The Place of Prayer
In this penultimate part of Communication 101, Ray Evans focuses on the key ingredient of a great talk. Prayer.
When John Frame uses the term ‘Existential’ in his tri-perspectival reflections on communication, he means a great deal more than “we should pray a lot”.
He is talking about the presence of the transcendent One in his word, touching people’s minds, hearts and wills with a sense of the spiritual reality they are encountering.
But it won’t hurt to start with prayer as the means a preacher-teacher should employ if they are to know more of the Spirit of grace and power upon the word as the message is proclaimed.
“Devote yourselves” comes ten times in the New Testament. Six times it is related to prayer. It is what the early preachers did. They committed themselves to pray for the word’s effect (Acts 6:4 – remember the order of their priorities).
The ‘stance’ of prayer should always be a humble one. The Holy Spirit is sovereign and he is not at man’s beck and call. We are dependent and not demanding when we pray.
Paul often asked for prayer for himself and his preaching (see Ephesians 6:18-20 and Colossians 4:2-4). He asked for courage and clarity. One was for himself and the other was so that the message would be clear to his hearers.
Peter Adam provides a helpful perspective:
“If our sole aim is to preach and teach the Bible then we are serving only the means and not the ends, and our prayers will be limited as our vision is limited. Rather than, ‘Lord God, help me teach the Bible today’, our prayer ought to be, ‘Lord God, help me to teach the Bible today so that people may understand and receive Jesus Christ and him crucified.’”1
Paul’s letters abound in this confidence that the gospel of God can change people, and prayer to the Lord that it would. So: we should pray for it, and we pray for them, and we pray for ourselves.
A great challenge
All of us face the challenge to personal prayer in this area. Secret prayer is the means of spiritual success (Matthew 6:6-8). We have to prioritise time for this kind of prayer, not to tack it on late on Saturday night, or in the vestry just before the service.
I heard recently of a great contemporary preacher who often rose in the early hours with a friend to practice this ministry of prayer and intercession. That might not be a pattern you can emulate, but earnest prayer is our expression of dependency on the one who alone could raise the spiritually dead and grow the lives of disciples (Eph 2:1-10; 1 Cor 3:5-7). If you really believe that, you will pray!
Encouraging others to pray for word ministry is perhaps a neglected area in church life today. Home or small groups can so often focus on their own immediate concerns and neglect even the coming weekend. Believers can find their Saturdays maxed out with many demands. It can be hard for even a core to commit to regular prayer for the ministry of the word.
But it (more accurately He) is the source of power. He is pleased to show his presence when we own our weaknesses, as we do when we pray.
As a preacher, you may want to consider Jonty Allcock’s suggestion. He prepares prayerfully as he is outlining. He doesn’t just pray after the work is done, but he writes prayers of all kinds as part of the process. So, he writes down things like, “Lord help me with this difficult verse”; “Lord remember X as they struggle to put this part the talk into practice”; “Lord help me to edit down to create proper space for all that needs to be said.” His notes are covered in prayers – in more ways than one, but perhaps that is something that might help you?2
It seems sad and even ironic to me that when the contemporary church is not seeing much growth, that we haven’t urged one another more earnestly to seek the Lord. Surely we would all love to see times when the Lord uses his word widely, deeply, and speedily (another way of talking about a reviving of God’s cause). We should be asking that in his mercy he would. And in our prayers we can express our total trust whether his response is, ‘Yes’ or, ‘Not yet’.
But not to pray earnestly and persistently is a denial of what we believe about Christian communication. For that is about so much more than skilful communicators on a good day.
Help with your preaching
You can get help if others join you. Maybe a small preachers’ group can used before preaching to discuss difficult passages that are coming up, to help develop better structures, outlines and FOAM (Facts, Observations, Anecdotes, Metaphors) and then think of some who could join you in prayer.
Or can you set up a feedback or coaching group? Get a few others together to help each preacher get better. You could ask in that group, ‘What worked well?; ‘What came across in a confused way?’; ‘What really touched and changed people?’
These are questions that others can help answer and then you can share stories of people, praying that they might grow in the Lord.
All of us are work in progress when it comes to being better communicators. Others should see your progress (1 Timothy 4:14-15). But don’t feel defeated when that progress feels slow. We can all learn from 2,000 years of others going ahead of us. We can grow stronger as we work on and live out the tension between Passage, People, and Prayer – to the glory of God, and to people’s eternal good.
1. Peter Adam, Speaking God’s Words (IVP, 1996), p89.
2. Jonty Allcock and Ray Evans, ‘Effective Communication’ (FIEC Leaders’ Conference 2018, fiec.org.uk/resources/article/effective-communication-ensure-the-word-impacts).