Mid-September witnessed the exposure of the police cover-up concerning the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 Liverpool football fans died 23 years ago.
At the same time it emerged that the deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg thinks that all who have any qualms of conscience over the legitimacy of gay marriage are ‘bigots’.
Then in Manchester, two women Police officers were murdered. This is simply more evidence of the corruption and lack of moral sensitivity at all levels of our secularised country. It makes us want to weep.
However, in the light of such things, once again we must see how much we need God to raise up powerful preachers today who can be used in the context of revival to change the spiritual and moral tone of our benighted nation. But I wonder if we are hitting the right notes in preparing men for the ministry. There is much emphasis on training people to have good ‘Bible handling skills’, to excel in exegesis and be accurate preachers. This is all very necessary and we genuinely thank God for the many excellent Bible training courses which are now available.
But accurate preaching is one thing, powerful preaching is another. Who is teaching the candidates how to become powerful preachers? In particular, I wonder, as a new academic year begins, are our Bible colleges and training courses teaching preachers to pray?
Teach us to pray
The disciples of Jesus never asked him to teach them to preach, but they did ask him to teach them to pray (Luke 11.1). Having had the best possible insight into Scripture through being taught by the Lord Jesus for three years and having personally witnessed the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, the disciples were told they still needed to be clothed with power from on high, the power of the Holy Spirit, before they went out with the gospel. For this power, they prayed (Acts 1.14). When the leaders of the early church described what they were to focus on in their work, they explained: ‘We … will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word’ (Acts 6.4). And notice that it is prayer that comes first.
Spiritual power comes through spiritual encounter. This lesson is plain from Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3.5,6), Joshua meeting the commander of the army of the Lord (Joshua 5.14), right through to the apostle John’s vision of Christ while exiled on the isle of Patmos (Revelation 1.17,18). But without prayer we never truly encounter God.
Brilliant but useless?
Spurgeon has a telling anecdote involving the great English surgeon and anatomist, Sir Astley Cooper (1768-1841). Once, on visiting Paris, Sir Astley was asked by the surgeon en chef of the French empire how many times he had performed a certain intricate medical operation. He replied that he had performed the surgery 13 times. ‘Ah, but monsieur, I have done it 160 times’, declared the Frenchman, who then went on to ask: ‘And how many times did your operation save the person’s life?’ ‘I saved 11 out of the 13’, said the Englishman. ‘How many did you save of the 160?’ ‘Ah’, came the answer, ‘I lose them all; but the operation was very brilliant.’
Spurgeon comments: ‘Of how many popular ministries might the same verdict be given! Souls are not saved, but the preaching is very brilliant. Thousands are attracted and operated on by the rhetorician’s art, but what if he should have to say to his admirers, “I lose them all, but the sermons were very brilliant”’.
This article was first published in the October 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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