The Relationship Between Expository Praying and Expository Preaching
Is there a relationship between expository praying and expository preaching? Yes, there is a strong relationship, and it is seen very clearly in the ministry of the early church in the book of Acts. When the multi-faceted duties of ministering to a large group became overwhelming, the Apostles suggested that seven men be appointed who would minister to the widows in a daily distribution of food. Knowing that those needs would be met, the Apostles clarified their duties by stating, “. . . but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:3). The Apostles knew that prayer and preaching were inextricably linked together!
Praying and preaching are much better when we possess the conviction that both prayer and Bible study belong together in our daily devotional times and in our sermon preparation. How do we bring sincere prayer and serious Bible study together in the process of sermon preparation? The answer is – expository praying.
In the preacher’s first encounter with the text, I suggest beginning with the Seven Pillars of Expository Praying which are: adoration, gratitude, confession/repentance, petition, intercession, action, and meditation. We must resist the urge to become overly technical at this point in sermon preparation. There will be time for word studies, structural analysis, and consultations with commentaries at a later time in the process of developing the sermon.
In this initial stage, your focus should be upon reading the text prayerfully and devotionally. The desire should be to meet God in the text of holy Scripture and allow Him to speak to you personally. Make careful observations and keep a written record of your prayers in response to the seven pillars. You are not looking for sermon material at this juncture; you are looking for the transformative effect of God’s Word in your own life. Before you work on the text, let the text work on you!
When the preacher brings prayer and Bible study together in sermon preparation utilizing this method, the preacher’s heart is moved by the Scripture in much the same way as experienced by the two disciples on the Emmaus Road as recorded in Luke 24:13-35. When they reflected on their encounter with the risen Christ, they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?”
As the preacher experiences a life-changing encounter with God in the text, it will cause his heart to burn within him! If the heart has not been moved by the text, the sermon will sound more like the reading of a commentary than a passionate message delivered from the heart. As I listen to the sermons of many preachers today, one of the qualities that seems to be lacking the most is passion. Where is the fire that must accompany the sermon?
When I accepted the call to ministry as a teenager, some of the pastors who did not have an opportunity for formal education discouraged me from attending college and seminary for ministerial training. I would often receive advice that sounded much like this: “Why do you want to go to the cemetery (their word for “seminary”)? They will put your fire out!” Unfortunately, many of those pastors heard seminary graduates preach sermons that were more from the head than from the heart. Those sermons demonstrated an intellectual proficiency that was void of Holy Spirit power. Early in ministry, I determined that this would not happen to me.
It is possible to have a head full of facts and a heart full of fire at the same time! Martin Lloyd-Jones understood this concept and defined preaching as “logic on fire.” In fact, Lloyd- Jones was such a proponent of heart-felt preaching that he said, “A man who can speak about these things dispassionately has no right whatsoever to be in a pulpit; and should never be allowed to enter one.”1 Sermon preparation and delivery should involve both the head and the heart. Expositional praying ensures that head and heart come together as God is encountered in Scripture.
One of the many lessons that I have learned from Fred Lunsford involves what we take in from the Lord and what we give out in ministry. My paraphrase of Fred’s statement is, “The outflow should come from the overflow of the inflow.” Expositional praying produces the inflow from an encounter with God that results in an overflow in our hearts, and we serve God in the outflow from the overflow. I encourage all preachers to use expositional praying in the early part of sermon preparation. When we take this approach, the inflow, the overflow, and the outflow will transform both the preacher and his preaching!
1 Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. Preaching and Preachers. United States: Zondervan, 2012, p. 110.