I preached my first sermon at the age of eleven.
The first thing I did when I stood up was to pray. No one instructed me to do this. My father never prayed when he stood to preach. And none of the preachers I heard regularly or looked up to prayed at the beginning of the sermons.
For some reason, I did.
I remember a seasoned pastor advising me, “If you haven’t prayed before you stand up to preach, it’s too late. And if you have already prayed, it’s not necessary.”
I couldn’t argue with this logic. Yet I have continued to pray before I read my scripture and begin my sermon. And I still do it to this day.
Let me be clear. This is not a measure of one’s spirituality. Whether a preacher does this is not a moral issue. No one is right or wrong here.
But there are two specific reasons why I pray before I preach.
I need God to help me speak. The call to preach has been a part of the Lord’s sanctifying process in my life. My great sense of neediness in private study and public speaking drive me to God in prayer. And this sense of dependence grows the closer I get to preaching time. I always carry a great deal of anxiety with me to the pulpit. I know what Paul meant when he spoke of preaching with weakness, fear, and trembling (1 Co. 2:3). But when I finish with my pulpit prayer, I am fine. The anxiety immediately goes away. And I am ready to preach. On the other hand, there are times when I have to fight my ego from getting engaged in the preaching moment. Prayer humbles me, clarifies my focus, and sets my heart on the sacred task of proclaiming the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.
The congregation needs God to help them hear. I believe there is a reason why Jesus often said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Just because you have ears does not mean you can hear the truth. Hearing is a miracle that is wrought by the power of the Holy Spirit. So I pray that the Lord would cause the good seed of the word to fall on good ground that will bear fruit. I also pray so that the congregation will recognize that the preaching (and hearing) of the word is serious business. And they will be held accountable for what they hear. The sermon is not a performance for the congregation to enjoy. It is to be a mirror that causes them to see themselves as God sees them. I want the congregation to take the message as seriously as I do as I deliver it. Only God can transform an indifferent audience into a waiting congregation that is ready to trust and obey the word of truth.
Do you pray publicly before you preach? Why? Why not?