John Bunyan was an uneducated tinker (metal worker) who became a preacher in England. John Owen was a great theologian, scholar, and statesman who loved to hear him preach. King Charles is said to have asked Owen why he loved to listen to an uneducated man preach. Owen apparently replied, “I would gladly exchange all of my learning for the tinker’s ability to touch men’s hearts.”
We can possess all the learning in the world; we can prepare the best expository sermons on paper; but apart from the power of the Holy Spirit of God, our preaching will be impotent.
The Apostle Paul acknowledges as much:
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Cor 2:1-5).
Holy Spirit Power
The “power” Paul speaks of doesn’t come from how loud you yell or even how well you prepare. The “power” he speaks of reaches deep into your listener’s hearts, awakens them to their sinful condition, causes them to cry out in faith and repentance, and transforms their attitudes, actions, and behavior. Mere words—no matter how inspirational—cannot accomplish this. We need the Word & the Spirit coupled-together to plant roots deep in the ground of our listener’s heart. We need the same Spirit that rested on the prophets to come alongside our expository sermons if we are to see true change.
How Do You Access The Spirit’s Power?
To be clear: No man can bridle, control, or obligate the Spirit of God. We can attempt to create an environment in which He enjoys operating. How? For starters, try these three things
- Proclaim the Scripture with accuracy. The Holy Spirit wrote Holy Scripture. Peter stated, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 2:21). The Holy Spirit is most likely to imbibe our expository sermons with His power when we accurately and honestly represent His single meaning. That is why we spent so much time talking about getting the verbal meaning right.
- Spend time alone in His presence. The Apostle John said, “But as His anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in Him” (1 Jn. 2:27). Spend meaningful time with God. Sit alone with Him. Walk with Him. Listen to Him. Alone-time is often when He imparts wisdom—if we simply will slow down enough to listen. We’ve found that preachers often carve-out time for sermon prep, but few carve-out time to pray and listen. One wise old preacher told me, “In our day, about the time we normally finish praying is when God is just beginning to speak to us.” I think he’s probably right. Spend more alone-time with Him.
- Cover everything in prayer. Sometimes you can execute the perfect sermon, and it falls flat because it is not covered in prayer. You will feel awful because you know you didn’t prepare spiritually in prayer. Conversely, sometimes you can preach a poor sermon, and it will stir men’s hearts because it is covered in prayer. You still will feel awful because you know you didn’t prepare the sermon properly. Yet, there is no greater feeling in the world . . . than when you have a fire in your bones, you prepare a rock-solid exposition from Holy Scripture, you spend quality time communing with the Lord about that message, you cover that message in passionate prayer, and you deliver that message in the demonstration of the Spirit and power! You will see . . . before your very eyes: The Spirit of God touch men’s hearts, open their eyes, draw them unto Himself, impart spiritual life to their dead souls, and transform their life, their family, and whole congregations! You will sleep well on those nights, and you should. For you will have accurately represented the King’s message, with the King’s blessing, and the Spirit will begin His work in the hearts of His people while you sleep soundly!
I must add one more in closing. God’s messengers must live pure and holy lives. If you are living in sin, then that is a sure-fire way to lose the Spirit’s power on your life. You can preach wonderful sermons and spend time in passionate prayer, yet not have the Spirit’s power on your life because He sees through your hypocrisy. Do the right things, for the right reasons, in the right spirit, and you will create an welcoming environment in which the Holy Spirit might be pleased to operate.