Preaching in the Power of the Spirit

The Evangelical Ministry Assembly | London


The following is a lightly edited transcript.

It’s a remarkable thing to me that this many ministers are gathered together. As I was preparing this morning for this and writing an almost entirely new message because of things that were burning in my heart yesterday, I felt a great affection for you and for this event. I love The Proclamation Trust. I love what it stands for. I love the word proclamation.

You know, this gathering is remarkable. It’s been going on for a long time, of course, but in America, this would be equal to about five thousand pastors getting together if you just do the math. That happens. I wrote down ten of them right here: Resolve, Shepherds, Next, DG, Ligonier, T4G, The Gospel Coalition, Truth for Life, Passion, Exchange. These are massive groups coming together for preaching and singing.

When I was in school, this was not happening. I mean seven thousand twenty- and thirty-somethings coming together to hear sixty-minute sermons woven together by singing with piano. This is amazing. Something is afoot in our lands. I would like to breathe on it. I would like to pray down the Holy Spirit’s blessing on it for you, that you would believe that God might be up to something unusual — that those who take exposition seriously are being blessed today in various ways around the world. Short-term, I’m praying that God will ignite something remarkable in our churches. I’m thrilled to address this topic.

Kill Sin, Create Fruit

The main point yesterday from Galatians 3:1–5 was that we receive the Holy Spirit in the beginning, and we go on living in the power of the Holy Spirit in the same way. Did you receive him? Does he supply the Spirit to you “by works of the law” (Galatians 3:4)? No. Or “by hearing with faith [or ‘the hearing of faith’]” (Galatians 3:4)? Yes.

If you want the Holy Spirit to be coursing through your life, you live with this thing called “the hearing of faith.” Moment by moment, there’s a hearing with faith. Hour by hour, there’s a hearing with faith. I felt that before I move into preaching, I should try to unpack the nitty-gritty way I think that works — at least, the way I apply it. And I think it’s biblical.

“There are more marriages being killed by bitterness, resentment, and anger than by adultery.”

You can say the Holy Spirit transforms us by killing sin — as in John Owen’s text on mortification, Romans 8:13 — or by creating fruit: love, joy, peace. Kill sin, create fruit. The Holy Spirit does both those things. I’m going to give you the text for each one. You know them already. Romans 8:13: “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” You’re going to walk out of here in a little while, and you’re going to be tempted. You’re going to be tempted to be angry or impatient or lustful. At that moment, kill it. How? By the Spirit. What is that? Is he something I use? Paul says to put sin to death by the Spirit, or by “bearing fruit” (Galatians 5:22).

Let me give an illustration of each of those — the negative, killing sin by the Spirit, and the positive, bearing fruit by the Spirit. Here’s the way I think it works. Let’s take the sin of resentment or bitterness or undue anger. If you do a seminar on marriage, there are more marriages being killed by bitterness, resentment, and anger than by adultery. This is huge for you and for me. How do you kill anger? You don’t choose to get angry. I could step out of this pulpit if I felt like it, but I can’t say, “Anger, go away.” It doesn’t work that way.

Battle Sin with God’s Promises

What does it mean to kill anger by the Holy Spirit? To kill bitterness, kill resentment by the Holy Spirit (which I take to mean, “by hearing with faith.” I’m laying Galatians 3:5 on top of Romans 8:13)? “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you . . . do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:5). “Holy Spirit, I want you to supply a bitterness-killing power to my life at this moment as I walk out of here tonight, so that when I go home I’m not seething with this bitterness that I feel toward those folks in my church, or my wife, or whoever ripped me off.” Here’s the way I think it works.

You call to mind — the Holy Spirit brings to mind — a text, a passage of Scripture related to the gospel, which bought for us all the promises of God. “All the promises of God find their Yes in Jesus” (2 Corinthians 1:20). In Christ Jesus, I have every promise in the Bible. Every promise in the Bible, appropriately applied to me, is gospel-promised, blood-bought by the new covenant. I am an heir of all these promises. I call a promise to mind:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31–32)

By the Holy Spirit, you ponder, “God forgave me my ten-million-dollar debt, and I’m ringing the throat of my wife, kid, colleague, or deacons because they have a ten-dollar debt to me. I’m wringing their neck. Why? Because I don’t believe this. I don’t embrace and savor and delight in God’s magnificent forgiveness. I’m acting like I deserve to be treated better.”

You’re preaching this to yourself, and if the Holy Spirit is at work, you believe in this now. Something is changing inside, because you’re embracing a promise. God forgave you. Your sins are gone forever. His wrath is gone. He’s your father. You’re totally accepted. You can rest in him.

God Will Repay

And there’s another piece to this. Another promise would come to mind, like Romans 12:19: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Lay it down. You don’t need to have the last word in this argument. You don’t need to win. You don’t need to see justice done now. It will be done.

“Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” Relax. Forgive. If they need to be sent to hell, God will send them. In many relationships that are just seething with the sense of injustice, we have to believe that God is going to settle accounts. Either their sin will be crucified with Jesus or they’ll burn in hell forever. You do not need to add your little recompense. It’s an absolutely freeing thing. It’s not the totality of a new relationship, as though you say, “You’re going to go to hell, and I don’t need to help you.” But if you are being hindered in treating people kindly and loving your enemy because you feel that justice must be done, you can relax. You can lay that down.

“In Christ Jesus, I have every promise in the Bible.”

Jesus on the cross entrusted himself to him who judges justly and prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). He knew exactly who should be punished in hell among the soldiers and Pharisees, but in his earthly, human life he said, “Father have mercy. I hand over to you this judgment issue. If he did it, that’s the way we should do it. I would say the issue with anger is an issue of faith. A savoring and embracing and resting in the sweetness of the promises of God forgiving me and caring for me and loving me even though I don’t deserve it.

I heard C.J. Mahaney say (and it was the most important thing he said in the message for me), “The key to forgiving people is to marvel at being forgiven.” And the key word there is marvel, not just know. Knowing that you’re forgiven doesn’t affect your heart. You must move from knowing to marveling. To wake up in the morning and say, “I can’t believe I’m saved,” will keep you from barking at your wife. “I can’t believe I’m saved.” “I’m more amazed that I’m saved than that you wrong me.” That emotional dynamic will free you. You’d rather walk in meekness and humility and kindness and patience. I think “hearing with faith” (Galatians 3:2) means hearing those gospel truths about the way God is related to me and will relate to me in such a way that the Holy Spirit drains out all this inappropriate anger and bitterness.

Bear Spiritual Fruit

I’ll give you one more illustration: bearing fruit. That was an illustration of how hearing with faith kills sin. The Holy Spirit is doing it, because he does it through hearing with faith. Love is the main fruit of the Holy Spirit. I want not just to be a person who doesn’t get angry; I want to be a person who positively, aggressively loves people and treats them way better than they deserve, not just responds because I think they treated me worse than I deserve. A beautiful picture of this is 2 Corinthians 8:1–2. This is called love in 2 Corinthians 8:8. I’m using it as an illustration of how the Holy Spirit produces love, or how hearing with faith produces love.

Supernatural Love

Here it goes: “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia” (2 Corinthians 8:1). Now it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that when Paul says, “The grace of God that has been given among the churches in Macedonia,” he means the Holy Spirit came down and was made manifest among them, and they were enabled to experience and receive the grace of God.

I’m seeing the Holy Spirit in this verse, even though he’s not mentioned. Here’s what happened when that took place: “For in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part” (2 Corinthians 8:2). I’m taking generosity be a form of love there because it’s called that in 2 Corinthians 8:8.

Where did love come from? The gospel was preached. Paul came to Macedonia and he preached the gospel of the grace of God in Christ. The Holy Spirit opened the eyes of their hearts. Take Lydia: Paul was preaching and the Lord opened her heart to receive what was spoken by the apostle. That’s what it says in Acts 16:14. Lydia and a bunch of others had their hearts opened, and grace was received. What happened next? Joy. The Holy Spirit was at work producing the fruit of joy and the grace and the glory of the gospel. And what was the effect of the joy? Generosity. What’s so amazing here is that the generosity and the joy did not flow from the removal of affliction, or the removal of poverty.

This is not joy and prosperity. This is not a health, wealth, and prosperity gospel. This is the opposite of a prosperity sermon. Their affliction increases, and their poverty remains. They are joyful in this grace, and this joy produces generosity.

Hear and See Christ

Here’s my understanding: The Holy Spirit produces joy, which yields generosity for the poor saints in Jerusalem. That joy is rooted in grace, which is heard. Hearing with faith. So faith is an embrace of this glorious grace, this wonderful Christ who’s been offered for the forgiveness of all your sins and the removal of all God’s wrath and the imputation of all Christ’s righteousness. When you totally embrace and receive that, joy is the inevitable response to being forgiven and accepted and loved like that. When you are in that condition, believing and embracing those things, you start loving people. That’s the way it works.

You see where the battle of the Christian life is to be fought. It’s to hear and see Christ for who he is, and to savor him for who he is. The savoring is key. Now, there are some obvious implications for preaching, are there not? You could just start writing them down. So here’s the way I’m going to unpack the rest of this message: the aim of preaching, the content of preaching, the manner of preaching, and preparation — how do you prepare and how do you act in preaching?).

The Aim of Preaching

Galatians 3:5 says, “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” I’m going to argue that the goal of preaching, the aim of preaching, is that your people experience “hearing with faith.” Because I want them to have the power of the Holy Spirit in their life, and the Holy Spirit comes through hearing with faith. So the goal is this faith.

They’re going to hear you, right? They’re hearing you preach, and you want them to have this akoēs pisteōs, this “hearing of faith.” You want the hearing to be of faith, to produce faith.

No Mere Decision

Now let’s clarify, because I’ve already assumed this, but let me argue for it. Faith here is not merely a decision. And it’s not merely affirmation of truth. Let’s take John 1:12: “All who did receive him, who believed in his name.” I’m taking “receiving” and “believing” as at least overlapping. So believing is a receiving of Christ. Receiving of him as what? Stupid? Foolish? Mythological? No. For who he is — infinitely valuable. More valuable than anything else.

“God forgave you. Your sins are gone forever. His wrath is gone.”

Faith says, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth [or value] of knowing Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8). That’s the way faith embraces Jesus. If you embrace Jesus as modestly important in your life, you’re not embracing Jesus. He’s not modestly important. He’s infinitely important — ten thousand times more important than anything else you think is important. So you embrace him as infinitely valuable. That’s what faith does. That’s faith.

More Precious Than Anything

I think one of the reasons we have weak people, and the Holy Spirit is quenched, is because we haven’t brought them there. We’ve taught that faith is something else, that it’s less than that. This kind of faith is what the Holy Spirit produces and works through, because he’s in the world to glorify Jesus. Jesus is not glorified by being decided for and found boring. Jesus is glorified when people are thrilled with him, when they love him, when they count him as more precious than anything. That’s what makes Jesus look great, and the Holy Spirit is in the business of making Jesus look great, which is why he’s all into joy.

Jesus is most glorified in you when you’re most satisfied in him. It’s the mantra of my life and I’m daily trying to live it, and that is a different matter. Easy to say, hard to do. But there’s the battle. If you want to know where the battle is fought, know that Christ is magnified when I’m satisfied, and that satisfaction is what faith does. It’s what faith experiences when it sees Christ for who he is. The clarification of faith is this: a Spirit-given treasuring of Christ as supremely precious. My answer to the question “What’s the aim of preaching?” is this: The aim of preaching in my people is a Spirit-given treasuring of Christ as supremely precious.

If you agree with that aim, it changes everything. It changes the way you live, changes the way you pray, changes the way you prepare, changes the way you preach, changes the way you treat your spouse. A Spirit-given treasuring of Christ as supremely precious: that’s the aim of preaching.

The Content of Preaching

If the aim of preaching is to treasure Christ above all things, then the content of preaching would be Christ as valuable above all, or (to use the Pauline phrase) “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Let me read that little phrase. “To me . . . this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8). Is that what you do week after week?

This is way beyond all of us, which is why we’re so desperate for the Holy Spirit. I must, inasmuch as it lies within me (and the Holy Spirit will help me), make Jesus look unsearchably valuable this morning. Otherwise, my people are going to go right back to the television, right back to money, right back to sex, right back to fame, right back to anger, because Jesus is just boring. He’s not supreme. He’s not precious.

Money is precious. I feel sex is precious. I don’t feel Jesus is precious, and so he has no power in my life. It’s our job, which cannot be done by a human being. We are sent to open their eyes, and we cannot open their eyes. Jesus said, “I am sending you [Paul] to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18). Jesus is sending you to do the impossible, pastors in Britain and beyond.

There are so many riches in Christ. “The unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8). “The riches of his kindness” (Romans 2:4). “Riches of his grace” (Ephesians 2:7). Riches of his glory. Let’s get more specific now.

Lift the Veil

Turn with me to 2 Corinthians 3:18. I don’t know a more important verse on sanctification or the work of the Spirit or how to transform my life, your life, or our people’s lives than 2 Corinthians 3:18, and the way it’s unpacked in chapter four. “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord” — that’s key; that’s what we must help our people do — “are being transformed from one degree of glory to another.” When you behold the glory of the Lord by faith, you’re transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. And here comes this phrase: “This comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” So, the Spirit of God lifts the veil between you and the glory of Jesus.

Most of us function daily with some measure of opaqueness between us and Christ. And there will always be a measure of opaqueness until we see him face to face. And when you see him face to face, what will happen according to 1 John 3:1–2? You will “be like him.” That’s what 2 Corinthians 3:18 says. “Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed.” That’s incremental now, but it will be instantaneous and complete when we see him at the last day. But now we want as much of that veil to be taken away as possible.

That’s what preaching is for! Lift it. Only God can lift it. But it’s the hearing of faith. You’re involved here. Your word is involved in lifting the veil. We are daily —weekly — trying to lift the veil for our people to see the unsearchable riches of Christ.

Let There Be Light

How does it happen? Now let’s drop down to chapter four. (You should get rid of the chapter division. Chapter divisions are always a problem; get rid of them. They almost never help.) Just keep on reading here. This is the problem in your community and in your church and in your life. “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers. to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” Now that’s the glory that we saw in 2 Corinthians 3:18, and when we saw it, it transformed us. We’re not seeing it clearly. Why? Satan hates us. Oh, how he hates preachers.

God loves us infinitely; Satan hates us with all his might. His one main weapon is blindness. He’s a deceiver; he’s a liar from the beginning. And when he lies he kills. We have a great enemy and this is what he does. “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers” and our job is to “open their eyes” (Acts 26:18).

“The key to forgiving people is to marvel at being forgiven.”

Go do this impossible thing. And when our eyes are open, we see the glory. Now how does that happen? We can’t do that. Second Corinthians 4:6 tells you how it happens: “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’” — Paul is harking back to the way God brought light into being by his word — “has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

The way anybody comes to see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in Christ is by God saying, “Let there be light.” And he does this through the word. This is the Holy Spirit, who alone can do that. This is the word, and he’s flying in tandem with the word. If you don’t preach Christ and his unsearchable riches, the Holy Spirit doesn’t cause regeneration around the world. You can’t say, “Oh, I’ll just pray, ‘Go to all the unrighteous peoples and save them,’ but I’m not going. I’m not preaching.” He won’t go, because Christ wouldn’t be magnified if Christ isn’t preached. Regeneration and sanctification happen where the unsearchable riches of Christ are placarded before the nations and before your church week in and week out.

Does this text tell us how to be used as an instrument for that miracle of 2 Corinthians 4:6? It does. This is where my emotions this morning made me love The Proclamation Trust, because that’s the word here. “What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’s sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5). If you ask me, “What’s the content of preaching?” I’d say it is Jesus Christ as Lord preached in such a way that his unsearchable riches are seen to be glorious, so that, beholding the glory of the Lord, your people will be changed from one degree of glory to the next. “This comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The Manner of Preaching

Let’s stay here with 2 Corinthians 4:5. The Greek word for proclaim there (“we proclaim . . . Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants”) is kēryssō. There are a lot of words for speak and talk and proclaim in the New Testament. This is not didaskō, teach. This is not legō, say. This is not laleō, speak. This is not katangellō. This is not *euangelizō (though it could be euangelizō, speak the good news). This is kēryssō and that’s important.

Herald the Good News

Kēryssō is what a kēryx, a herald, did. They didn’t have internet; they didn’t have radio, television, or newscasts. They had heralds on horses. They said, “Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye: a message from the king. He declares an amnesty for all the rebels here in this city who lay down their weapons and swear fealty to him and confess their rebellion. And it will be free for all who will humbly bow and believe.”

That’s heralding. That’s the image. There should be a note of that in your preaching. Preaching is news. People compare charismatics and expositors like me (I’m a wimpy charismatic to the real charismatics). That just shouldn’t be. It’s not a personality thing; it is relating to the very nature of what we’re about in preaching. We have news — news about what Christ has done for the world. I was walking with Simon to the taxi an hour ago, and I was looking at all these people thinking, “I’ve got news for them if they would just give me fifteen minutes and listen. You may think I’m mythological and stupid, but I’ve got spectacular news for you. And you’re into your clothes and your walk and your power suit, but those are nothing compared to what I’ve got to offer you.”

Exult over the Word

Here’s my definition of the manner of preaching. I’ve got a little phrase. It’s called expository exultation. That’s exultation with a U, not an A. Not exaltation but exultation. Here’s my understanding of what I do when I preach — what I think we should all do. We open our Bibles and we understand that these are words and people have brains. There must be a transition of authorial intent from here into that brain. This is all thinking and exposition. And what we see in these texts is spectacularly good news. It is worthy of the most intense savoring. And that’s what we do over the text. We exult over the text.

This is, by the way, why I think that preaching has historically been central in Protestant Christian worship: because it is worship. I hate it when people say, “We worship for thirty minutes, and then we teach, preach, share, whatever.” No. We worship for an hour and a half. For half of it we’re singing worship, and for half of it I’m exulting in God over this text with you people. And I’m trying to get you in here. It’s what I’m doing. I want you to see what I’ve seen. I want you to feel what I have felt and more — way more. So, expository exultation is what preaching is. A Spirit-filled preacher sees Christ for the sake of his exposition, and a Spirit-filled preacher savors Christ for his exultation. So, exult over the Word.

Preparation for Preaching

Where do lucid exposition and authentic exultation come from? I use those words lucid and authentic really carefully, because I believe with all my heart that you should be the best explainer of the Bible in your city. You should be really good at explaining things. Explain the meaning. Saints love to have the Bible explained to them. They’re usually totally confused. Your job is to blow all the fog away so that they say, “Yes! Look, it’s there. Why didn’t I see it?”

“If you embrace Jesus as modestly important in your life, you’re not embracing Jesus.”

You haven’t yet arrived at the whole you. Neither have I. We’re all broken people, especially emotionally. Every one of us in this room is a broken person. We had horrible experiences at home or somewhere. We’re lame; we walk with a limp, emotionally. You’re going to feel horribly guilty because I’m telling you to do this or that, and you say, “I can’t do that. It’s not me.” No, I’m not asking you to do that. I’m saying, “Grow into the whole you.” And when I say authentic exultation, I just mean do it your way, but do it. That is, feel it your way, but feel it. Savor it your way, but savor it. Let the people see you savoring through your personality, not mine, Ron’s, or anybody else’s. It’s got to be authentic. They’ll see right through the fakery of it if it’s not.

So, my answer to the question, Where do lucid exposition and authentic exultation come from? is this: they come from hard thinking and hard praying. I mean, take your Bible on Friday or Saturday or Monday or Tuesday or whenever you do it, and go to your text and beat your head against this text until it yields. That’s what Luther said. This is hard. This is not touchy-feely, emotional work on Friday. This is just plain, unbelievably hard work to get the meaning of a text. Sometimes it just won’t yield. You have to say to your people, “I’m not sure. I don’t know. Ask me in a year.”

Rigorous Thinking

Let me give you a text for the thinking part. Here’s the text: “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7). It doesn’t say, “Think over what I say instead of depending on the Lord.” It doesn’t say, “Depend upon the Lord instead of thinking.” It says, “Think over what I say. for the Lord will give you understanding.”

Well, which is it? Am I thinking or is he giving? Yes. That is the way the Lord who is the Spirit gives understanding. He did not inspire prepositions and verbs and adjectives and participles for you to play games with them with the Holy Spirit and say, “I don’t need that. I have a hotline to heaven here to just illumine the Bible” and not even study it. That is an insult to the Holy Spirit.

God did this. He could have done it another way, written it on the sky or given revelations every weekend. He didn’t. He did it this way, which is why we give our lives to translating this Bible into every language on the planet. This is the way it comes. What a precious thing the Bible is. Think hard about what it means.

Fervent Praying

I’ll try to move toward the end here really practically. How do you pray as you do this, pastor? You’re thinking, you’ve got books all over the place, got your computer on. You have your Bible software of choice open. How do you pray? Here’s the way I pray.

I use an acronym. You may have heard me say it before. I can’t improve on it for myself, so I’ll give it to you: I.O.U.S. They all come from the Bible, so here they are. This shows how desperate we are,

Incline

Psalm 119:36: “Incline my heart to your testimonies.” Isn’t it encouraging that the psalmist had to pray for an inclination to read the Bible? He didn’t want to read it. If he wanted to read it, he wouldn’t have prayed that. It’s okay not to be okay. “Incline my heart to your testimonies.”

Open

Psalm 119:18: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” Okay, you’ve now got the inclination to read and you’re seeing nothing. It is boring. What do you do at that point? You cry, “God, if you go away, if you leave me, if you don’t let me see anything beautiful or glorious or compelling or satisfying, I’ve got nothing for my people. I’m out of the ministry.”

This is how desperate it is. And so you pray like that. “Open my eyes to behold not just facts, but wonders.” It is wonderful. And if it doesn’t feel wonderful, we’re the problem, not the Bible. Therefore, we pray like the psalmist did. Thank God for the Psalms.

Unite

Psalm 86:11: “Unite my heart to fear your name.” Why is that important for me to pray? Here’s the way I take that. I take him to mean that my heart is fragmented. I can go after money here. I have a marriage problem here. I have a kid problem here. I have a deacon problem here. My house is broken, my car is about to need to be replaced.

As I’m over this word my heart is right now going in fifteen directions, and I don’t have any unity or focus at all. What do you do? You plead with God. “Unite my heart. Get it together. At least for this half-hour let me have united, unbelievably strong, clear, lucid focus on this glorious truth, so they can come home to me.”

Satisfy

Psalm 90:14: “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” The psalmist did not live in a steady-state experience of being satisfied with God, and neither do you or I. Nobody in this room does. Nobody lives in a steady-state, hundred-percent satisfaction in God so that everything else is like rubbish. That comes and goes; we fight for it.

“Jesus is glorified when people are thrilled with him.”

This is a daily battle, which is why Paul said at the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). He fought to the end, and it’ll be a fight for you to the end. I’m 64, fighting the same old battles I was at 35. I thought I was going to have 30 years’ worth of sanctification under my belt. Well, it’s wrong. If you are a 70- or 80-year-old and have a secret that I haven’t learned, could you just find me afterward?

For me, I think it’s found in the Psalms. Godly people — real, born-again, justified-by-faith people — leak. Every morning, pray it over again. I need new inclinations, new openings, new unions, and new satisfaction before I go to my breakfast, because I’m going to be crabby with my wife if I don’t have a restful satisfaction in God no matter what else is going on in the world.

I’ve been adding another S, but you can just have two texts under one S. It would be Isaiah 6:8: “Here I am! Send me.” I don’t want it to sound like this is all just about my satisfaction, because everything I’m saying here is to release you to love, release you to take risks. So, “Here I am! Send me.”

Deliver the Message

How do I preach by the Spirit? How do I get up? Say I’m walking up the steps now. I’ll give you one last acronym. I’ve used this for thirty years of preaching. I sit in the front pew of my church, and the text is being read. I’ve got about forty-five seconds to get my heart finally ready. What do I do? I’m told in 1 Peter 4:11, “[Let him who] speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies.”

How do I do that? I’m supposed to be standing here right now speaking to you in a power not mine. Okay, here’s my best shot at how to climb the steps in a way that fits you to do that: the acronym A.P.T.A.T. This is in my book on preaching, so it’s not new.

Admit

Admit I can do nothing. John 15:5: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” So, I’m climbing the steps and I’m saying, “God, I can’t do it. I can’t preach, I can’t breathe, I can’t live. Everything I have is from you. I can’t accomplish anything of eternal value if you don’t come.” I admit that.

Pray

Pray for the help you need.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. (Matthew 7:7–8)

What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Luke 11:11–13)

I pray, “I need you. Come, Holy Spirit.” And ask for anything else, like: “Would you convert people today? Would you heal that marriage thing that I see back there in the last row? They can’t even touch each other. Would you touch Tim over here whose wife is so sick? Would you do these things, O God? Work miracles in this room according to Galatians 3:5.”

Trust

Trust a specific promise. This is where hearing with faith meets the road. You’re standing up to preach. You said, “I can’t do anything.” You’ve asked for divine enablement, and this happens earlier and it can happen right then. You call to mind — you ask the Lord to give you early in the morning — a text, a promise that’s specific to this situation.

I did that about three hours ago. I just closed my Bible, put my head down, and said, “God, is there any word of assurance from the word?” I’m not asking for any extra-biblical thing here, I’m just asking God to give me something from the word that would enable me to trust it — trust it as from God for them. And here’s what came to my mind. Wayne Grudem might call this prophecy. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter to me what label you put on it.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
   and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
     giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater . . .

And I just stopped and said, “That’s what I want to do spiritually. I want to give seed to the sowers.”

. . . so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
   it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
   and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10–11)

And I believe in that promise right now. I believe that’s happening right now. I think that’s what it means to operate in the power of the Spirit, and to do it from hearing with faith.

Act

I heard a word, and I’m believing it. Now I have to act. It feels like my legs bringing me up these steps, right? My arms are waving, my voice is sounding. This is so me right? You have to act. Why?

“Trust a specific promise. This is where hearing with faith meets the road.”

Philippians 2:12: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you.” You have no choice. You can’t wait to be lifted on a cloud out of your seat into the pulpit. He gave you legs, he gave you a voice, he gave you arms, face, mind, and emotions. And he means for incarnate life to be happening. And so I’m doing that right now. I’m acting, because I believe he’s acting.

Thank

I’m going to shut my Bible, I’m going to go down in those steps, and I’m going to say, “Thank you.” That’s the way I do it every Sunday: A.P.T.A.T. Sometimes God comes extraordinarily and I’ve sensed his manifest carrying, and other times I feel very constrained. Guess what? There’s no correlation between how I feel about it and the good that’s done, and I’m so thankful that that’s true.