Preaching is more than public speaking. It is certainly greater than the shouting of words and ideas to convince its listeners. It is certainly even more than an activity, or task, that is practiced weekly among churches. Preaching is, essentially, along with the reading of the Word, the main method chosen by God to reveal Himself to man. It is by the preaching of the Word that the lost is saved and the Church is strengthened. Preaching is a divine task, and its power is divine in nature.
Romans 10:13-14 (KJV) For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
1 Corinthians 1:17-19 (KJV) For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
The spirituality of preaching is something that is not fully acknowledged by the Church today, even among its preachers. Too often we tend to look at it only as a technical task. Of course we pray for it, and ask the prayers of others, but deep within our hearts we don't fully acknowledge its spirituality and the source of its power. I have written a separate article about its importance, "The Primacy of Preaching". Also, in an another article, "Preaching as Public Speaking", preaching as a form of public speaking is discussed, focusing on its technical aspects. In this article however we will deal about its spirituality and power.
Every true preaching affects the heart and mind of its listeners, driving them towards positive change, which is reflected thru repentance and genuine sanctification. That is why it is puzzling today, why many preachers today do not positively affect their listeners; after hours and minutes of preaching, there is not a single sorrow for sins felt, nor a determination to do what is right. Alas, preaching has become a scholarly class, an informational yet dry discourse of Biblical truth. Where is the power in today's preaching? The absence of its power can immediately be attributed by the preacher's negligence of its spiritually.
Before we discuss the reasons for the lack of power in today's preaching, let us first lay down some clarifications to avoid confusions later.
Firstly, the Word of God in itself is alive and powerful, and its power never at any time diminish or increase, rather it is constant in its purity and power, and shall accomplish the holy and immutable precepts of God.
Hebrews 4:12 (KJV) For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Isaiah 55:11 (KJV) So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
Throughout this writing we will talk about certain times why preaching sometimes lacks power. This however, does not in any mean try to say that there are times when the Word of God itself lacks the power and authority to deliver what God intends to accomplish, for the Word's power is tied directly to the very personhood and character of God, which is of course immutable so is His Word and its accompanying power. Rather, there are certain factors that may sometimes hinder or stop the flow of power of God's Holy and authoritative Word.
Secondly, being called to preach is surely one of the noblest callings in God's economy and kingdom. Though this writing will deal in some parts with the weaknesses and failures of today's preachers which often contribute to the lack of power in today's preaching, still, we go with the Scriptures that highly esteem the call of preaching. We never intend to belittle preachers and their preaching but rather try to expose their weaknesses which are mostly spiritual in nature in an effort to strengthen both the preacher and his preaching.
Isaiah 52:7 (KJV) How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!
Now that we have laid down our clarifications, we are ready to talk about the reasons for today's lack of power in preaching. These reasons revolve around two distinct yet complementary areas, namely the preacher himself and the practice of preaching.
The preacher could never be separated from his task of preaching. If we want to know why there is the presence or lack of power preaching, it will always be good to look unto the preacher himself. There are some reasons why the preacher could be devoid of the power in his preaching.
Firstly, a preacher will lack the power in his preaching if he lives in sin. This could not be overlooked. We all know as Christians that prevailing sins in our life will cut us off from the eternal supply of power from the Holy Spirit that is available to us in Jesus Christ.
Isaiah 59:1-3 (KJV) Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness.
John 15:4-5 (KJV) Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
In this regard we have to clarify two things. The first one is that there is a big difference between living in sin and sinning everyday. All believers, preachers or not will surely sin everyday; that is something painful that we need to face everyday, and only in heaven in our second life will sin be completely removed (1 John 1:8-10). However, living in sin means dwelling in the same sins in the sense of having pleasure in them - and this is very dangerous and destructive, yet present in the Church not only in the life of some preachers. This does not only cut off the preacher from God's power in his preaching, but worse, his life becomes a stumbling block to many.
The second clarification is that sometimes, though rarely, in God's grace and mysterious ways, He will bless the preaching of those preachers who live in sin. This is of course not because of any merit in the life of the unrepentant preacher (even righteous preachers do not deserve this blessing for we are all unworthy), but because God desires to advance His Kingdom through the act of preaching. This is evident in the ministry of the Apostle Paul when he showed gratefulness that the Gospel is preached even by those who had wrong motives (Philippians 1:18).
Secondly, a preacher will lack the power in his preaching if he lives a weak prayer life. The important role that prayer plays in the holy business of preaching could not be overstated; God's anointing is not just a matter of our position in Christ, it is also surely brought out in power by continuous and heartfelt prayers. Without our fervent prayers, our preaching will be devoid of power. Since preaching is more of a divine task and calling rather than a mere mechanical speech, we need prayer to supply its power, and there is no other way. No matter how good the peacher is in terms of oratory skills, there will be no divine fruits in his preaching if he doesn't know how to kneel down in humble and dependent prayer before God.
Thirdly, a preacher will lack the power in his preaching if he does not care to apply his preaching in his own life. The old advice is well said, "Walk your talk." A preacher loses his sense of authority in preaching if the people around him do not see him live it. The Pharisees and scribes in Jesus' day lacked authority in their teaching and that is because they do not live their own message (Matthew 7:29; 23:2-4).
To summarize, Robert McCheyne has said, "A holy minister is an awesome weapon in the hand of God." Avoiding sin, having a strong prayer life, and living out your preaching will all lead to a holy life, certainly making you a powerful instrument of God.
I could stop right here but there's one more concern that somehow exerts an influence on the power of preaching, though maybe not as much as the preacher himself. This one talks about the practice of preaching.
Firstly, preaching will lack in power if the preacher does not study his Bible enough. The noble task of preaching demands a deeper study of the Bible than the regular devotions, journaling, or almost any other Bible-related tasks. There is a saying that in order to fully understand a Scripture text for a sermon, one has to read it at least forty times. The constant companion of a preacher are his different Bible translations, a Bible dictionary, a notebook and a pen or pencil. A good Study Bible also gives valuable help. If one does not study well his sermon, it will be reflected in a few minutes of his preaching - it will be a confusing message with no one big idea to talk about, or a message that does not speak clearly the message of the chosen text.
2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV) Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
Secondly, preaching will lack in power if the preacher is not aware of his own methodology in preaching. As preachers we are not being legalistic nor mechanical but every preacher must be sure of his own style or methodology in his preaching. It is like a driver that knows well his car; he is the person that could drive it well. A preacher that has not yet mastered his way of preaching will result in a preacher that lacks confidence and authority in delivery. It needs to be said however, that ultimately, it is not really our methodology in preaching that gives the spiritual power of preaching, nor gives preaching its divinity. Rather, in the mystery of God, His Spirit anoints even our methodology to give it power in perfect harmony with the innate power of the Holy Word.
On the outside, preaching seems to be a mechanical task, an act of oratory or public speech. But what happens in the preacher and his listeners before and during and after the act of preaching is for the most part, divine and spiritual. Let us therefore pray earnestly always that God give us the power to affect souls and eternity thru our heartfelt and mind-invested preaching.