Wednesday, October 25, 2017


The preachings in the Acts were under such circumstances as to preclude any studied preparation. The preachers were prepared rather than the sermons. An old and honoured servant of the Lord, in answer to the question, What shall I study? said, Study well these four words, "The flesh profiteth nothing"! The preachings in the Acts were "water of the rain of heaven"; the streams flowed down in copious blessing. How definitely the Apostles presented Christ as crucified, risen, and exalted at God's right hand! How wonderfully they quoted and applied the Scriptures! How pointed and powerful was their dealing with men! There was a spiritual naturalness, if we may so say, a simplicity, freshness, sobriety and order in all that they said which made manifest that they preached the glad tidings "by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven". All true ministry is in the power of the Holy Spirit, and it tends to promote fruitfulness in the land. (C. A. Coates, An Outline of Deuteronomy, pp. 123–124, emphasis added)

"The preachers were prepared rather than the sermons" – a good friend shared this quote with me many years ago, I mentioned it in passing to Rodger, who did the spade work to dig up the source. (Thanks, Rodger!)

That quote has haunted me for at least a dozen years. I find myself asking, "am I prepared?"

I've had the privilege of fellowship in a couple assemblies where unplanned and unscripted meetings were the rule, rather than the exception. The assembly would have the Lord's Supper Sunday mornings, followed by a Bible Reading. In the evening, there was an "open meeting," where one or more brothers were expected to stand up and give a word. The rule was "two or at the most three" (1 Corinthians 14:26–35). They were never picked beforehand, and it was assumed they didn't have notes. We would gather to hear from the Lord, and whoever felt led to stand up and speak was expected to do so. Unless someone came through town specifically to minister the word, there were no prepared messages.

I've been to at least one Bible conference where there were no planned speakers, but whoever felt led would stand and speak. There was powerful ministry. A whole weekend of unplanned meetings. If I might say so, those meetings were short on planning, but long on preparation.

These days I remember the Lord in an assembly where the speakers are asked beforehand to speak. I really miss those unplanned, unscripted meetings.

It's difficult for me to stand up and speak in the assembly, because I have no fear of public speaking. I was a classroom teacher for several years, and it's all too easy for me to slip back into that mode. The problem is, people don't need to hear me, they need to be drawn to Christ. When we speak in the assembly, it should be as an oracle of God (1 Peter 4:11). That's easier said than done.

I've heard some amazing sermons that clearly took a whole lot of work. But the ministry that has seemed to me to be the most powerful has consistently been "extemporaneous". There is something qualitatively different about ministry that's given with a great deal of thought, but not a great deal of planning.

H. E. Hayhoe gave a talk on Isaiah 5 in 1969 ("Outline of Scripture"). It's worth a listen (or five). He makes a statement to the effect that, "we learn Scripture by meditation, not by study." That statement has affected me deeply.

Notice how it parallels CAC's claim that we want prepared preachers, rather than prepared sermons. It's not that we need to learn, it's that we need to be transformed. Scripture working in my mind and my heart is very, very different from Scripture analyzed and pushed into sermon notes.

It's possible people groan when they realize I'm standing up to speak in the assembly. It's possible they all wish I'd spend more time writing notes and referring to them. But I've made a point of preparing to speak with prayer, rather than with study. (I suppose, in a way, this blog is a sort of a scratch-pad where I can work things out in writing. It's possible I'm being a little less than honest with myself about that.)

Of course I'm not advocating speaking in the assembly without preparation, but I am absolutely advocating being prepared by spending time in the Lord's presence, rather than having good notes. That puts a much sterner responsibility on us: the responsibility of constant prayer and meditation, so that we can honestly say we're always prepared.


HandWrittenWord said...

And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.
For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
(1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

Paul describes his proclamation of the Gospel thus: "not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power..."

He then goes on to describe his teaching methodology: "Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect (i.e., spiritually mature): yet NOT the "wisdom of this world" (i.e., not via analysis and "philosophizing" out of the natural mind), NOR of the "princes of this world" (i.e. no mystical, occult so-called "wisdom), THAT COME TO NOUGHT...
(1 Corinthians 2:6, comments and emphasis mine)

He then goes on, in the remainder of Chapter 2, to a magnificent description of reception from the Holy Spirit as compared to the useless speculations of the unaided natural mind -- receiving "not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God." (1 Corinthians 2:11)

Mark said - "It's difficult for me to stand up and speak in the assembly, because I have no fear of public speaking. I was a classroom teacher for several years, and it's all too easy for me to slip back into that mode."

Just a thought: At the particular time referred to in the verses above, in his preaching of the Gospel in Corinth, Paul was no novice. He fully understood the dangers and perils inherent in his unique Apostolic calling. Perhaps his proclamation to the Corinthians "in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling" was a fear of lapsing into "learned rabbi" mode, which he most certainly could easily have done. In other words, fear that the faith of the hearers would rest in "the wisdom of men" as opposed to "the power of God"...

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
(1 Corinthians 2:14)

Robert said...

I have mixed views about this post and I admit that perhaps I do not properly understand what you are saying.

My experience has been the exact opposite of yours: ‘I've been to at least one Bible conference where there were no planned speakers, but whoever felt led would stand and speak. There was powerful ministry’.

The worst ministry I have heard over my lifetime has been given at conferences where unplanned speakers not only gave what was obviously unplanned ministry but, actually, they took away from what had gone before and just wasted our time. Those kinds of meetings are often opportunities for the flesh to shine and for men who are not gifted teachers to ride their spiritual hobby horses in public!

I have read the post 4 or 5 times now and I think what I don’t agree with is the assumption that because a man knows in advance that he is arranged to speak at a meeting; he will come and sermonize rather than bring a word from the Lord.

Peter says: ‘If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever’. 1 Peter 4:11

If a man follows Peter’s direction does it matter much whether he is arranged and advertised to speak or appears to speak without invitation? For behind all true ministries will be preparation that fits a man to publically speak on behalf of God.

Susan said...

"One day in the House of Commons, British Prime Minister Disraeli made a brilliant speech on the spur of the moment. That night a friend said to him, 'I must tell you how much I enjoyed your extemporaneous talk. It's been on my mind all day.' 'Madam,' confessed Disraeli, 'that extemporaneous talk has been on my mind for twenty years!"

HandWrittenWord said...

At the risk of stating the obvious, I don't believe the point is "extemporaneous vs. prepared". It is a matter of what (or more correctly, "whom") the "preparer" is depending on: the flesh (one's supposed innate "cleverness" and intelligence -- i.e. the natural mind) alone, or all of one's abilities and talents SUBMITTED to the Holy Spirit, together with fervent prayer. The latter will result in a message from the LORD to the hearers, with corresponding fruit. The former will result in a religious lecture, also with (unfortunately) resulting "fruit". And either can be delivered following much preparation, or (more rarely) extemporaneously.

To quote the verse alluded to in the C.A.Coates excerpt:

It is the Spirit that quickeneth: the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. (John 6:63)

And the next verse, as true today as when Jesus originally spoke it:

But there are some of you that believe not. (John 6:64a)

clumsy ox said...

I definitely am not trying to say we shouldn't prepare, nor was I trying to make a false dilemma between fleshly intellect on the one hand and spontaneous spirituality on the other. The issue isn't whether a message is prepared, but whether the speaker himself is prepared.

My point is that we should be prepared... and that meditation on the word of God, and time spent with Him are the most important parts of preparation.

Several years ago I was listening to a speaker who was coming through town, so he took a meeting. He said something like, "I'm not a doctor, I can't diagnose problems in the assembly here and address them. The Holy Spirit is the Physician, He knows what the assembly needs. I'm more like a pharmacist: I'm responsible to have a well-stocked pharmacy so I can give out what the Physician prescribes." It's not a perfect analogy, but it gets to the point: there is very real responsibility on the speaker's part. You can't just get up there and speak out of ignorance of the Word of God. On the other hand, we ought not presume to decide what the assembly needs. We need to be led of God.

In fact, it's the responsibility of the assembly to correct those speakers who err. And yes, I've been corrected both publicly and privately.

But I stand by my point that the most important preparation isn't paper, pen, and a stack of books. The most important preparation is meditation and prayer.

At the risk of a false dilemma, I'd rather listen to a burdened speaker than a gifted one... I suppose a gifted, burdened speaker would be even better.

I, too, have sat in meetings that were embarrassing, because it was apparent there was no real ministry involved. (Not all of the were unplanned.) Hard as it is to say, those meetings are indicators of our spiritual state. When someone stands up to talk (apparently just because he can), it indicates how highly we think of ourselves and how little we estimate the assembly. I specifically edited out my mention of those meetings because I felt like I'd gone on long enough.

It sometimes becomes obvious that there are brethren (perhaps very gifted brethren), who really love the sound of their own voices. The assembly should be judging that as well.

A friend mentioned to me that several years ago, an older brother commented to me that he was surprised I stood up and spoke in the meeting, when there were laboring brethren there. I don't have very clear memories of that, but I can sadly believe me friend is remembering correctly. Again, that's an indicator of our spiritual state.

By no means was my statement about powerful ministry meant to indicate that every unplanned meeting has been powerful. In fact, many really have been a waste of time. But I think most of the really powerful messages I've heard were unplanned.

Pehaps that helps clarify what I was trying to say...

HandWrittenWord said...

Mark -

Speaking for myself, I don't believe there was ever any doubt as to what you were saying -- either in the original post or in your most recent comment. And I am totally in agreement.

An anecdote I heard years ago (I don't remember the source):

A certain "preacher" prided himself on his (supposed) ability to follow the direction of the Holy Spirit -- to the extent that he engaged in virtually no preparation at all. His "method" was, "I believe the Holy Spirit speaks through me. I just open my mouth and He fills it."
He was a genuine believer, and like most of us believers, he gained some wisdom as time progressed (perhaps, again like many of us, despite himself). As he related it, "One day the Holy Spirit actually did speak to me very clearly. He said, 'John, you're lazy!' "

And we all should remember --- the real work of preparation is not the study alone. It is fervent prayer from the heart. Prayer that never ceases to acknowledge total DEPENDENCE on the Holy Spirit...

Anonymous said...

It's getting quiet around here ...