Back in March I attended a church conference near Grand Rapids, MI and picked up the little work, “A Labor of Love” by J. Stephen Yuille and it has been immensely encouraging and convicting. Essentially Yuille has extracted Swinnock’s 16 prayers in The Christian Man’s Calling and has enlarged upon the central truth within each prayer, supporting them with other Puritan quotations and his own thoughts. As I was reading tonight I came to chapter 9 called “A Prudent Preacher” and it begins with this heartfelt minister’s prayer. I enjoyed it so much I had to share it.
The minister’s principal work is the preaching of the gospel, with which he undermines and overturns the stronghold of sin and the kingdom of darkness. Therefore, I wish that I might prepare for this work diligently, handle this weapon carefully, and deliver this message soberly, in a manner that is most for my God’s glory and my people’s good – not with the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in the demonstration of the Spirit’s power.
To this end, I desire that all my sermons might be, like Monica’s son, children of many tears and prayers, and thereby unlikely to perish. Martin Luther says, “Whoever prays hard studies hard.” Lord, may all my sermons be heaven-born. May they drop down on my people like rain on the grass. Let prayer be the key that opens the mysteries of Christ to me. Let prayer be the key that locks them safe inside me. Let prayer open and close all my reading, writing, and preparing. Let prayer begin and conclude al my sermons. In every sermon, I preach my beloved neighbors into eternal burnings or eternal pleasures. Oh, how I should pray for my preaching and before my preaching!
I also wish that I might preach every sermon to my own heart before I preach it to others, so that – preaching feelingly – I might preach effectually. May the Word come naturally, like milk from the mother’s breasts, to nourish my children. Why should I plead God’s cause without having a personal interest in it? Oh, let me be like the doctor, who takes the same remedy he prescribes to his patients.
I desire that I might never play the huckster with God’s Word – adulterating it with my own additions. May I receive from the Lord what I deliver to others. May I feed all under my charge with the sincere milk of the Word, so that they might grow. As an ambassador, may I keep close to my instructions. As a builder, may I set every stone in God’s temple by the line and rule of His Word. as a doctor, may I never experiment upon my people’s souls, but prescribe those tested and approved remedies, which the great Physician has entrusted to me.
Because my work is to touch and pierce my people’s hearts, and not to tickle and please their ears, I wish that I might preach a crucified Savior in a crucified style. May I not paint my sermon with a showy display of words, but employ all plainness, stooping to their lowest capacity. May I be “made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). I am a foreigner to my people, if I preach to them in an unknown language. I starve their souls, if I give them meat that they can never digest. Let me not read commentaries as the butterfly goes to the flower to gild her wings, but as the bee goes to the flower to gather honey to supply her young. Lord, let me never be guilty of painting the windows, thereby hindering the light of Thy glorious gospel from shining powerfully into the hearts of men and women.
My prayer is that I might not strengthen the hands of the ungodly nor sadden the hearts of the godly, but distinguish between the vile and the precious, and preach to each accordingly. May I give milk to babes and meat to adults. May I order my prescriptions in a manner that is suitable to their constitutions. May I use the needle of the law to make way for the thread of the gospel. May I lead my people – like Jacob his flock – as they are able to bear it. And may I teach my people – as Christ His disciples – as they are best able to hear it.
Oh, that I might not only preach prudently, but also powerfully. May my sermons be delivered, not as prologues to a play, but as the message of a herald with all seriousness and fervency, containing conditions of life and death. The Word is a hammer, but it will never break the stony heart if it is not brought to bear. What is preached coldly is heard carelessly. Lord, let me not – like the moon- give light without heat. Cause me to lift up my voice like a trumpet to give – like fire – heat as well as light. May I be consumed with zeal for Thy house. May I beseech poor souls to be happy, as if I were begging for my life. May I preach so successfully that I might produce much fruit.