He is the breath of abundant life, the source of all Scripture; and without Him what is sometimes called preaching is really not much more than a good (and maybe not all that good!) civic club talk. There is no such thing as preaching without Him. Who is He? Why, He is the Holy Spirit.

An adventuresome fellow from a remote rural community won a trip to New York City on a radio call-in show. Arriving at JFK, he hailed a taxi and asked to be taken to his hotel in the heart of Manhattan. Unknown to the new arrival, he was not the only stranger to the Big Apple in that cab. His driver had arrived at that same airport a few days before and somehow persuaded someone to believe he was equipped to drive a cab. This was his first day at work. Furthermore, this recent immigrant behind the steering wheel knew only a smattering of English. (I know—you had this guy the last time you were in New York. I did, too!)

Nonetheless, with great enthusiasm, the driver set out to impress his fare by demonstrating his driving skills. With great daring, he sped away from the terminal; and it was not long before they were speeding through the clustered streets of Manhattan, the new immigrant not at all concerned about driving politely. Making bold turns, he drove through Times Square, barely missing other cars and seemingly unaware that the horns and hand gestures of other drivers were directed at him. All the while, he kept up a broken English conversation while looking back over his shoulder to make eye contact with his petrified passenger.

Finally, the prize winner found the courage to ask the driver to slow down, heed the signs, and keep his eyes on the road ahead. “No problem, Boss,” the taxi driver replied, “I’m in charge, and I got it all under my control.”

“I’m in charge, and I got it all under my control!” Somewhere inside most of us who preach lingers the need to be in control. Being in control is what we do best as we go about our duties. Being in control is the worst thing we can be when it comes to preaching!

Scripture repeatedly spells out the need for the Holy Spirit to be our guiding force when we prepare and when we preach. We need to bathe each sermon in an ongoing prayer for the Spirit’s guiding grace to inspire us and to keep us on the straight and narrow. Otherwise, we run the risk of thinking we know exactly what we are doing when all we are is a danger to ourselves and those who sit before us when we preach.

The Spirit’s presence when we preach is more than an attractive option. Moreover, the Spirit is not the sole property of preaching’s often fanatical fringe. Instead, He—the Spirit is a Person, not an It—is an imperative part of any sermon worthy of the name.

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:1-3).

There, in one paragraph, is Isaiah’s justification for being a preacher. Then, in case we missed it in Isaiah, Jesus took up Isaiah’s words in His first temple sermon in Mark 4:18-19.

The apostles, too, were empowered by the Holy Spirit; and on Pentecost we read that those who heard them preaching, “were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?'” (Acts 2:7-8).

Paul recognized this personally, as each of us must personally. To the Corinthians he wrote, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:5-6). Are you listening, dear preacher? “God…has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit.” If that was true for Paul then surely it must be true for us. Is it not time we gave up control and invited the Holy Spirit to sit in the driver’s seat and take the wheel?

A sermon without the Spirit never will be effective long-term. Only when we open our lives to His lordship and His leadership can we hope to be what we surely all dream to be for Jesus’ sake.

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