Can you listen? Can you listen? Close your eyes. Don’t be distracted by your sense of sight, by the feel of your back against the metal chair, or the hum of lights overhead and traffic outside. Ask and you will hear…
The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty. The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare, and in his temple all cry, “Glory!” -Psalm 29
This recent series has been focused on leading in prayer. I find that my thinking is clarified by having to explain what I’m doing and I hope this will be a quick introductory resource as we train leaders at our church. This week, we’re focusing on the prayer of illumination which comes before the sermon. I usually do this after the reading of the sermon text but will sometimes do it before the text is read so I can jump right into the sermon. Behind the prayer of illumination stands both my theology of preaching and of the bible itself. As these are both way too big to get into you can draw conclusions based on what I say about prayer. I’ll give seven thoughts that shape my prayers for preaching and then four examples. These seven points will overlap and I’m sure that I don’t hit them all each week, but over time these are the things that most come up.
1. He is not silent: Christians believe in a God who has revealed himself to us. This is a source of thanksgiving and incredible hope as we do not wander in a grey mist, but have something solid to hold which can guide us. I thank God for making himself known and in someway try to communicate both the challenge and incredible blessing of his objective truth.
2. We are known: The drive to church, the argument at work, the hidden fears, and how these all fit together are not hidden from God. Furthermore, God speaks to us in these circumstances. We do not somehow magically leave our lives behind, rather the living God addresses us with all that we bring.
3. Dead ends and highways: Each of us carries both obstacles and pathways for the gospel to enter. We all respond to our environment and circumstances in such a way that there are unique barriers which we use to shield ourselves from God. Similarly we each have chinks in the armor. In thinking about a sermon text and the people who listen I try to articulate some of the obstacles to receiving God’s word and incite longing for his truth as I pray.
4. Encounter: Each sermon is not only a means to hear about God but encounter him. While I sometimes remember to pray for learning, I always pray for the presence of the living Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. I forget the name but one Presbyterian theologian described the purpose of preaching as mystically encountering the risen Christ.
5. The Spirit’s work: I ask for the Spirit’s activity in both me as a speaker and in all who hear. I need truth, love, conviction, appropriate emotion, and divine power. The listener’s need protection from the evil one, hearts that are tender to receive the word of God, faith to believe, and empowerment to obey.
6. Going Viral: Whenever the word is preached it is meant to spread from the original audience in their spheres of influence. So I pray that as we meet God and experience his grace, it will touch others through us. This is an excellent time to pray for the many in our community who are doing other things that somehow they would be brought in contact with the life chaining message of Jesus Christ.
7. Skill: I desperately need God’s help to preach. Yes, there is the spiritual component. There is all the preparation that goes beforehand, but each time I enter the pulpit there is no guarantee of eloquence, a dependable memory, or even the ability to concentrate – much less communicate as a representative of the true and living God. So, I simply ask for help. Below are four concrete examples of prayers for illumination, our outlines. The first is a link from a pastor in San Francisco who I heard preach while in seminary. I listened to more of his sermons and what most struck me was the way he prayed at the beginning.
The three prayers which follow are not polished but come from my sermon notes when I decided to write something out. Often I’ll jot some ideas or have an outline.
Fred Harrell – he begins praying at the 2 minute mark.
Preaching on Haggai 1:15b-2:9 -Lord, wherever we are coming from, it is both compelling and unsettling to hear from you. We are never really prepared to hear from the maker, sustainer, judge, and savior of heaven and earth. Yet even more we are floored by that fact that you would seek us out and speak to us. Please do so. We need to hear from you. Our various circumstances require the same solution that is found in Jesus Christ. Open our hearts by your Spirit. We look to you expecting that you will answer for our good and your glory. We pray in Jesus’ name.
Preaching on Isaiah 50:10-11 O God… look upon us with your jealous eyes. Regardless of where we come from, draw us… for some of us the darkness, the pain this passage describes is right there at the surface…. Even now our fears and anxieties drag us down; or it’s the disappointment that is settling into hard cold bitterness; some of us controlled compelled no rest desires for success, acceptance, power, pleasure drive us; others feel the chains of indifference, boredom both wanting and fearing anything of significance. Some us have tried to escape, avoid difficulty through lives of triviality and shallowness. Some of us have a religious optimism that always says the glass is half full. And some of us right now have been led by your kindness to a place of refreshment, joy, and rest. Among all of our diverse circumstances though, we look to you and your grace knowing that wherever we are we need your undeserved kindness. Whether we’ve been here for years or are surprised to be in a church we know that we are all messed up, broken, in need of your healing touch. So speak to us. That is our expectation. We look forward to what you will do among us by the work for you word and Spirit. Pour into us so that your healing waters would flow through us to all the people in our lives who need you as well. We ask in Jesus name. Amen.
Mark 1:1-13 Lord you know us… mix of belief and doubt: -Our background issues with the Holy Spirit -Our skepticism, can God dwell in man? -Our feeling that we’re on our own -We’re not sure about the cost -Others of us long for you You have been at work from the beginning, planning to impart yourself to human flesh. We ask now that as we consider, that you would pour out your Spirit – truth made plain, power, life. As you poured your Spirit in your servant Jesus do so with your servants today – ask because we are in union with him.