Power in Preaching:
Unveiling the fire
By Jesse Morrell
The strongholds of the powers and the principalities of the enemy are undoubtedly forcefully advancing its kingdom. The increase of the power that the enemy has is clearly seen in the decrease in the morality that our nations and our people have. Also, mighty and many are those who serve in the military today as well. With the age of technology upon us, military men are more dangerous and powerful then ever they have been before. Yet the church appears to be weak in all her aspects, especially the aspect of preaching. Our enemy, the devil, is primarily on the offense and rarely needs to be on the defense because our lack of power in our preaching. We pose as anything but a threat to the devil, the world, and the flesh.
Nothing can substitute power in our preaching. Not popularity, not personality, not even passion itself can substitute power in our preaching. If a man has eloquence so what? If a man can write about the deep things of God that go over our hearts, what good is it? Does the eloquent man exhort the souls of men? Does deep man reach the deepest parts of the heart with conviction? Does his preaching change the lives and hearts of our people? Does his preaching effect time and eternity for the Lord? If not, why listen to him? Turn him off on your television. Meet with the board of the church and have him fired. Im being too serious some think, no, I think some are not being serious enough. Leonard Ravenhill said Weve never had less power. Its all in print on our book shelves.
The power that comes through conviction and exhortation is being held back by preachers because of the fear of man. "How will the people respond if I preach a convicting message?" "What will the people do if I say something too strongly that they dont like?" "What if they don't like what I have to say and refuse to tithe and give to my ministry?" What if I turn people away and they never come back? When our ministries and ministers are focused on pleasing men and serving men then we can never please and serve God. In pleasing men we fail to please God, and very often in pleasing God we fail to please men. However, there will never be power in our preaching until we unveil the fire of God and let it roar freely consuming what it desires.
Woe to this City
In New England I labored as an inner city missionary. Although I was involved in different types of outreaches, my main ministry was that of open-air preaching. Even with a fruitful ministry of seeing others come under godly sorrow which leads them to repentance, I still was not satisfied because of the knowledge that God can do more. After pouring out my own blood, sweat, and tears to see this area come to Christ, many were still stiff-necked and hard hearted as ever. After laboring for hours and hours in private prayer and ministering for hours and hours in the streets, most of the people were still lost on a quick grease slide down to everlasting destruction. One day while preaching on a park bench the only response I would get from those walking by were bad looks and cold shoulders. There were no mass conversions or great conviction saturating the area. Seeing men carry on in their sins after rejecting Christ caused a holy anger to rise up on the inside of me. My heart had changed and so did my message. I preached like I never had before at that time. My words became "Woe to this city, this bloody city which hears the gospel week after week and still baths in waters of iniquity. Woe to this city, this bloody city, which attends the clubs to dance Friday and Saturday nights and then stands in church on Sunday to worship. Woe to this city, this bloody city, which brutally slaughters the fruit of the womb with no remorse." No longer were people walking by as if they didn't notice me. No longer were they carrying on as if I wasn't preaching at all. I looked in front of me and there were people standing there listening. I looked behind me and to my left and my right and people had stopped and come from all over to hear what I was saying. The fire had been unveiled and it could not be ignored. When I was done, I walked away with my quiver empty. All the arrows that I had were shot with the best aim that I had, and I had nothing more to say. I left without saying a word to anyone, hoping to leave their hearts wounded so they would seek God for healing.
It was not long after that that I was arrested and thrown behind bars for the first time for doing nothing more then preaching the gospel. As I think of the charges, breach of peace, I think of how accurate it truly was considering the words of Jesus "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword." (Mt 10:34). Don't let anyone tell you otherwise, if there is going to be power in our preaching, then there is going to be persecution in our lives. When you assault the devil's territory he will retaliate hastily against you. That is to be expected if we go the way of our Lord. Many times the sinners that are accepted are the ones who should be arrested, while the preachers who are arrested are the ones that should be accepted. However the more our ministries become as the ministry of Jesus, the more our suffering will be as the suffering of Jesus. If Jesus were merely just another Mr. Rogers in the world, and only went around telling everyone to love everybody, He would never have been so hated, rejected, and tortured as He was. If we are to be as powerful in our preaching as Jesus was in His preaching, then we must learn to minister as He did. And what did he do? He said Himself, "but it (the world) hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil." (John 7:7). Who does that today and still has the stamp of approve by the world and by the church? There are those who profess to love Jesus and faithfully go to church week after week that treat holiness as if it were a sin, and treat sin as if it should be expected. How can they tell the world that its works are evil when they themselves are evil? No one can minister as Jesus did until they become as Jesus was. Jesus "loved righteousness, and hated lawlessness." (Heb. 1:9). If you hate lawlessness, then the lawless will hate you.
If they persecute you in one city, go and minister in another. (Matt 10:23) So the day after I was arrested in Hartford, CT, I went and preached in New Haven, CT. As long as the church stays comfortable in her complacency, letting the world sink by its own weight into hell, street preachers will be rare. There was a team willing to go out with me every Saturday day, but as soon as the sun went down and the devils children came out to play in the dark their dark games, it was almost impossible to find someone to go out with to minister. I went out to New Haven Saturday night to minister anyways. If I can't find someone to minister with, it doesn't matter. The message is still as important as it's always been and the lost are in as much danger as they've ever been, so why should I not go out when Christ promised "I am with you always, even to the end of the age"? (Matt 28:20)
Backsliders sliding back
Finding a club in the downtown area which I heard gets remarkably busy, I sat on a bench waiting and praying for it to pick up. As rain started to fall and the time got later, I started having second thoughts about ministering. There were at least three cops in the area and I was just arrested the day before. It also is dangerous to walk the city streets alone in the middle of the night and I also had to wake up for church the next day. I had every justifiable reason to leave and go home, or did I? That night I specifically felt the leading of the Holy Spirit to go out and minister, so when the crowds started picking up my voice was raised up. Standing across the street from a line of people waiting to get in, I preached with all the power that I could. While some listened from across the road, others yelled at me to stop. Two girls and one guy crossed the street and actually listened to me preach for 30-40 minutes while standing in the rain. After finishing preaching, I spoke with them and they informed me that they are three Christian friends who got together and decided to backslide for the night and go to the club. "But after listening to you preach, we aren't going in there! I was able to minister with them one-on-one for a couple hours, sharing my testimony and preaching repentance. To the glory of God, all three of them got their hearts right with the Lord that night. We then went back to the club area, and while I was about to preach again, the three of them broke out in praise and worship towards God. I joined in and we sang songs on the street. Then we went into prayer and a lady walking by even joined us. It was maybe three in the morning and there we were having church outside of the club! Keeping in mind that these weren't Christians that I came with, having gone out alone, this was an amazing event. What would have happened if I had hindered what God wanted to do by holding back the heated fire of conviction? Simply put, what would have happened if I chose not to unveil the fire?
It was not long after that that I was invited to speak to a rather large youth group in a neighboring city. In the upcoming summer, I'd be traveling with some of the people in the group to the Dominican Republic on a mission trip. The youth group was called "The Five". When I asked the youth pastor, a friend of mine whom I love dearly, he explained to me that he emphasizes five minutes a day with God. I asked him why five minutes? Why not emphasis a half hour, an hour, or even two hours a day with God? He told me he believes that five minutes a day with God is reasonable for teenagers. Being quite young myself, something rose up inside of me that gave me a holy anger. Giving only five minutes a day to the God who gave you your whole life is ripping Him off. I debated in my heart and mind on whether or not I should mention this in the message I was able to give. Remembering that it was him who invited me to speak, should I just leave this alone? The thought of the trip to the Dominican Republic entered my thoughts as well. Not only was I traveling with them, but it was going to be a free trip for me as well. So what should I do? Should I preach against only spending five minutes a day with God? I could not refrain myself. Even if the word of God brings a reproach and derision against me as it did Jeremiah, it was burning in my bones and I was jealous on behalf of the Lord. So when I got up in the pulpit I couldn't help but to tell them that it is an insult to God to enter into His presence for only five minutes and then withdraw again. How can that person say they value and cherish His presence, if they choose to spend only five minutes in it? The youth group that is normally loud and distracted, even during preaching, was not so this time around. All ears and eyes were on me as I preached holy living and radical dedication towards God. Even after I left the pulpit nobody said a word for a solid ten minutes. The only person you could hear was the youth pastor who was down on his hands and knees crying out to God in prayer. What would have happened if, because of fear of rejecting and a desire to please man, the fire that God wanted to burn remained unveiled?
Conviction in the prison
The Dominican Republic was quite a place to go. There are many lessons I learned while in that country. While at first I felt sorry for them because of their poverty, I soon realized how rich they truly were. What I first saw as a curse, was actually a blessing. They were more joyous then the average American despite their poverty. They were not born into materialism and the love of having many processions. They were content and satisfied with the little that they had. While in America, materialism reigns in the hearts of many and what should be a blessing has become a curse. The greatest lesson I learned in the Dominican was not to hold back in my preaching. I was able to minister in many places, in the open-air meetings we conducted in the market place as well as in the parks, in a church and Christian gatherings, but the most powerful experience I had was in a Dominican Prison. We arrived entirely unannounced to this third world prison where there are criminals who will be in jail for the rest of their lives. Since it was not previously arranged with the prison that we would be coming, we had some difficulty with the authorities. The prisons in that country are run by military men. They attempted to contact the general to see if we could go in, but failed to be able to contact him. Our young translator became intimidated by the men when we persisted in getting in, and so he stopped accurately translating for us. When the situation started to look hopeless and seemed as though we would simply have to leave, we committed ourselves to prayer. Not long after that they waved us over and allowed us to go into the prison.
We were lead through this old, moldy, filthy prison to a large room where hundreds of inmates were gathered. I was the first one in the room. We were met with uneasy stares and a haunting silence. I don't believe that it was announced to them that a group of Americans would be with them that afternoon. We were soon waved over to the other side of the room, opposite the one bar door way. Our translator spoke to the inmates, some of which were murderers and rapists, and explained why we had come. We sang worship songs that had the whole room clapping which lightened up the atmosphere. Then we performed a skit. I was called on to share a bit of my testimony and to preach the gospel. This was a tough situation. Do I preach as I normally preach or should I lighten and soften the message lest anyone be angered? The one guard that would periodically come in the room, left for long periods at a time. The last thing I would want to do is to endanger the group I was with. Even so, there lost souls were in far greater danger. I had been meditating on an unpopular, forgotten and a forsaken scripture during the trip. It was Psalms 7:11. "God is a just Judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day." That was my text I preached on. I choose to "spare not" and preached the gospel hot and heavy. One man came and knelt in the front with tears in his eyes while I was preaching, and I didn't even give an altar call. When I invited the inmates to raise their hands at the end of my message if they wanted to be saved, about two thirds of them responded! Now what would have happened if I let fear smother the burning coals God had put in my heart? When the fear of man and the love of praise arise in our hearts, how can Gods will be done?
Fear God or man?
If we allow the fear and reverence of God rather then the fear of man to enter into our hearts we can see power in our preaching. We need more of the love of holiness and more holy hatred towards sin if we ever hope to preach with power. The sum of what I am saying is this, dont hold back. Some still fear rejection and persecution from the world. Not many Christians scare the devil enough for him to call the cops on them. I say, let him call the cops! Persecution is still every Christians lot. We must let the words of Jesus sink deep into our hearts. The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household? Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known. What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matt. 10:24-28) I can see a Christian downcast in his spirit. Why are you down Christian? Have you tasted the bitter taste of rejection? When rejected by the world, rejoice in the Lord. Again I say, rejoice! Even dance for joy! You are like your Master. What does it matter if you are hated by the world when you are honored by God? I can hear lies, You shouldnt be treated like this. They should recognize who you are and the authority God has given you. If you were truly somebody in Christ, your life wouldnt be so hard. How easy it is to drown in despair when you swim in the sea of lies. Deception gouges out all hope from your heart. Let the truth be known, you have no right at all to be treated better by man then Jesus was. When lies come against you, come against lies with truth. It is enough for a disciple that he be as his master.
Compassion enough to convict
Christian, you must condition compassion and concern in your heart for the lost. Failure to do so is failure of the worst kind. Think of the fate of the ungodly, eternal hell. Think of the shed blood of Christ which was shed for every man. Have you a love for the lost to search for them? Have you a respect and reverence for the blood of God? Compassion must fill our hearts. For too long our lack of compassion in our hearts has caused a lack of conviction in our preaching. God forbid the comfort of the church ever be the cause of the misery of the world. True Christianity is the active pursuit of knowing God, and the active pursuit of making God known. Consider just a few of those brave men of faith who have gone before us: Jeremiah, who is known as the weeping prophet who saw no converts in his ministry. Have we the same love and fear of God to deliver His Word no matter how rejected it is? Then there was Paul, a man greatly persecuted and martyred who warn everyone night and day with tears. (Acts. 20:31) Have we the same compassion that can endure and persevere through all the obstacles, enduring afflictions for the sake of the elect? Are we Christ like enough to be as our Master who saw the city and wept over it? The un-reached, and the un-reachable, will stay lost until we learn to set sail on the rivers of our own tears to save them.
The world is lost, storing up for it self waters of the wrath of God which will soon come through the flood gates to destroy them. We say the world is lost, we know the world is lost, but do we live as though they are lost? A friend of mine J.A. Olver said Let us not merely curse the darkness, but let us light a candle. Let us light a torch! While grace is flowing like a river, blind sinners are dying of thirst. Nobody leads them to the river bank to drink. Will they be able to accuse you of this when their eyes are opened in eternity?
We must, if we ever want to have power in our preaching, both exhort and convict those who contradict. (Titus 1:9) Without exhortation and conviction in our sermons, they become wood axe handles without an actual axe, useless for cutting down anything. Clear the land preacher! Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Level every mountain and fill up every valley by faith. He, who will judge the world in righteousness, is quickly coming and will soon be upon us. Will He find you faithfully delivering His Word without fearing anything but Him? I dont know much, but I know enough to realize that power in our preaching only comes when we obey the Holy Spirit and allow Him to move through us as He pleases.
Finally, have compassion to pray. Our preaching will only be as strong and as powerful as our praying. Those who minister must consider preaching without first praying a sin. Does a dentist pull out anyones tooth without first numbing the mouth? How can we send out the message of the Lord without first requesting that the messenger of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, goes before us? Many wonderful, nice sermons have been preached that lacked power because the preacher lacked in prayer. The potential of our preaching from the pulpit will never be reached until we reach the potential of praying in our secret closets. Power in our preaching is available, but it must first be diligently sought after. May we seek after it.