There Isn’t a Straight Line Between Prayer and Sermon Efficacy

This view that our prayers and our sermon efficacy necessarily correlate falls into a prosperity-lite trap.

We assume that if we just prayed more, the Lord would work more. It is little different to the calls to send in your ‘seed money’ so that the Lord might increase your blessings. We may not be asking the Lord to bless our bank accounts and stores of health, but we are still asking him to bless us and expect him to do so if we put in the hours in prayer. It is, at best, a legalism that renders our prayers a part of the contract that must be fulfilled if we are to get the blessing on our sermons that we are evidently after.

 

I have been troubled for some time now about the noises frequently made around the relationship of prayer and sermon efficacy. It has become common to hear folk insist that without prayer your sermon preparation will have been as naught. I worry about this emphasis for several reasons.

Before I dig into those, I want to be clear what I am not saying. This is not any sort of encouragement to forsake prayer. The Lord Jesus commands us to pray, the apostles tells us to pray continually and James insists that ‘you do not have because you do not ask.’ It is a simple matter of obedience for us to pray.

What is more, James is clear enough that there are some things that we would have, but that we don’t have, because we haven’t asked God for them. If we want our sermons to be effective, it is possible that there are times they are not as effective as they might be because we didn’t bother to ask the Lord to help us in our preparation or to prepare the listeners.

It is also a sign of our spiritual state if we aren’t bothered about praying. We are manifesting a belief that we do not need the Lord’s help. If we aren’t praying, we are holding the Lord in contempt and insisting that we don’t need him in whatever area. It is certainly true that we cannot necessarily expect the Lord to work if we continually dishonour him this way and treat him with such disdain.

So, just to be clear, I am vociferously not suggesting that you don’t need to bother praying about your sermons. Prayerlessness is absolutely not to be applauded. There is nothing good about failing to pray and it speaks to a heart that does not rely on the Lord as one ought.

But I am concerned by the straight line that many want to draw between our prayers and the efficacy of our sermons. Is it true that our sermons will be total duds if we fail to pray? Will the Lord refuse to work if we haven’t put the effort into our prayer time? I think this inference is theologically problematic and debases the Lord almost as much as the total lack of prayerlessness this view is trying to avoid also does.

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