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The Holy Spirit in the Ministry of the Word Pt. 4
Hope in Ministering the Word and Spirit
by Pastor Bob Burridge ©1990
As pastors stand to do their work in the pulpits of Christ's
church on the Lord's Day it is comforting to know, that they do
not depend exclusively or primarily upon their own accumulations
of detail, their variety of illustration, or their skill of
voice, to rescue and feed the souls of the sheep gathered before
them. It would be wrong to deny the importance of these
elements. But it is assuring to know that before the Bible is
opened and carefully prepared notes are spread out for the
proclamation of God's word, the Holy Spirit precedes them into
the hearts of the hearers.
The Lord is pleased in his gifting and calling of ministers to use them as personal instruments in his work. God and his ministers therefore do not ordinarily operate exclusively of one another. The minister of the word is totally ineffective without the attendant blessing of the Spirit. The poorest of preachers may see healthy fruit in his simple teachings. The simplest or the most complex presentation might be used of God to bring life to a lost soul or hope to a discouraged brother. But when some turn hardened hearts away from the truths proclaimed, it is the work of that same Spirit that confirms men in their rebellion against God.
This interrelationship is encouraging to christian ministries. It provides specific means by which the administration of the word can be improved.
1. The efficacy of preaching involves the clear proclaiming of the word. Though the blessing of the Spirit is indispensable, there are things we can and should be doing as those called and commissioned of God to declare what the word says.
Paul admonished Timothy saying, "be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15)
It is the accuracy of biblical exposition and the clarity of proclamation that is used by the Holy Spirit to teach people and stir their hearts. Therefore, to minister better, preachers ought to be improving their biblical study skills and widening their store of biblical knowledge. They ought to be improving their methods of preparation, arrangement and delivery of the word.
2. The efficacy of preaching is not the result of scholarship alone. When there is no God-honoring response to the word delivered, pastors ought not become discouraged as if it were always due to their own inabilities. The faithful giving of the word has many times fallen upon unprepared hearts. Even the preaching of Christ was not always ordained to bring about repentance. It sometimes angered the hearers.
Similarly when there is success in preaching men must not become puffed up in pride. A good use of illustrations, outlines and simple language is important in making the word understood. Delivery is important so that people will listen and hear what is said. It is nevertheless the working of the Holy Spirit that must be credited for any lasting success in the congregations of Christ's church.
By attributing success to the sovereign workings of the Holy Spirit working in the word, we enhance rather than diminish the hope of improving the efficacy of sermons and lessons. If the burden rested upon human shoulders exclusively or upon the moral determination of the people, there would be good cause to tremble under its weight. How could pastors be encouraged as stewards of the great Master if their task lies in the realm of the impossible. But if the ministry involves the use of means empowered by a personal covenant God, then there is always something that can be done toward its improvement.
Those entrusted with the ministry of the word must exercise diligence in prayer. They need to beg God for the blessing of his Spirit upon their preaching. Perhaps if the same time was spent calling out to God for his Spirit to precede and accompany a sermon as is spend digging through books for illustrations and stories, there would be a more marked difference in the lasting effects of sabbath messages upon the church.
Do ministers cast themselves before God again and again in the preparation of their lessons and messages? Do they evidence more faith in the Spirit's working than they place in the good and beneficial books they collect and consult?
This is not to hint in any way that these exercises in study are of little benefit. Pastors are called to develop their skills and to be diligent in their work. But is equal weight given to the ministry of the Spirit in the word?
Where is the Life in Christian Preaching?
When we begin our day we come to breakfast to get a good start with some nutrition and energy food. We are told by the TV announcers and cereal boxes that our diet should include a minimum daily amount of nutrients consisting of vitamins, proteins, calories, liquids and so on.
Some cereals boast that one bowl will satisfy all these needs for the whole day! What if pills could be made to satisfy all this; one dosage carefully measured out for individual personal needs by a doctor, washed down at specified intervals with sufficient water, all scientifically designed to meet our every need. You would never have to eat a single meal ever again!
How long would it be before you begin to long for a tasty meal? one good burger or pizza? a fresh, cold, bubbly cola? a hot refreshing cup of coffee? a warm buttered breakfast roll? a hoagie piled with the best coldcuts, cheeses and dressings? God enabled the body to taste and savor textures and aromas. Man was made to eat, not just to be nourished.
What about the spiritual diet of our people? Do pastors routinely prepare a diet for them that includes all the basic elements, but they have not sought the empowering of the Holy Spirit to give their message life?
Do our ministries sometimes become like the hypothetical "nutrition pill"? With all the pressures faced they might come to think they can satisfy the spiritual needs of their people and themselves with a simple-to-prepare, easy-to-use, canned- approach sermon.
Are sermons prepared and served in the same cold way? Do ministers merely make sure the spiritual "nutrition pill" contains all the raw elements needed? 1. They cover all the fundamental doctrines of the confession? 2. They make certain that every text is carefully studied to ensure its accurate interpretation? 3. They have a well organized method of outline and illustration so that the thoughts flow easily and digestibly? 4. They are always fine-tuning their our presentations and deliveries.
These are very good things to do. But is what they serve still bland? Do their ministrations of the word lack the one element that gives them real flavor? Do they lack that which makes them tasty and satisfying to hungering fallen creatures of God? Have they replaced a dependence on the Holy Spirit with a dependence upon scholarship and methodology?
Have they spent time filling their lessons with life by begging for the blessing of God upon them? Do they challenge people to come having prepared themselves before the throne of God crying out to be conformed to the image of Christ? Do they come expecting merely to instruct or merely to excite emotionally? Or do they come in faith, expecting them to be touched by the Holy Spirit in the ministry of the word?
Some might also swing to the other extreme and neglect scholarship in the word and hope that God will miraculously speak through a lazy, unprepared vessel? They mistake the absence of the word for the presence of the Spirit. They take their congregations up to great emotional heights, but they fail to put up the guard rail of the word. There is no warning signs to announce the spiritual pitfalls and dangers that so easily trip unsuspecting believers and cause them to fall to great harm.
The Spirit works by the word to rescue fallen men. It is the "law of the Lord" that is "perfect, restoring the soul." God has called his church to study and to be diligent in making its teachers into sharpened tools, well instructed in the word which acts as an objective guide. It not only leads in God's ways of blessing but also warns against the errors and deceptions of the enemy of our faith.
May God grant that a full diet is offered to our people. Pastors need to use every skill and tool at their disposal. They need to carefully plan their topics, texts and presentations so that they will be as effective as humans can make them. But in all this, there is a need to come fallen before him in humble but trusting expectation of blessing.
May we see in all our ministries the powerful attendance of the Holy Spirit carrying the word faithfully prepared into the hearts of sinners, saved by grace.