October 6, 2012 by
A couple months ago I wrote about the Holy Spirit and preaching. My desire was to encourage all of those tasked with the regular privilege of preaching to seek to be freshly filled with the Spirit as a normal part of their sermon preparation. It’s my conviction that more than anything else this is what makes the biggest difference between a "tame declaration which disturbs neither prejudice nor indifference, and an overpowering force of speech that bears men’s hearts away.”[i]
Since writing that post I have had the privilege to preach several times, and I am just as convinced as ever of the need for the empowering presence of the Spirit to prepare and deliver a sermon. Recently, however, I have been thinking about things from the opposite side of the pulpit – not as a preacher, but as a listener; as one seated in the congregation hearing God’s Word preached. And I think there is much to be said not only in regards to preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit but listening in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Charles Surgeon writes, “Unless the Holy Ghost blesses the Word, we who preach the gospel are of all men most miserable, for we have attempted a task that is impossible. We have entered on a sphere where nothing but the supernatural will ever avail. If the Holy Spirit does not renew the hearts of our hearers, we cannot do it. If the Holy Ghost does not regenerate them, we cannot. If he does not send the truth home into their souls, we might as well speak into the ear of a corpse.”[ii]
My first reading of this was purely from the perspective of a preacher. However, I think there is as much, if not more, application to be had here for the hearer of God’s Word than the preacher of God’s Word. It is the hearer that is desperate for the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit just as much as the preacher. It is the Holy Spirit that must renew their hearts as they listen and "send the truth home into their souls".
I wonder how much the average person seated in the congregation knows this, or, even more importantly, is aware of and conscious of this. And, therefore, I wonder how often the average person arrives on Sunday morning having sought the Lord to be freshly filled with Holy Spirit so that they might hear – truly HEAR – the Word of God preached that morning.
I often receive encouragement from folks who tell me they are praying for me to be filled with the Spirit when I preach. I’m very grateful for that encouragement and those prayers. At the same time, I’ve felt the growing need to let them know that I’m also praying for them to be filled with the Holy Spirit as they listen to me preach. Because just as the preacher is powerless to affect change apart from the Spirit, the hearer is powerless to be changed apart from Spirit. [iii]
I think a lot of people have a category for Spirit-empowered preaching, but I wonder how many people really have a category for Spirit-empowered listening.
So what’s the point? I guess the point is to encourage all pastors to regularly remind their congregations of their need for the Spirit’s empowering presence when coming to listen to the Word preached; to encourage them to seek the Lord to be freshly filled with the Spirit before ever arriving on Sunday morning.
Challenge your people to not just arrive on Sunday mornings and passively listen, but to seek the work of the Spirit in their hearts as they hear the Word preached. Challenge them to not just receive information, but to seek the work of the Spirit to hear the voice of God.
Even when the Word of God is faithfully preached, none of us naturally or instinctively hear it that way – as the Word of GOD. We all need the Holy Spirit for that. Encourage your people to pray that they don’t just hear you speaking to them, but that they would hear God speaking to them. And inspire your people that as they confess their own desperate need for the Spirit to hear, understand, believe, trust, obey and be changed by the preached Word, they can be confident that God will indeed send his Spirit and answer their prayers.
I can only imagine the difference it would make if people began arriving each and every Sunday morning having sought the Lord to be freshly filled with His Holy Spirit for the power to LISTEN. I’m not convinced the average person consciously recognizes their need for this, nor consciously recognizes the incomparable blessings that come with this.
It’s our duty and privilege to remind them of both. It’s thrilling to me to imagine the impact it would make if we preached in the power of the Holy Spirit and our people listened in the power of the Holy Spirit.
[i] Quoted by Ian Murray (Pentecost Today? p.89) taken from William Arthur, The Tongue of Fire; or, The True Power of Christianity, 24th ed. (Belfast: Mullan, 1877), p. 216.
[ii] Charles Spurgeon, "Our Omnipotent Leader," a sermon on Matthew 28:18, #2465, preached April 29, 1886. The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Volume 42.
[iii] I heard Mickey Connolly make a statement very similar to this in a recent message (“The Power to Grow”) at CrossWay Community Church, preached September 30, 2012
Joe began attending Crossway Community Church as a teenager in 1991. He began serving as a pastor at Crossway in 2001 after graduating from the Sovereign Grace Pastors College. Besides pastoral care, Joe is responsible for leading the 1-1-Six, Crossway's youth ministry, as well as regularly preaching on Sunday mornings. Joe and his wife, Jeanie, were married in 2002 and they currently have four children.