In an article entitled, How Biblical Preaching Brings True Revival, Steven Lawson makes this salient summons to anyone who preaches the gospel, “What is so desperately needed today is for pastors to return to their highest calling—the divine summons to ‘preach the word’ (2 Tim. 4:1–2).” He also says, “…the restoration of biblical preaching has always been the leading factor in any revival of genuine Christianity.” Truly, prayer and biblical preaching are two of the most foundational elements to any move of God.
When we think of “revival preaching” we often think of it in terms of style. Many see revival preaching or evangelistic preaching as a certain style of preaching. This is because we have come to associate a revival with a scheduled meeting where a special speaker, a man gifted in revivalistic, evangelistic style preaching, comes to minister for a week. These types of meetings can be wonderful blessings. However, they are not the kind of revival preaching that I am talking about.
Revival preaching is simply biblical preaching. Biblical preaching does not require a certain style. It does not require persona. We have long over emphasized style over substance in the quest for spiritual awakening. Again, Lawson says, “Tragically, exposition is being replaced with entertainment, doctrine with drama, theology with theatrics, and preaching with performances.” Paul says he did not trust in these things because “…your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5).
Jonathan Edwards, leader of the first Great Awakening in America, was said to have had a dry and monotone delivery. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement and leader of the Wesleyan revival in England, was said to have given long, theological dissertations; and, the Apostle Paul testifies of himself in 1 Corinthians 2:3-4, “I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom….” Yet, each one of these men were used by God as true revivalists. The reason was because they preached “Christ crucified… in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 1:23, 2:4).
There are two essential elements in the task of revival preaching, and both must meet God’s requirements if they are to bring revival.
1. The Minister Romans 10:14 says, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” God has chosen the foolishness of preaching “…to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). Yet, there is a standard for the man who would take up the solemn task of proclaiming the gospel.
The minister of God’s Word must be pure. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples in the form of fire. Fire is frequently used in Scripture as a symbol of purity or God’s purifying work. Malachi 3:2-3 declares, “But who can endure the day of [Christ’s] coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like launderers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the LORD an offering in righteousness.” Purity was the requirement for Isaiah- “So I said: ‘Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts.’ Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.’ ”
As revival preachers we must be men with clean hands and a pure heart (Psalm 24:3-4). We must be crucified to the flesh and walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:24-25) so that we might have our fruit unto holiness (Romans 6:22).
The minister must also be passionate. Fire is also a form of energy. The Lord’s promise to his disciples before Pentecost was that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit was come upon them (Acts 1:8). Whoever God calls to preach the Word he will also give power and passion. With urgency he will be able to say with Christ, “I must preach the kingdom of God… because for this purpose I have been sent” (Luke 4:43).
Our passion in preaching is a result of being in the presence of God during preparation for preaching. Passion is the burden of God placed upon our hearts as a result of seeking him in prayer for the message of the hour. It requires agonizing, weeping, surrendering, and filling.
Third, the minister must be Spirit-prompted. Acts 2:4 says, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” These preachers were Spirit-led preachers. They did not choose the time or topic of their message. They spoke as the Spirit gave them utterance, as the Spirt prompted them.
Order and planning are necessary for preaching. Sermon preparation and orders of service are all efforts in planning. However, we must be vigilant against the tyranny of order at the expense of the leadership of the Holy Spirit. We have no message but what the Spirit directs us to preach.
2. The Message The second essential element of revival preaching that must meet God’s requirements is the message.
The message of the minister must first be Christ-centered. In his book, The Kind of Preaching God Blesses, Steven Lawson says, “But if the sermon fails to exalt and elevate Christ, it has missed the mark” (23). To the crowd gathered at Pentecost Peter declared, “Men of Israel, here these words: Jesus of Nazareth…” (Acts 2:22).
At some point in our preaching we must get to Christ or we will miss the purpose of preaching. Again, Lawson compels us, “Pulpits must be myopically focused upon declaring the sinless humanity, sovereign deity, and saving purposes of the Lord Jesus Christ” (The Kind of Preaching God Blesses, 24).
Second, the message of the revival preacher must be canonical. This is to say, it must be biblical. In his message at Pentecost, Peter did not rely upon human theories, philosophies or notions. He went immediately to the Scriptures to validate his message- “But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel…” (Acts 2:16). Again, to confirm the resurrection of Christ he referenced David in Psalm 16:8-11. As Peter says later on in his second epistle, “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (2 Peter 1:16).
Every message we preach must be solidly rooted in the Word of God. We must begin and end with the Word.
A revival message must also be convicting. As soon as Peter and the other apostles concluded their preaching at Pentecost the crowd cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37) The Holy Spirit had brought conviction upon these men and they were “cut to the heart.”
We need a serious dose of convicting preaching. Preaching that is not afraid to address sin. Peter did not shy back from specifically pointing out sin- “[Jesus] being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death” (Acts 2:23). He was not worried about their feelings, if they would be offended, or if they would come back to hear him preach again. We have had enough of seeker-sensitive sermons. We have had enough of “Three Steps to Successful Living” and “Five Steps to a Satisfying Life.” We need preachers who will call sin for what it is. We need preachers who will forget trying to please the “itching ears” and in a spirit of love deliver convicting sermons under the power of the Holy Spirt.
Finally, the ministers message must call for commitment. Daniel Stetler, president of Hobe Sound Bible College, says, “Preach them into a corner, then open the door.” Conviction is abusive if the hearer is not given the answer to their need. When those hearing Peter preach asked, “What shall we do?”, he opened up to them the glorious promise of God- “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39). Peter invited his hearers to believe in faith and commit themselves to Christ.
Charles Finney said he would preach the law night after night when he went to a new meeting until the people were sick in their sin. Then he would preach grace. We must be ready to point the sin-sick seeker to the loving, gracious and merciful Jesus, and invite them to follow him.
I pray that every man called of God to preach the Word will resolve to be a revival preacher!
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All quotes from Scripture are taken from the New King James Version unless otherwise stated.