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john tucker: the greatest deficiency?

A while back I came across this statement by A.G. Azurdia: ‘It is my deep conviction that the greatest deficiency in contemporary expositional ministry is powerlessness; in other words, preaching that is devoid of the vitality of the Holy Spirit.’

What do you think?

Years before, Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, ‘The greatest essential in connection with preaching … is the unction and the anointing of the Holy Spirit. … You can have knowledge, and you can be meticulous in your preparation; but without the unction of the Holy Spirit you will have no power, and your preaching will not be effective.’ These are sobering statements. They raise the question: How do we get this ‘unction’, or anointing? How can we ensure that our preaching is ‘a demonstration of the Spirit’s power’, and not our own?

I doubt if there is a magic formula or secret recipe. Jesus said, ‘The wind blows where it wishes’ (Jn. 3:8). The Spirit is sovereign. But, with Paul Windsor, I’d argue that there is a ‘windy place’, where the Spirit has been known to blow, and where we can go and stand with every expectancy that God’s Spirit will move again.

Where is this windy place? What are its coordinates? Here is my list:

1. It is a place marked by a humble acknowledgment of our need for God

John Stott asks, ‘Why … does the power of the Spirit seem to accompany our preaching so seldom? I strongly suspect that the main reason is our pride. In order to be filled with the Spirit, we have first to acknowledge our own emptiness. In order to be exalted and used by God, we have first to humble ourselves under his mighty hand (1 Pet. 5:6). In order to receive his power, we have first to admit, and then even to revel in, our own weakness.’

2. It is a place marked by prayerful seeking for the power of God

Spurgeon put it well: ‘Prayer brings down upon our preaching an indescribable and inimitable something, better understood than named; it is a dew from the Lord, a divine presence which you will recognise at once when I say it is “an unction from the holy One.” … Let your fleece lie in the threshing-floor of supplication till it is wet with the dew of heaven.’

3. It is a place marked by the faithful exposition of the word of God

Throughout the Bible the word of God and the Spirit of God are intimately related. In fact, in some places they are almost interchangeable (e.g. Jn. 3:34, 6:63). The word of God is the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17). So, as Greg Heisler says, ‘Preaching that remains within the bounds of the biblical text is most likely to receive the benefits of the revealing ministry of the Holy Spirit.’

4. It is a place marked by a humble desire to glorify the Son of God.

Both the Scriptures and the Spirit share the goal of bearing witness to Jesus Christ (Jn. 5:39; 15:26). So if we want the Spirit’s blessing, then, like Paul (2 Cor. 4:5), we must preach Christ. As Azurdia says, ‘The central theme of the Bible is God’s redemptive program in Jesus Christ. Until this fact begins to shape our interpretive approach to the Scriptures Christian preaching will lack the accompanying power of the Spirit of God, whose stated purpose is to glorify Jesus Christ in and through the Scriptures.’

5. It is a place marked by obedient submission to the Spirit of God

Of course, we can grieve the Spirit by disobedience (Eph. 4:30). ‘Preaching,’ says Heisler, ‘is much like an iceberg: what people see in the pulpit on Sunday is the tip of the dynamics going on beneath the surface. … Spirit-led living is God’s prerequisite for Spirit-led preaching. … If we are not Spirit-led and Spirit-filled in our homes and in our communities, we should not anticipate being Spirit-led and Spirit-filled in the pulpit.’

Do you agree?

What would you add to this list?

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John Tucker serves as the Director of Ministry Training at Carey Baptist College, where he is also involved in the teaching of preaching. He has recently finished a PhD on Baptist engagement in social issues in New Zealand.

5 Comments

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  2. Mark Maffey says:

    HI John, I agree with your list humbleness and submission married with prayer and exposition will go a long way to the unction of the Spirit being on a preacher. I would add though that a congregation that is in the habit of praying for the pastor/preacher both during the week and before services will also add to the likelihood of the unction being present.
    Any study of revival will find that such revival is birthed in prayer. Churches praying for 7 years morning noon and night, getting down on their knees asking for God’s presence. I believe that this is one of the fundamental lacks in NZ churches and why there is a void of the unction of the fullness of the Spirit.

  3. John Tucker says:

    Hi Mark

    Good point. Prayer is not just the responsibility of the preacher; it’s a responsibility of the congregation. I’ve read somewhere that when Charles Spurgeon was once asked, ‘What is your secret?” he replied without hesitation, ‘My people pray for me.’ In the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 25 (Pasadena: Pilgrim, 1980), 695, he makes this statement: ‘The sinew of the minister’s strength under God is the supplication of his church. We can do anything and everything if we have a praying people around us. But when our dear friends and fellow helpers cease to pray the Holy Ghost hastens to depart, and ‘Ichabod’ is written on the place of assembly.’ !

    John

    1. Mark Maffey says:

      Hi John, when one reads of the Wesley’s, Spurgeons, Whitfields, Booth’s one of the clear reasons for their profound influence on the Church and communities of their time is the high level of personal prayer exhibited, they all knew that their preaching was birthed in prayer,and gave priority to prayer. Because they exemplared prayer their followers followed their lead,and that additional prayer ensured a powerful unction over their work. I think much more sermon time could be devoted to the topic of prayer and how to read the word, if people have something modelled well they will run with it. At present the fundamental issues facing the NZ Church is biblical and prayer illiteracy,if we re-educate people we will see a greater release of unction.

  4. John Tucker says:

    Hi Mark

    Sorry for the late reply. I agree with you – we have a responsibility as preachers and pastoral leaders to model to our congregations healthy patterns regarding prayer and the word. Both are crucial to the role. Preaching is what we DO and who we ARE. It’s truth through personality. As Haddon Robinson says, ‘The audience does not hear a sermon, they hear a person’. To preach effectively means not just preparing our sermons, it means preparing our lives…

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