FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 17, number 35, September 6, 2018
“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” -Acts 2:42
Four Necessities for Every Believer: 4) Praying the Word Preached
James the apostle, in his letter to the twelve tribes who were disbursed abroad, was seeking to bring them back to the revival culture they had first experienced on the day of Pentecost, some fifteen years earlier when 3000 of them were saved through Peter’s preaching. The saints had returned to folly over the preceding fifteen years, and James pulls no punches. His message is hard hitting, to say the least. At one point he wields the sword of the Spirit by taking them to task for their lackluster prayers. He says, “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly to spend it on your passions,” (James 4:2,3).
The four necessities for every believer which flow from a Biblical worship service are the preaching of the word of God which brings conviction, piercing the heart, moving the parishioners to repentance and faith; fellowship which moves the people in small groups to get the word preached until they own it; the Lord’s Supper which feeds and nourishes them with Jesus Himself who promotes His holiness in them; and praying the word preached until they internalize it, until they are transformed by the word preached.
A cursory look at what passes mostly for prayer in our congregations is woefully lacking in the characteristics of revival prayer. We tend to pray “organ recitals”-praying for the healing of Aunt Bertha’s bunion; or for what borders on the content of the prosperity gospel preachers-praying for a raise or the finalization of the purchase of our lake house.
Now, we know we can and should pray about everything with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6), but there must be a higher purpose for Aunt Bertha than the mere relief of her bunion pain or a good deal on one’s second home. The content of our prayer must follow the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer.
Furthermore, we must seek God for the ultimate purpose of our prayers, which is for Him to be glorified in the conversion of those from every people and nation. We are to pray for the revival culture we see in Acts-the mighty presence of the Holy Spirit which yields mighty praying, mighty preaching, mighty conversions, mighty assemblies, mighty holiness, mighty generosity, mighty personal evangelism, mighty societal impact, mighty opposition, mighty leadership, which all lead to the mighty planting of churches worldwide.
Have you noticed how much of the preaching we hear today is “all about us?” Over the last forty years or so psychotherapeutic preaching has often taken the place of prophetic preaching which calls people to faith, repentance, and holy living. At the end of the day, we are to be all about the expansion of Christ’s rule and reign on earth, that the glory of the Lord will cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea.
So, in the context of the worship service, how do we pray the word of God preached? Consider two examples. Let’s say the preacher is preaching from Malachi 3:10 on the tithe where God says to His people,”Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse. . . Test Me now in this and see if I will not open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing until there is no more need.” So the preacher, as he expounds the text, wields the sword of the Spirit by asking the simple question, “Are you tithing? Are you giving at least ten percent of your income to the Lord’s work?” If the believer says in his heart, “No, I am failing at the tithe,” then he must go to Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, asking for cleansing as he drinks the blood of Jesus, asking for grace to trust God to provide for his family as he ventures out in obedience and faith to give the tithe. In his small group after the sermon and Lord’s Supper, he and the others in his group should pray for one another, that they will speak this truth to one another until they “get it and own it.” And then during the week, he should pray, asking God to give him continued grace by the indwelling and sanctifying Holy Spirit to obey this command. The preacher is looking weekly to give his people a word from the Lord, drawn from the text, and the people are to receive the word implanted, which is able to save their souls (James 1:21).
Here’s one more example. The preacher is preaching from Ephesians 5:25-33, “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” After faithfully and accurately expounding the text and stating the one central idea of the text which the Holy Spirit inspired, the preacher then unpacks this one great truth, cross referencing other passages to make the theme more clear, illustrating it, applying it, and wielding the sword of the Spirit by asking, “Husbands, are you faithfully obeying this command to love your wives sacrificially?” No doubt every husband present will know he is lacking in some way in this regard. He will repent and ask for grace as He goes to Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, to be cleansed by Him, to be nourished by the all powerful sanctifier, asking for His grace and power that week to love his wife sacrificially. He will speak these words to others in his small group, and all through the week he will pray in this personal time with the Lord, asking for His grace to fulfill his requirement to love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.
Can you now see how much our modern preaching is generally missing the boat? We have never had more information in a Biblical and theological fashion as today, yet seldom have we been so bereft of experiential holiness and growth in grace. Our marriages are seldom better than many rank pagans or atheists we know. My brethren, these things ought not to be.
But when we are not pursuing the four necessities of every believer-receiving the ministry of the word, fellowshipping around the word, feeding on the living word, and praying the word preached then spiritual anemia is predictable and revival tarries.
Preacher, by all means expound the text faithfully but do not leave it there. Your people need more than Biblical information addressed to the mind. They need the word to pierce their hearts, moving them to repentance and forgiveness, driving them to feed on Jesus, encouraging them to fellowship with other believers on the great truth you have preached and applied, and causing them to pray for obedience.
And dear church member, pray for your preacher to preach in this manner, and receive the word implanted, feed on Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, fellowship, and pray until you “get it and own it.”
1. My book Revival Prayer: A Needed Paradigm Shift in Today’s Church goes into detail on the meaning of the six petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. Also a wonderful resource in this regard is the Larger Catechism of the Westminster Confession of Faith, Q&A 186-196.