Praying for the preaching
We must pray for preachers, but what should we ask for. Some reply, ‘For unction,’ but this lacks scriptural basis. Unction (or anointing) in Scripture indicated that a man was set apart and equipped for God’s service once-for-all (Luke 4:16-21; 2 Corinthians 1:21; 1 John 2:20,27). This is not a special gift of preaching, which must be repeatedly prayed for. It is a permanent gift for each believer. What then should we pray for? We may divide this topic in two: praying for the preacher and for the hearers.
In Colossians 4:3 Paul asks his readers to pray for ‘a door for our message’: opportunities for preaching. Failure to take opportunities is often due to fear, which leads to Paul’s second request. In Ephesians 6:19-20 he asks for boldness. The context here is opposition and persecution (see also Acts 4:29,31). Going on preaching boldly was dangerous and required boldness. This both he and the modern preacher must have. He is not to be intimidated. We may, however, have opportunity and boldness, but not clarity. Paul writes, ‘Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should’ (Colossians 4:3-4). There is a tendency in some quarters to regard clarity inimical to warmth and power. The reverse is the case.
However, all this does not guarantee conversions. Stephen was bold before the furious Sanhedrin and made the issue clear to them. His opponents ‘could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke’ (Acts 6:5), but the result was not their conversion. The sovereign working of the Spirit in the hearers was lacking. So Paul asked the brothers to pray that the gospel might spread rapidly ‘just as it was with you’ ( 2 Thessalonians 3:1), that is as described in 1 Thessalonians 1:5: ‘not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction’. The outward call needs the Spirit’s inner work to make it effectual. ‘With power and with the Holy Spirit’ means something like ‘with power by the Spirit’, not just in words. The Spirit enlightens blind eyes, opens closed ears, quickens dead hearts and transforms rebellious wills. A further element was ‘deep conviction’ – of both sin and the truth of the message (2:13; Acts 18:3-4). Many have interpreted this as the preacher’s assurance about his message, but that cannot be the meaning here. It must refer to the hearers’ experience, for Paul uses it as proof of their election by God (verse 4). If it were the preacher’s assurance, we would have to conclude that all the hearers were elect!
We need think of these different elements separately and pray accordingly. Instead of spiritual-sounding, but actually vague, petitions, which may ignore either the preacher or the hearers, we shall intercede for both with the confidence that we are seeking to pray according to God’s will, as prescribed in Scripture.