Pray Before You Preach
Petitions that should precede every sermon
As a pastor, I spend a big part of every week preparing and preaching sermons.
I am always looking for ways to improve content and delivery. I study, read books, listen to other communicators, and reflect after each message I preach. And while these are all valuable steps, none of them takes the place of prayer.
As the apostle Paul shared the gospel, he prayed God would open hearts so people could receive and understand the message (Ephesians 1:18). Paul also asked others to pray for his preaching, that it would be bold and effective (Ephesians 6:19–20; Colossians 4:3–4).
If preaching were simply a matter of presenting content, it might not require much prayer. However, every time there is an opportunity to share God’s Word, there is a supernatural component.
Effective sermons facilitate moments for people to encounter God and experience transformation. Interesting illustrations, skillful communication, and an energetic delivery style may hold a congregation’s attention, but entertainment is not the goal.
Rather, participating in what God wants to do through His Word should be the objective of every message.
A minister’s inspiring speech cannot heal marriages, overcome addictions, or bring real repentance. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit can and will do those things — and more — as we invite Him to work through the simple act of preaching.
During the past several years, I have created a rhythm for praying over each sermon I deliver. This has become as important to me as preaching the message itself. Following are five things I ask God to do before I step onto the platform.
1. Guard My Lips
Psalm 141:3 says, “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” Before I share God’s Word, I ask the Lord to guard every word out of my mouth.
The mouth can easily get ahead of the mind, blurting out undeveloped thoughts or unclear statements. A quick tongue and a weak filter can be dangerous when teaching Scripture.
Some of my greatest regrets involve times when I’ve said something unplanned from the pulpit. A seemingly innocent off-the-cuff comment can create a mess that takes much longer to rectify.
Another pitfall is saying the right thing in the wrong way. The attitude you convey can be as important as the words themselves. Getting this right when preaching is crucial.
For instance, preaching with a haughty or hateful tone misrepresents the heart of God. Jesus said many hard things, but His compassion for lost people permeated every message.
The more times you preach, the more opportunity there is for error. The goal is to speak biblically and sensitively all the time, asking God to sanctify your words and guard your lips.
2. Prepare Hearts
While listening to people talk about what they got out of my sermon, there have been times when I realized the message someone received was not what I preached — but it was what they needed to hear from the Lord in that moment.
Asking God for
guidance on how
to end your sermon
God can use your obedience to send a personalized message to any of the listeners. Ask Him to help you and others remain sensitive to His Spirit.
The Holy Spirit may speak to someone’s heart through a single word, illustration, or verse. Surrender each part of your message to God, inviting Him to use your words as He desires.
As the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 reveals, not everyone will be receptive to the Word of God. No matter how carefully we craft our words and choose our illustrations, some will respond, and others will not.
John 6:44 says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them.” The receptivity of listeners is a divine work. This spiritual reality should motivate preachers to pray.
3. Minimize Distractions
Many things can interfere with a service: the room temperature, coughs and sneezes, cell phones buzzing, loud traffic noises outside, microphone problems, tripped smoke alarms, and more.
Some distractions, such as crying babies, are inevitable. But even ordinary disruptions can break the focus of listeners and keep them from encountering God.
When praying for your sermon, ask God to minimize distractions. Pray that no disruption will prevent someone from hearing or responding to the gospel.
Invite the Lord to bring every aspect of the service under His authority — especially the preaching of the Word. Ask the Holy Spirit to thwart any attempt of the enemy to interfere with the proclamation of the good news.
4. Reveal the Next Step
Ending each sermon with a call to action gives listeners a clear next step. The desired response may be different from one sermon to the next, but it should always reflect God’s will.
Asking God for guidance on how to end your sermon is imperative. The Word of God is living and active and calls for a response every time we hear or read it.
Next steps might include answering a call to salvation, signing up to be part of a small group, joining a serve team, inviting a friend, coming forward for a time of focused prayer, or giving to missions.
God promises, “My word … will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).
Every biblical sermon you preach is bearing fruit for God’s kingdom. The proclamation of the Word is powerful. Even when you don’t see it, you can trust the Lord to use your obedience to advance His mission.
Prayerfully identify the next steps the Lord wants people to take each week in response to your sermon. Then challenge them to step out and follow where He is leading.
5. Provide Insights
Before I preach, I lay my hands on my sermon notes and pray in the Spirit. I ask God to show me whether I need to change, adjust, or delete anything. I invite Him to add any words of wisdom or prophecy to the message. Finally, I pray that God will fill any gaps with His Spirit.
According to Romans 8:26, praying in tongues helps us when we don’t know how to pray. As we prepare to preach, we can’t know all the things people are dealing with or anticipate every obstacle that stands in the way of someone receiving the message. But the Spirit knows.
The Holy Spirit navigates circumstances we may never see. The Spirit can disarm the enemy and overcome anything that seeks to oppose the message of Christ. And the Holy Spirit can cover all our weaknesses and insecurities as we pray in tune with His heart.
Keep preaching, keep praying, and keep trusting God to change lives.
This article appears in the Spring 2023 issue of Influence magazine.