What Does Prayer Have to do With Preaching?

Guest post by Dustin Anderson.

Prayer and Preaeching

If you look for resources on the importance of prayer in sermon preparation, you’ll find surprisingly little. There are many resources that help with structure, technique, and delivery but not much on prayer as a means of sermon preparation. Craft and delivery are important, but what is the role of prayer in sermon preparation? How do prayer and preaching intersect?

“Nothing is well done without prayer for the simple reason that it leaves God out of the account”[1] – E.M. Bounds

Scripture has a lot to say about this actually. Jesus and apostles often prayed for their preaching. The following looks at a few New Testament passages that connect prayer and preaching together. These passages demonstrate the necessity of praying in sermon preparation.

Prayer Helped Jesus Focus on His Mission to Preach

The Lord Jesus demonstrates the necessity of prayer in preaching. Mark records that Jesus arose early in the morning, while it was still dark, to pray in a desolate place (1:33). The disciples found Jesus and told him that everyone was looking for Him. But Jesus responded, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” The reader is not given the content of Jesus’s prayers, but it is clear that Mark connects Jesus’s prayer with His mission to preach.

Jesus prays only three times in Mark’s Gospel (1:33; 6:46; 14:32-42). One commentator notes, “all three were occasions when He was faced with the possibility of achieving His messianic mission in a more attractive, less costly way. But in each case He gained strength through prayer.”[2] Jesus’s time of prayer helped Him solidify His mission to preach the gospel of God (cf. 1:14-15).[3] Jesus could have stayed in Capernaum, healing people and casting out demons (Mk 1:21-34), but prayer helped Him focus on his mission: preaching the gospel.

This is important for pastors and preachers to hear. There are often many good things pastors could do in ministry, but they cannot neglect preaching the Word of God. Prayer helps focus on the important work of preaching and teaching.

Prayer Helped the Disciples Focus on Their Mission to Preach

This is exactly what the disciples learned in Acts 6. When the widows were neglected, the disciples said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables” (6:2). They could have done good works (like Jesus could have done) by serving the widows but they had to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word (6:4). So we see from Jesus’s life and the disciples that preaching was given a high priority. Prayer helped them focus on their mission to preach.

Prayer Gives the Preacher Boldness: A Study in Acts

The necessity of praying for preaching is further evidenced in the disciples. The disciples prayed for the manner in which they were to preach, namely, for boldness in their preaching. In the book of Acts, Luke records that the council of religious leaders persecuted the disciples (4:1-23). After the council threatened them, the disciples prayed, “Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (4:29-30). Luke records that this prayer was immediately answered, as “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (4:31). It was prayer that helped the apostles continue preaching, or as E.M. Bounds once said, “apostolic preaching cannot be carried on unless there be apostolic praying”[4]

So in the context of persecution, the disciples prayed for boldness to proclaim God’s Word. The disciples needed courage and fearlessness because of the persecution they faced. Notice that they did not pray to avoid the persecution but boldness to preach amidst the persecution. This is a powerful reminder in a time where persecution is so prevalent in the world and even in this country.

We must pray for boldness to continue to preach God’s Word.

Prayer Gives the Preacher Boldness: A Study in Paul

Paul asked the Ephesian church to pray for him in a similar way. Paul wrote, “[pray] also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Eph 6:19-20). Twice Paul mentions that he wants the church to pray for him to boldly proclaim and declare the gospel. Paul is also under persecution as he mentions he is in chains for the gospel. He does not want to shrink back from declaring the gospel, so he asks for boldness to preach amidst his persecution.

This prayer also comes in the context of Paul’s discussion about spiritual warfare and putting on the whole armor of God (Eph 6:10-17). So Paul is not just being persecuted in a worldly sense but the devil is also fighting against him. The attacks from the devil and the world could cause Paul (and many of us) to shrink back from declaring the gospel. But Paul, like the disciples in Acts, prayed for boldness, for courage, for fearlessness.

We’d do well to do the same.

Prayer Gives the Preacher Content to Preach

Paul also adds “that words may be given” to him to preach boldly (Eph 6:19). He wanted the Ephesian church to pray for both the manner in which he was to preach (i.e. boldly) and the content of his preaching (i.e. the words to be given).

This is interesting because Paul was a Pharisee and knew his Old Testament very well. He also had a personal encounter with the risen Lord Jesus. He also knew the apostles who walked with Jesus for years. You would think that Paul could rely on his knowledge and experience in preaching. But he didn’t. Even with all his knowledge and experience, he still prayed that words would be given to him to declare the gospel.

That’s amazing.

This is important because pastors and preachers cannot simply rely on experience and knowledge to preach effectively but must continually ask the Lord for words to be given to preach. Paul shows that preaching is an ever-dependent work. Preachers must pray for both the content and the manner in which to preach.

Prayer Gives the Preacher Opportunities to Preach

Paul also prayed for opportunities to preach. He asked the Colossian church to pray for him and his companions in this way, “At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak” (4:3-4).

Notice that even though Paul is in prison, he still prays for doors to open in order to preach the gospel. For Paul, there is no area in the world where God cannot open a door to preach the gospel. As he said elsewhere, “the Word of God is not bound” (2 Tim 2:9)! Despite his harsh circumstances, Paul still wanted opportunities to preach the gospel.

This prayer further emphasizes that preaching is a dependent work. Not only does God give the preacher the words to preach and boldness to preach, but God is the one who “opens the door” to create opportunities to preach. The work of preaching is a highly dependent work. God must be sought after in prayer for both the preacher and the opportunities to preach.

Prayer Gives the Preacher Clarity and Helps Fulfill His Ministry

The final clause (“that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak”) of the Colossian prayer can be taken two ways. On one hand, it could refer to the manner in which Paul speaks, namely, to speak with clarity. The NASB suggests this, “that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak” (emphasis mine). The NLT brings out this idea more, “Pray that I will proclaim this message as clearly as I should.” In this sense, Paul prays for clarity of speech. Just as Paul prayed wanted to the Ephesians to pray for his manner of preaching (i.e. with boldness), he asked the Colossians to pray for his manner of preaching (i.e. with clarity).

The other way of understanding this passage is that Paul prayed to make the gospel known because that is what Paul was called to do. Some translations bring this sense out. The HCSB translates the last clause, “as I am required to speak.” In this sense, Paul elaborates on what he just said about God opening a door to share the gospel. He wants God to open a door so that he can reveal or make known the gospel because that is exactly what he was called to do. Paul would then pray that God would help him fulfill his preaching ministry.

Both views find support, but they need not be mutually exclusive. It makes sense to take the ideas together. If it was necessary for Paul to make the gospel known, then he should do it in a manner that is clear to his audience.

Prayer & The Principle Means of Communicating the Gospel

Just as it was necessary for Paul to preach the Word, it is likewise necessary for the church today. Paul commanded Timothy (and God commands us today) to preach the Word and be ready to do so in season and out of season (2 Tim 4:2).

God has chosen preaching as the principle means of communicating the gospel to the world. Prayer is the means by which the preacher can be ready at all times. Preaching must not be devoid of prayer.

For Jesus, prayer helped Him focus on His mission to preach in many areas. For the disciples, prayer gave them boldness to preach amidst persecution. Paul prayed for number of things for his preaching. He asked God to open doors (i.e. create opportunities) to preach the gospel. He asked God to give him the words to preach. He asked God to give him boldness and clarity to preach.

Pray for Focused Mission, Boldness, Content, Manner, and Opportunities

All of these passages point to the reality that preaching is a highly dependent work. God has chosen preaching to be the means by which He communicates His gospel to the world. We therefore must seek God in prayer for our preaching.

Prayer helps us focus on our mission to proclaim the gospel in all nations. Prayer helps us in both the content (i.e. the words to speak) and the manner in which we speak (i.e. boldly and clearly).

Prayer also opens doors and creates opportunities to preach. These passages show that we cannot just rely on our experience and knowledge when preaching God’s Word.

[1]E.M. Bounds, The Weapon of Prayer (Waxkeep Publishing), Kindle Location 63.

[2] John D. Grassmick, “Mark.” Edited by J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.

[3] Mk 1:14-15 Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Notice that after Jesus’s baptism and temptations, preaching is the first actual activity of Jesus’s ministry. Prayer helped Jesus focus on this primary ministry.

[4]E.M. Bounds, The Weapon of Prayer (Waxkeep Publishing), Kindle Location 73.