closed doors & in secret. I guess Matthew 6:7 must say “but also then tweet about it”
— Kendally Brown (@kendallybrown) July 12, 2017
What’s more disturbing than anything is how evangelicals continue to support a President who lives up to none of their so-called “values,” is mired in multiple scandals of his own creation, and who cares not one iota about the “least of these.”
To them, Donald Trump, like Jesus, can do no wrong.