A few weeks ago, I wrote about the danger of neglecting Word and prayer for ministers of the Gospel as an affirmation and response to Kevin DeYoung’s insightful post about how easily we neglect the Word in and prayer in ministry.
A further danger exists, however, even when we are careful to study the Word and diligent to pray. The danger is this: that we can do these important things while ignoring the necessity of the Holy Spirit.
The Necessity of Word and Spirit
Apart from the Holy Spirit, our labor is in vain. Even when we labor in preaching and teaching the Word of God, our work can accomplish nothing of spiritual benefit apart from the Holy Spirit.
The Word is inherently powerful. YHWH himself insists that his Word will never return to him void, but will accomplish exactly what God purposes for it (Isa. 55:10-11), either “as a savour of life unto life or as a savour of death unto death” (see Louis Berkhof on this point).
But everyone lives with a veil that blinds them from seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Only by the Spirit of God is the veil removed:
15Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:15-18)
Our ability to see, savor, adore, and worship Christ in the Word (that is, in Moses; v. 15) depends upon the work of the Lord, who is the Spirit. We preach the Word so that by the Word the Holy Spirit himself will magnify and exalt Jesus Christ.
Yes, Gospel ministers must labor by the Word; however, apart from the power of the Spirit, their labor is in vain.
The Holy Spirit as the Object of Prayer
Over the last year, it has increasingly become my practice to pray specifically for God to pour out his Holy Spirit. I pray that God would pour out his Holy Spirit on his people when we gather for worship, and I pray for God’s Holy Spirit when I sit down to read my Bible in private.
I didn’t always do that. Of course, I prayed that God would bless his worship, and that Jesus Christ would be magnified and exalted, but I never prayed that God would provide his Holy Spirit to accomplish those things.
But for the last year, I have been wrestling with the Person of the Holy Spirit, including the difficulty of preaching the Holy Spirit. And the upshot of my study, prayer, and preaching is this: God neither blesses his Word nor magnifies Christ except by his Holy Spirit so that we neglect the Holy Spirit at our own peril.
Now, this doesn’t in any way demean the Word of God, but in fact, a robust doctrine of the Holy Spirit upholds the necessity of the Word. The Holy Spirit chooses to bless only the means of grace that he has ordained. God has promised to bless the preaching of his Word, and he does so by blessing his Holy Spirit. We must preach the Word if we desire Christ to be glorified.
But, we must also pray that God will bless the preaching of Christ and him crucified. We must never expect our own homiletical abilities to be sufficient to save sinners–the Holy Spirit alone can do that. So, even as we prepare to preach the Word, we must pray that God himself will pour out his Spirit to bring the dead to life and to build up his Church.
As the Lord’s Day approaches, take time to pray that God will pour out his Spirit and bless the worship of his gathered people this weekend.