By Chris Philbeck
In 2001, when I came to my current church, I had to adjust to having a Saturday night service. I had been a pastor for over 20 years, but the weekend service had always been exclusive to Sunday morning, and it took a while to feel comfortable preaching on Saturday night for various reasons. We didn’t have a particularly large crowd, and the people would be pretty spread out in a worship center that could seat around 1,400. The energy level was different on Saturday night, and the service just felt different.
More often than I like to admit, I came home from church feeling dissatisfied with the message. I take my preaching responsibility seriously and I have never stepped up to the pulpit unprepared. Still, there were times I thought, That’s the worst sermon I’ve ever delivered. So, I would go home and spend the rest of the evening going over the message looking for ways to improve the content and delivery.
After a while, however, I discovered that on those occasions when I felt my Saturday-night message fell short, I would almost always get a note or email from a Saturday-night attendee telling me how much the message spoke to them. And I was reminded that it’s the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God that makes a difference in the preacher and those listening. I’m not writing that to dismiss the necessary work of preparation and delivery, but to bring some perspective to a preacher’s role as God’s spokesman.
In the back of my Bible, I have written four things about the Holy Spirit that I often use to help people better understand who he is. It’s simple, but it always opens the door to deeper discussion.
1. The Holy Spirit is a person. When talking about the Holy Spirit in John 15:26 Jesus said, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me.” Notice Jesus used the word he when speaking about the Holy Spirit; the third person in the Trinity is not some kind of “force” or “essence.”
2. The Holy Spirit is a part. The Holy Spirit is part of the Trinity, a word used to describe the truth that there is one God who exists at all times in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And while the word Trinity isn’t used in the Bible, the concept shows up repeatedly. For example, Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
3. The Holy Spirit is a promise. After the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost and Peter preached a sermon that cut the crowd to the heart, the people asked, “‘What shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:37-38).
4. The Holy Spirit is power. Jesus promised, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). We need to depend on the Holy Spirit’s power when we preach.
With preaching, it’s easy to become overly focused on our preparation and delivery. We feel pressure and responsibility to get the text right and deliver the sermon well. We can become overly focused on our personality or preaching style because we want to be engaging. And while these are important considerations, they are useless apart from the power of the Holy Spirit—the One who brings the power of conviction to both the speaker and the hearer.
The task of being God’s spokesman is to explain the content of the Scriptures and apply the purpose of the Scripture. But neither can be done effectively without the help of the Holy Spirit who illuminates the Scripture in terms of content and meaning, and who empowers us to deliver the message with clarity and conviction.
I have learned from years of preaching that the effective delivery of a sermon is often connected with how it applies to my life. I recently shared a message about loving your neighbor, based on Jesus’ words in Mark 12:28-31. I have a deep conviction about this because there is such a strong biblical connection between loving God and loving your neighbor.
I prayed earnestly for the Holy Spirit to empower that message, and when I shared a personal story of struggle related to loving my neighbor, a moment of conviction covered the service in an unmistakable way. When I shared that I was neither challenged nor convicted by the command to love my neighbor, I was exposed. And in the process of sharing my story, many in my church family were exposed as well. Those moments aren’t the result of technique, personality, delivery skill, or any other human creation. They result from the convicting presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
The late minister and physician Martyn Lloyd-Jones has been cited as saying, “If there is no power, there is no preaching.” We simply can’t ignore the need to ask the Holy Spirit to fill us and lead us in every aspect of our preaching—from preparation to delivery. And our prayer can be as simple as, “Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me. Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.” That may be an old song, but the need will never grow old. Especially when it comes to preaching.