Prayer and the Ministry of the Word
One of the many temptations confronting the minister of the gospel in this generation is to become involved in unnecessary administrative church work. Once involved, the demands tend to increase, often resulting in a degree of deterioration in the quality of his pulpit ministry. Books which encourage such involvement are pouring from the press, lauding the virtues of scientifically-proven rules, which if followed, are guaranteed to increase the numbers and expand the influence of any church. These usually require the application of the principle that the end justifies the means – if it works, it is good. A correct strategy coupled with slick organisation is all that is required. Thus, if a man can demonstrate good administrative skills, any church with ambitions for swift expansion will head-hunt him as a valuable investment.
Regrettably, human ingenuity has, to a large extent, made the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church unnecessary, and the Bible expositor redundant. This becomes particularly obvious when congregations seek the services of a pastor. Because the teaching office has become so undervalued, an increasing number of contemporary churches are searching for administrators rather than expounders of the Word. In a growing number of cases, the church has become a business enterprise, sometimes big business. Head counting has become more important than the healing of souls. Financial income is a greater priority than faithfulness to the doctrines of the Word of God. Material prosperity appears to testify to success more than increased godliness among church members.
By its very nature, administrative activity often produces immediate, visible results by which the ability and success of the administrator can be judged. It can therefore be tempting for ministers to concentrate too much of their time and energy on visible activities which demonstrate how energetic they are on behalf of their church. However, the Apostles – as recorded in the Book of Acts – knew the vital importance of the private, unobserved activities of Christ’s preaching servants. They wished not to be responsible for activities which other members of the church were capable of doing. As it was then, so it remains for those who are set apart to the gospel ministry; much of their work is observed only by God. They should keep in mind the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: ‘Thy Father which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly’ (Matt. 6:4, 18).
Congregations should sensitively endeavour not to make unnecessary demands on their pastor’s time, appreciating that his private labours are intended for their benefit. The Lord Jesus himself, while engaged in his essential public ministry, felt the need to spend quiet hours alone with his Father. With the spirit of their glorified Redeemer, the apostles announced their intention: ‘But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word’ (Acts 6:4). These words are an apostolic declaration of intent to the New Testament church. They set the standard for the future. While acknowledging that other important matters in the life of Christ’s church demanded their attention, they highlighted – by their actions and by this pronouncement – the supreme importance of preaching, with its legitimate demands on the preacher’s time and attention. They would be praying preachers, not administrators.
Due to the rapid expansion of the church after Pentecost, problems arose. There was murmuring about partiality in the distribution of alms to widows. The apostles, who were responsible for the administration of all church affairs at that point, were required to take immediate remedial action to prevent the unrest escalating. Thus, guided by the Holy Spirit, they followed a course of action which not only provided a solution to the problem, but also enabled them to prioritise the work of prayer and preaching. While no area of legitimate activity in the life of the church was to be neglected, nothing was to detract from the importance of preaching, with the prayerfulness necessary to produce it and sustain it.
In order to comprehend the logic behind the apostles’ actions, we need to understand the nature of the commission they had received from the Saviour. Before his ascension, he had directed them to go ‘into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature’ (Mark 16:15). It is obvious from this that preaching was intended to be the apostles’ full-time occupation. Their preaching, however, was not to be modified according to the particular environment in which they might find themselves. Jesus was specific when he sent them out in his name: ‘Go . . . and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world’ (Matt. 28:19, 20).
This sacred commission, with the Redeemer’s promise to continue with those who faithfully discharged it, obviously made such a deep and lasting impression on the apostles that they were determined to let nothing interfere with their ministry. They had to recognise the limitations of their physical, mental and spiritual resources. Although the apostles had in providence such onerous responsibilities in establishing the New Testament church, they had clearly defined priorities, which they were not prepared to compromise. They felt the burden of the ministry on their spirits, believing that they must devote themselves to it, without reservation.
The Apostle Paul reminded Timothy of the privilege of being involved in the Christian ministry: ‘I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry’ (1 Tim. 1:12). With his sense of privilege, however, came a sense of responsibility, for he described his ministry as that ‘which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God’ (Acts 20:24). Paul, who had spent so much of his life trying to justify himself before God on the basis of his own works of righteousness, now preached ‘the gospel of grace’. He thus summed up the gospel: ‘By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God’ (Eph. 2:8). Thus for him it was ‘the glorious gospel of the blessed God’ (1 Tim. 1:11).
Paul’s gospel had a heavenly origin. He thus reminded the Thessalonians of his ministry among them: ‘We preached unto you the gospel of God’ (1 Thess. 2:9). Throughout his written ministry, he constantly emphasised the importance of the gospel’s origin. Writing to the Galatians, he testified: ‘The gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ’ (Gal. 1:11, 12). So his warning to them was appropriate: ‘Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed’ (Gal. 1:8). Even in our multi-faith society, there is one saving gospel and no other. Those who preach it must be convinced of this fact.
A consciousness of the exceptional responsibility that the eternal God has laid on the preacher should so weigh upon his spirit that he cannot attempt to preach without pouring out his soul before God in prayer for divine help. No ministerial duty will ever demand more prayer than preaching the Word. On occasion the preacher will sense his need so acutely that he will feel that he can do nothing except appeal to heaven for mercy. He will pray as he prepares to preach; he will pray as he preaches; and he will continue to pray after he has preached. To preach parrot fashion is no substitute for a sermon drawn out of the Word and delivered with earnest prayer.
Praying and preaching are designed by the glorious Head of the church to be the life work of certain men, whom he sovereignly appoints to it. Thus whatever additional duties may require their attention, none ought to gain precedence over this. Believing themselves to be called by Christ to this solemn work, they will hear him say, ‘Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest’ (Eccles. 9:10).
The Lord’s praying people need to plead with God to give the church, not just able preachers, but praying preachers. This generation needs preachers who, by grace, can testify, ‘My preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power’ (1 Cor. 2:4). The men who preached by the mighty power of the Holy Ghost, as recorded in the Book of Acts, were men who went from prayer to preaching (Acts 1:14; 2:4). Following his Damascus-road experience, Saul of Tarsus commenced to preach (Acts 9:20), but prior to this the Lord said of him, ‘Behold, he prayeth’ (Acts 9:11). He prayed before he preached. As it was then, so it is still. Christ never sends men to preach his gospel until they have learned to pray. May it please God in his infinite mercy to send such men into the pulpits of this land!
This article is taken with permission from The Free Presbyterian Magazine, August 2013.
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