“Lord, teach us to pray.” That appeal, in itself, is one of the greatest prayer requests in the New Testament (Luke 11:1). The request is also a powerful reminder that prayer can be taught. Preaching on prayer, therefore, is a practice which follows in the ministerial footsteps of the Lord, who frequently preached on prayer (Matthew6:6-15;Mark 11:24-26; Luke 11:9-13; John 14:13-14; etc.).
Preaching on prayer makes a lasting difference. In fact, about 90 percent of churches believe the pastor’s sermons are a key strategy for discipleship. Charles Spurgeon, one of the most influential preachers in history, certainly recognized the value of preaching when he said, “Life, death, and hell, and worlds unknown, may hang upon the preaching and hearing of a sermon.”
Preaching is a key tool in equipping disciples to pray. So, here are a few principles about how to preach on prayer:
Before we preach on prayer, we should be men of prayer. Our lives are inextricably invested into our messages. Paul said, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others…” (2 Corinthians 5:11). Clearly, we are obligated to God and others to deliver the sermon with a sense of accountability.
If a message on prayer leads others to pray, it must spring from the heart of a preacher who prays. Unfortunately, prayerless preachers are part of the problem. Chuck Lawless recently exposed this reality when he wrote, “We can do far too much ‘church’ in our own ability. The truth is that we can do much without praying, even if our accomplishments then carry little eternal value. We pray only when we ‘need to.’”
In the 19th century Lyman Beecher Lectures at Yale, Phillips Brooks famously defined preaching as “the communication of truth through personality.” Our sermons never fall mechanically manufactured from heaven, but rather they emerge through our own life. It is incumbent upon us, therefore, to spend quality time in the secret presence of God before we prepare a message or speak on prayer. On this subject Leonard Ravenhill said, “No man is greater than his prayer life. The pastor who is not praying is playing; the people who are not praying are straying.”
If we continue to neglect prayer, can our ministry be effective in God’s eyes? E. M. Bounds once observed, “Every preacher who does not make prayer a mighty factor in his own life and ministry is weak as a factor in God’s work and is powerless to project God’s cause in this world.”
Fortunately, God is merciful. Even if you have failed to pray in the past, God can give you a future as a man of prayer.
The text tells the truth
The variations of the word “prayer” occur often enough in Scripture to preach for years on nothing but prayer. When we preach on prayer there are at least two extremes to avoid:
First, since the promises of God are extraordinary and our culture is so skeptical, we might be tempted to tone down what the Spirit wrote down! Instead of tempering the revealed word, however, we should always preach the prayer promises of Scripture as they appear, no matter how extravagant they may seem to a cynical culture. For instance, if Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:13-14), He means it. We should always explain, rather than explain away, the supernatural. Always avoid the temptation of taming the text.
On the other hand, don’t push the text into an application it wasn’t designed to fit. For instance, the majority of Scripture is written in narrative, a genre which is not intended to act prescriptively. In other words, how God worked in a specific biblical character’s prayer life is not necessarily a rule for our own prayer life. Abraham, for instance, frequently built altars for prayer (Genesis 12:7-8; 13:18; 22:9). God blessed Abraham for his devotion, but you are under no obligation to build physical altars for prayer.
The second temptation to avoid, therefore, is misinterpretation. When preaching about prayer, remember an old saying about the biblical text: “It’s never going to mean what it never meant.”
The promises, however, are powerful. We can discover application principles in them for our generation, but we can add nothing to them. In other words, while the text has only one meaning, it has a thousand applications.
The right application of a biblical promise, therefore, can change a person’s life. For instance, the late Adrian Rogers was studying when a life-changing thought about prayer occurred to him. He said, “I, Adrian Rogers, can address God, and He will hear me. Now, folks, when I dwelt upon that, when I thought about that, I said, ‘Is that true? Can I speak to Him and He will answer me?’ And then I thought on the heels of that thought, ‘It is true. I know it to be true. And if that is true, I am an unmitigated fool if I don’t know how to pray and if I don’t pray.’” The right application of biblical truth is transformative.
There are few privileges in ministry greater than preaching on prayer. Seeing lives changed as a result of that preaching is even better.