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The Preacher’s Private Prayer

February 13, 2008

Another great quote on prayer comes from the powerful English preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. I think it was R Kent Hughes who once expressed his surprise that few books on preaching contain a section on prayer. Spurgeon’s Lectures to my Students cannot face that criticism. Read below a most challenging portion from his chapter “The Preacher’s Private Prayer.”

“Your prayers will be your ablest assistants while your discourses are yet upon the anvil. While other men, like Esau, are hunting for their portion, you, by the aid, of prayer, will find the savoury meat near at home, and may say in truth what Jacob said so falsely, “The Lord brought it to me.” If you can dip your pens into your hearts, appealing in earnestness to the Lord, you will write well; and if you can gather your matter on your knees at the gate of heaven, you will not fail to speak well.

Prayer, as a mental exercise, will bring many subjects before the mind, and so help in the selection of a topic, while as a high spiritual engagement it will cleanse your inner eye that you may see truth in the light of God. Texts will often refuse to reveal their treasures till you open them with the key of prayer. How wonderfully were the books opened to Daniel when he was in supplication! How much Peter learned upon the housetop!

The closet is the best study. The commentators are good instructors, but the Author Himself is far better, and prayer makes a direct appeal to Him and enlists Him in our cause. It is a great thing to pray one’s self into the spirit and marrow of a text, working into it by sacred feeding thereon, even as the worm bores its way into the kernel of the nut.

Prayer supplies a leverage for the uplifting of ponderous truths. One marvels how the stones of Stonehenge could have been set in their places; it is even more to be enquired after whence some men obtained such admirable knowledge of mysterious doctrines: was not prayer the potent machinery which wrought the wonder? Waiting upon God often turns darkness into light. Persevering enquiry at the sacred oracle uplifts the veil and gives grace to look into the deep things of God.

A certain Puritan divine at a debate was observed frequently to write upon the paper before him; upon others curiously seeking to read his notes, they found nothing upon the page but the words, “More light, Lord,” “More light, Lord,” repeated scores of times: a most suitable prayer for the student of the Word when preparing his discourse.

You will frequently find fresh streams of thought leaping up from the passage before you, as if the rock had been struck by Moses’ rod; new veins of precious ore will be revealed to your astonished gaze as you quarry God’s Word and use diligently the hammer of prayer. You will sometimes feel as if you were entirely shut up, and then suddenly a new road will open before you.

He who hath the key of David openeth, and no man shutteth. If you have ever sailed down the Rhine, the water scenery of that majestic river will have struck you as being very like in effect to a series of lakes. Before and behind the vessel appears to be enclosed in massive walls of rock, or circles of vine-clad terraces, till on a sudden you turn a corner, and before you the rejoicing and abounding river flows onward in its strength.

So the laborious student often finds it with a text; it appears to be fast closed against you, but prayer propels your vessel, and turns its prow into fresh waters, and you behold the broad and deep stream of sacred truth flowing in its fulness, and bearing you with it. Is not this a convincing reason for abiding in supplication? Use prayer as a boring rod, and wells of living water will leap up from the bowels of the Word. Who will be content to thirst when living waters are so readily to be obtained!

The best and holiest men have ever made prayer the most important part of pulpit preparation. It is said of M’Cheyne, “Anxious to give his people on the Sabbath what had cost him somewhat, he never, without an urgent reason, went before them without much previous meditation and prayer. His principle on this subject was embodied in a remark he made to some of us who were conversing on the matter. Being asked his view of diligent preparation for the pulpit, he reminded us of Exodus xxvii. 20. ‘Beaten oil-beaten oil for the lamps of the sanctuary.’

And yet his prayerfulness was greater still. Indeed, he could not neglect fellowship with God before entering the congregation. He needed to be bathed in the love of God. His ministry was so ‘much a bringing out of views that had first sanctified his own soul, that the healthiness of his soul was absolutely needful to the vigour and power of his ministrations.” “With him the commencement of all labour invariably consisted in the preparation of his own soul. The walls of his chamber were witnesses of his prayerfulness and of his tears, as well as of his cries.”

Prayer will singularly assist you in the delivery of your sermon; in fact, nothing can so gloriously fit you to preach as descending fresh from the mount of communion with God to speak with men. None are so able to plead with men as those who have been wrestling with God on their behalf.

It is said of Alleine, “He poured out his very heart in prayer and preaching. His supplications and his exhortations were so affectionate, so full of holy zeal, life and vigour, that they quite overcame his hearers; he melted over them, so that he thawed and.mollified, and sometimes dissolved the hardest hearts.” There could have been none of this sacred dissolving of heart if his mind had not been previously exposed to the tropical rays of the Sun of Righteousness by private fellowship with the risen Lord.

A truly pathetic delivery, in which there is no affectation, but much affection, can only be the offspring of prayer. There is no rhetoric like that of the heart, and no school for learning it but the foot of the cross. It were better that you never learned a rule of human oratory, but were full of the power of heavenborn love, than that you should master Quintilian, Cicero, and Aristotle, and remain without the apostolic anointing.

Prayer may not make you eloquent after the human mode, but it will make you truly so, for you will speak out of the heart; and is not that the meaning of the word eloquence? It will bring fire from heaven upon your sacrifice, and thus prove it to be accepted of the Lord.

As fresh springs of thought will frequently break up during prepara-tion in answer to prayer, so will it be in the delivery of the sermon. Most preachers who depend upon God’s Spirit will tell you that their freshest and best thoughts are not those which were premeditated, but ideas which come to them, flying as on the wings of angels; unexpected treasures brought on a sudden by celestial hands, seeds of the flowers of paradise, wafted from the mountains of myrrh.

Often and often when I have felt hampered, both in thought and expression, my secret groaning of heart has brought me relief, and I have enjoyed more than usual liberty. But how dare we pray in the battle if we have never cried to the Lord while buckling on the harness! The remembrance of his wrestlings at home comforts the fettered preacher when in the pulpit: God will not desert us unless we have deserted him. You, brethren, will find that prayer will ensure you strength equal to your day.

As the tongues of fire came upon the apostles, when they sat watching and praying, even so will they come upon you. You will find yourselves, when you might perhaps have flagged, suddenly upborne, as by a seraph’s power. Wtieels of fire will be fastened to your chariot, which had begun to drag right heavily, and steeds angelic will be, in a moment harnessed to your fiery car, till you climb the heavens like Elijah, in a rapture of flaming inspiration.”

(Note: this is a re-post from Jan 07).

5 comments

  1. when I first came across it some years ago, I had been deeply impressed by Spurgeon’s teachings about prayer in the context of sermon’s preparation.
    Thanks for sharing it, as it is probably today a great lacking in the preacher’s priorities.
    Tim


  2. Interesting to see how Spurgeon did not consign prayer to the stages of preparation only, but saw it permeating the process, up to and most definitely including the delivery itself.

    Also interesting to see his reference to “unexpected treasures brought on a sudden by celestial hands”. He relates a fascinating story in his autobiography (well, ALL Spurgeon’s stories seem fascinating!): during the singing of the hymn before the sermon, a text leapt off the page at him like a lion (IIRC!), and he had to decide on the spot whether to go with the prepared sermon, or the one that seemed to be calling to him that moment…. The experience of a prayer-soaked preacher!!


  3. Thanks Colin for another helpful and instructive insight. As it happens I have recently begun reading John MacArthur’s excellent ‘Rediscovering Expository Preaching’ and there is a whole chapter in there by one of his team, James Rosscup, on ‘The Priority of Prayer and Expository Preaching. He makes exactly the point you do about the sparsity of prayer as an issue in books on preaching, even ‘naming and shaming’ some examples, as well as highlighting authors who make a strong point of it. I particularly liked these quotes from E M Bounds:

    “The young preacher has been taught to lay out all his strength on the form, taste, and beauty of his sermon as a mechanical and intellectual product. We have thereby cultivated a vicious taste among the people and raised the clamour for talent instead of grace, eloquence instead of piety, rhetoric instead of revelation, reputation and brilliancy instead of holiness.”

    “Light praying will make light preaching. Prayer makes preaching strong (the God who answers prayer does this)…and makes it stick.”


  4. having been given a copy of lectures to my students by a prayer partner, I read it and received the call to become a pastor. I am in the process of completing my collage courses at this time. And I will always look to the classics for insperation.


  5. Excellent topic. Thank you. This should be an ever present reminder to “soak the sermon” in prayer.



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