This Piper Friday, I would like to share an extract with you from an old sermon by John Piper. It rightly entwines three themes that were flowing through my head (and hence this blog!) earlier this year: The study of God’s Word, prayer, and the activity of the Holy Spirit. I am increasingly convinced that we need these three things more than anything else! Oh, God . . . make us preachers to be men like this!
“The minister of the Word must not choose between study and prayer. Study without prayer is the work of pride. Prayer without study is presumption. This is what the Proverbs teach: “If you cry out for insight and raise your voice for understanding (that’s prayer), and if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures (that’s study), then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God” (Proverbs 2:3–5).
Prayer humbles the heart and gives it the tone of Christ and makes it ready and open and sensitive to the truth of Scripture. But it is study that brings in the truth and fills the heart with joy and power.
Meeting the Almighty God
The ministry of the Word is a ministry of prayer because in prayer the minister meets God and has real living dealings with the Almighty so that his preaching and teaching have the aroma of God about them. The ministry of the Word must be a ministry of earnestness and intensity, and where are these to be found if not in our private meetings with God where you learn to know if you are real or just playing games?
One great Baptist pastor, Hezekiah Harvey, put it like this in 1879: “Moral earnestness can never be assumed; it is the attribute only of a soul profoundly feeling the power and reality of divine truth. The man, therefore, who would speak God’s Word with the pungency and fervor of a Bunyan, a Baxter, a Flavel, or a Payson must, like them, be constant and fervent in prayer. The springs of spiritual life opened in the closet will pour forth never-failing streams of life in the pulpit.”
Without much prayer all the study in the world will leave us shallow and lean. Without prayer there creeps in what Richard Cecil called the “low, managing, contriving, maneuvering temper of mind among us.”
E.M. Bounds is right when he says, “What the Church needs today is not more machinery or more novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use — men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men — men of prayer.”