“What role does prayer play in the preparation of an expository sermon? Prayer should both precede and permeate your study time. Whenever I open God’s Word I almost always pray, “Open my eyes that I may see wondrous things from your law” (Psalm 119:18). But prayer is not just something I do to get started, it is a vital part of the ongoing communication between God and me during my sermon preparation. God is speaking to me through His Word, I am speaking back to Him in prayer. During the course of a day of study, I ask God for wisdom to understand difficult texts, thank God for letting me see the meaning of a text, praise God for what has been revealed about Him and His gracious purposes in the text, and confess my sins that have been exposed by the text. All of these spontaneous exclamations are types of the kind of prayerful spirit which permeates my study of God’s Word . . . .
One of my goals from the earliest point in my preparation is to see how the text unfolds into its component parts. The process of continual reading, meditation, and prayer is the means to discovering the seams in the text. At this point, I am like a man chopping wood, and the text is the log of wood. Sometimes the log splits the first time that the man swings the axe, but it usually takes repeated blows before the log splits. Sometimes, the log is so hard that it is struck all week to no avail until it finally opens up late on Saturday evening. A couple of times in my experience the text never split and I was forced to roll the whole log into the sanctuary! This is less than ideal, but for the preacher there is an unmovable deadline each Sunday, and one must go to the pulpit with what you have . . . .
I strongly believe in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit in preaching. After all my studying is complete and the manuscript is written, there still remains a desperate need for the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Only the Holy Spirit can cause the message to go forth in power and accomplish its God intended purpose. I pray for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit each time I preach. The more aware I am of my need for this work of the Spirit, the more powerful my preaching seems to be. If I go in my own strength, trusting in my preparation and not the empowerment, illumination, and convicting power of the Holy Spirit, I will crash and burn. Sometimes God graciously allows me to crash and burn when I go in my own strength in order to increase my dependence upon Him. On the other hand, some of my best moments preaching have been when I have been weak in body and therefore utterly dependent upon the aid of the Holy Spirit. God always seems to bless when I acknowledge my weakness before Him.
Because the act of preaching is one in which the Holy Spirit is at work, I never know for sure exactly how the sermon will go. I believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in my preparation, as well as in my preaching, but sometimes I say things that I did not plan to say and omit things which I had planned to say. This is the freedom in preaching that comes as the result of preparation, not as many believe, in spite of preparation. My observation is that the more one prepares, the more variety there will be in ones preaching because the Spirit has more material from which to choose from the preacher’s mind. Those who do not prepare well to insure their spontaneity or “being led by the Spirit” usually end up saying the exact same things in the exact same ways. I wouldn’t want to blame the messages that result from being ill-prepared on the Holy Spirit!”
— Steve Weaver