Addressing the spiritual movement that swept London in the early days of his ministry, Charles Spurgeon wrote: “The times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord have at last dawned upon our land. Everywhere there are signs of aroused activity and increased earnestness. A spirit of prayer is visiting our churches…The first breath of the rushing mighty wind is already discerned, while on rising evangelists tongues of fire have evidently descended.”1
Years before the four evangelists penned their gospels, Peter preached the first evangelistic sermon of the Christian era (aside from those of Christ, of course). This simple message was delivered by a fisherman and lasted only a few minutes, but resulted in more than 3,000 conversions. What produced such power in this simple sermon? Only the anointing of the Holy Spirit can account for transformed lives that Pentecost morning.
Peter and the others had received the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Peter was “unlearned and ignorant” according to his hearers (Acts 4:13). Yet, as James Stewart wrote: “When St. Peter finished his first great sermon in Jerusalem…I do not read that ‘when they heard this, they were intrigued by his eloquence,’ or ‘politely interested in his literary allusions,’ or ‘critical of his logic and accent,’ or ‘bored and impassive and contemptuous;’ what I do read is: ‘When they heard this, they were pierced to the heart.’”2 Such is the work of the Holy Spirit of God.
No truly great preaching, and certainly no effective evangelistic preaching, has taken place aside the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Homiletical orators can stir minds and emotions, but only the Holy Spirit can convict sinners of “sin, and righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8). Theologically astute pulpiteers may instruct congregations regarding biblical truths, but only the Spirit of truth will guide them into all truth (John 16:13).
Preachers may inspire listeners with dramatic stories, but only the Holy Spirit can testify convincingly of Christ (John 15:26). Evangelists may use persuasive techniques to move audiences to action, but only the Holy Spirit can draw the lost to salvation through Christ (John 6:44). Stephen Olford declared, “No preacher can fulfill his ministry, in terms of his life and work, without the lordship and leading of the Holy Spirit.”5
Following are the accounts of several major evangelists. They were chosen because of the unique link between them. Through the lens of history, we can observe how the Holy Spirit impacted the preaching of these great evangelists. May we allow Him to do the same in us today.
Dwight L. Moody
As a young man, Moody moved to Boston to sell boots and shoes for his uncle, Samuel Holton.3 Moody attended the Sunday School at Mount Vernon Congregational Church, where he came under the influence of his teacher Edward Kimball. Kimball felt unusually led to visit Moody at his workplace on April 21, 1855. Kimball placed his hand on Moody’s shoulder and asked the 18-year-old to commit himself to Christ, to receive His love and love Him in return. Moody later described this encounter with Kimball as the influence that brought him into the kingdom of God.4
Moving to Chicago in 1856, Moody continued his entrepreneurial career with the intention of achieving financial success. He worked at first in a store and later travelled throughout Illinois, often employing a side business of loaning money. He continued his religious growth at the Plymouth Congregational Church in Chicago and became active in the YMCA, leading a ministry to sick members.5
Influenced by his experience of Sunday School and Kimball, Moody began a mission Sunday School on the north side of the city, providing Christian instruction to children from non-Christian homes or in many cases those who did not have homes. The children’s ministry grew quickly, forcing Moody to find innovative locations to house the classes. Thus began the North Market Hall School, which reached hundreds of children.6
Devoting himself solely to his religious service in 1860, Moody took a leap of faith in leaving secular employment. Forming the Illinois Street Church was a natural development of a ministry with an increasing need for adult involvement in the growing Sunday Schools and provided financial support.15 The church reached approximately 800 members within a few years.7
Influences on Moody’s spiritual development included Mrs. H. Phillips, the owner of his rooming house who helped him grow more deeply in prayer and Scripture study.8 A deeper spiritual awakening began on a personal level as Moody became interested in the Plymouth Brethren and the specific work of George Muller, who had a large ministry in orphan schools. While not accepting all of their theology and rejecting some of the Brethren’s approaches, Moody was interested in their piety and scriptural inerrancy.9
A third ember in Moody’s smoldering heart, waiting to burst into full flame, was the influence of Henry Moorehouse, a young preacher from Dublin. Henry’s passionate sermons on God’s love transformed Moody’s heart. From then on, Moody saw and declared the love of God in Christ.10
During the winter of 1871, while in New York City, Moody had a singular spiritual experience. Pell records Moody’s testimony. Prior to the great fire, two godly women came to his meetings regularly. After one service, they told him, “We have been praying for you.” He inquired why they did not pray for the people instead. They replied, “You need the power.” He was astonished. His ministry was hugely successful with the largest congregation of Chicago. Still, the women prayed for him and talked with him about “anointing for special service.”11
Moody asked them to meet with him. They knelt and prayed that he might receive the Holy Spirit’s anointing. He recalled, “I did not know what it was. I began to cry as I never did before. The hunger increased. I really felt that I did not want to live longer if I could not have the power for service.”12
Not long after this experience, the great Chicago fire occurred. He said the loss of his house did not affect him so much as his desire for divine power. All the time he went about his regular ministries, he was pleading that God would fill him with His Spirit. Then, Moody said, “One day, in the city of New York—oh, what a day—I cannot describe it. I seldom refer to it; it is almost too sacred an experience to name…I can only say God then revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand.”13 Moody would not have described this as a second blessing, and there is no evidence it was a charismatic experience.
As to the effect on his preaching, Moody testified, “I went to preaching again. The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths; and yet hundreds were converted. I would not now be placed back where I was before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world.”14
“What is the ultimate hope for humanity’s deepest need? Stephen Olford believed ‘the expository preaching of God’s infallible Word, in the power of the Holy Spirit, concerning Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, is the ultimate hope for humanity’s deepest need, church-wide renewal, national righteousness, and social justice in the world.’”15
Olford’s parents were missionaries in Africa when he was born 1918.16 Growing up in Angola, Olford experienced several life-threatening incidents. While crossing a river, he nearly fell to his death, causing him to realize he was not ready to meet God. During devotions one night, his mother read John 14:2-3 and asked if he would go to heaven. He could not answer. During the night, he became frightened that his mother might have been called to heaven and he was not. With much counsel, Scripture reading and prayer, Stephen prayed to receive Christ.17
Years later in college, Olford began to turn away from God. He experienced another life-threatening event involving a motorcycle accident, yet refused to turn to God until receiving a letter from his father who had returned to Africa: “Only one life, twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” Though hampered by his injuries, Stephen slipped from his bed and prayed, recommitting his life to the lordship of Christ.18
Biographer John Phillips, a longtime friend, recorded Olford’s experience: “When Stephen Olford dragged himself off his deathbed, dropped on his knees, and cried to God for mercy, longing for the Lord Jesus to be made real in his life, God met him." Olford recalled: “‘For the first time in all those years, I experienced the realization of the glory and wonder of an indwelling Christ. I suddenly became aware that this broken, battered body of mine was a habitat, a dwelling place for the Son of God. And oh, the peace!…I didn’t have a Bible open before me, but the wonder that this body of mine was the very dwelling place of the Son of God was so overwhelming that I just stayed there on my knees. Eventually I dragged myself onto my bed, and a wonderful peace came into my heart. Glory to God!’”19
Committed to serving the Lord vocationally, Olford had not fully understood the power of the Holy Spirit in his life or ministry. He testified, “While I believe I received the Holy Spirit at the time of my conversion as a young lad, I did not understand the meaning of the fullness of the Spirit until I was past twenty-one. Then I discovered it is possible for the Holy Spirit to be present without being president, to be dormant without being dominant, to be resident without reigning. The Holy Spirit can be quenched and grieved in a believer’s life. But when sin is exposed and self is executed, the Holy Spirit can fill to overflowing and anoint with authority and power. This experience I entered into after much agony of heart, study of the Scriptures, and appropriation by faith and obedience.”20
During World War II, Olford became aware of a spiritual desert in his own heart. “At this point in my spiritual history I became increasingly aware of a deep inner dissatisfaction. Something was missing. My soul hungered and thirsted for the presence of God and the power of God…” He was strongly influenced by a local pastor-evangelist whose testimony challenged him. He closeted himself in a room and poured through a suitcase full of books. He was especially touched by the testimony of D.L. Moody who inwardly hungered for more of God and eventually experienced the empowering anointing of the Spirit.21
Finally laying the books aside, he read what Scripture said about being filled with the Holy Spirit. He recalled, “Without reading further, I dropped to my knees and yielded everything to the reign and rule of the indwelling Spirit. No glory filled the room, no vision filled my eyes, and no tongues were uttered; but I knew, there and then, that I was set free. The fetters and frustrations were gone. I hadn’t to wait to preach to know that I had been liberated. There were tears in my eyes, but peace in my soul.” He then went back to Scripture to confirm this acceptance of the Spirit and understood he was then to walk under the “continual dependence on the Spirit’s control.”22 When he surrendered afresh to the sovereignty of God, he declared, “God set me free!”23
Later Olford recalled with regret the years he lived without the freedom of Christ’s Spirit: “It is possible to be indwelt by a grieved Spirit! For a number of years, He was grieved in my life. During that time, God seemed so unreal and remote. Then I allowed God to break me. I confessed my sin; I sought cleansing; the Holy Spirit was given His rightful place as ‘the Lord the Spirit’ and blessing filled my life once again. I proved that getting right with God leads from backsliding through brokenness into blessing.”24
Olford characterized the Spirit-filled life as the freedom of obedience. His exaltation of newfound freedom in Christ began and continued in this truth. “This is the seal of the new life in Christ, not only in the possession of the Holy Spirit, but the position of the Holy Spirit. It should be evident to all that our lives are controlled by the Spirit of God.”25
Reflecting on his spiritual journey, Olford declared, “The supreme discovery of my life has been that the Holy Spirit is in a believer’s life; that the fullness and anointing of the Holy Spirit are not only blessings to be experienced, but imperatives to be obeyed. I found out that the Spirit-filled life is normal Christian living and anything less is falling short of the glory of God, a missing of the mark. Moreover, to attempt to serve, either in prayer or in preaching, without the anointing of the Holy Spirit is to offer to the Almighty the fleshly efforts of Cain instead of the spiritual sacrifices of Abel.”26
Olford’s ministry has been a continuous testimony to what can happen when one surrenders completely to the indwelling Lord Jesus and appropriates the fullness of the Spirit of God. Speaking to a global gathering of itinerant evangelists, Olford declared, “Without the power of the Holy Spirit, the best evangelistic talents and techniques are worthless. We may manipulate results, but we will never reap spiritual harvests.”27
From that transformational experience of freedom in the Spirit, Olford’s preaching was forever changed. Evidence of his Christ-centered, Spirit-focused philosophy of preaching is found throughout his book Anointed Expository Preaching, co-authored with his son, David. Olford opens his magnum opus by acknowledging the role of the Holy Spirit in expository preaching: “One thing is certain: No preacher can fulfill his ministry, in terms of his life and work, without the lordship and leading of the Holy Spirit.”28
Olford believed every phase of sermon preparation must be bathed with the power of the Holy Spirit. Consider his advice regarding the various aspects of developing expository sermons:
• Selection of the text—The preacher’s conviction and confidence that a certain text is what God wants shared with His people “come from a correct appreciation of the nature and power of God’s revelation (Scripture) and the work of the Holy Spirit.”29
• Investigation of the text—Regarding hermeneutics, Olford emphasized the Spirit’s aid in discerning the truth of Scripture: “Such a responsibility should cause us to seek the Lord’s enabling through His Holy Spirit for spiritual discernment.”30
• Organization—Olford refutes idea that being led by Spirit means no preparation is needed. “Some may argue that such further preparation is not needed, that the preacher should just let the message happen under the leading of the Holy Spirit…We strongly recommend the final stages of preparation…Not only will such preparation, Lord willing, be a blessing to the listeners, it will be a blessing to the preacher.”31
• Finalization—In completing sermon preparation, Olford refused to allow preaching to become mechanical, insisting that true preaching is incarnational. “We cannot be hypocrites in the pulpit! We need to be proclaimers of the truth out of our own experience of submission and obedience aided by the Holy Spirit. These are precious moments with the Lord. We submit ourselves afresh to Him, particularly in regard to the message that is to be preached. We ask that the Holy Spirit make this message a part of us, so we can be incarnational preachers, rather than getting in the way of the very message we are to preach.”32
• Delivery—“Only the Holy Spirit can transform a manuscript into a message,” Olford argued. “By prayerfully seeking the aid and anointing of the Holy Spirit, the preacher places his dependence and confidence in God rather than in his own ability to preach. Then the preacher’s boldness and passion are based upon the Word of God and the work of God, the truth and the Spirit.”33
• Consecration—This entire chapter is devoted to the imperative of the anointing of the Holy Spirit for preaching. Olford focuses on the necessity of the preacher to surrender to the indwelling Spirit of Christ. “We cannot be anointed unless we are filled with the Spirit.” He believes the keys to the Spirit’s empowerment in preaching include surrender (yieldedness) and obedience—living a holy life by power of the Spirit.34
• Summation—Concluding his book and summarizing his experience, Olford pleads, “What we need today is a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit if our ministry is to penetrate the hearts of saint and sinner alike. Where there is an anointing, there is the authority.”35
Throughout his ministry until his death in 2004, Stephen Olford lived and preached in the awareness that he was nothing but a channel through which the Holy Spirit was free to work. Addressing the long-reaching effect of Olford’s ministry, Adrian Rogers wrote, “Stephen Olford was indeed a theological giant, a great Christian leader and a preacher without peer. His impact on evangelical preachers is absolutely without dispute. He has left for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ an incalculable treasure of preaching materials.”36
Few evangelists have produced with such impact as William Franklin Graham. His rise from the mountains of North Carolina to the world stage has been chronicled by countless writers. Secular historians credit Graham’s success to William Randolph Hearst, the publishing giant, who told his editors to push Graham during the 1949 Los Angeles crusade. However, they miss a much more powerful force that entered Graham’s life in the months preceding that event.
Billy Graham was baptized as a child in keeping with his parents’ Presbyterian faith. His conversion actually took place around his 16th birthday (1934) when reluctantly attending a series of evangelistic meetings led by Mordecai Ham in Charlotte, N.C., Graham recalled, “I did not want anything to do with anyone called an evangelist…” He heard, however, that Ham was a fighter and wanted to see this fighting preacher. 37
Graham’s first experience with Spirit-anointed preaching came as he sat near the rear of Hamm’s auditorium. He wrote in his autobiography, “I have no recollection of what he preached about, but I was spellbound. In some indefinable way, he was getting through to me. I was hearing another voice, as was often said of Dwight L. Moody when he preached: the voice of the Holy Spirit.”38
After one sermon, Ham closed the message with the passage, “But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). At that point, the song leader led the invitation hymn. Of all songs, they sang “Just as I am,” which became Graham’s standard for crusade invitations in years to come. Billy responded, “I walked down to the front, feeling as if I had lead weights attached to my feet, and stood in the space before the platform.” He noticed others crying, but he felt no special emotion. After more instruction by an adult friend, he made the decision to follow Christ and give Him the rule over His life.39
In coming years, Billy Graham attended school at the Florida Bible Institute and later Wheaton College near Chicago. He began preaching and witnessed growing responsiveness to his sermons. God blessed his ministry with increasing crowds and hundreds of conversions. As a field evangelist with Youth for Christ, Graham traveled extensively across the United States before travelling to England in October 1946, where he had another encounter with the Holy Spirit that became a transformational experience. Not a second blessing by any means, Graham explains, “I was beginning to understand that Jesus Himself was our victory, through the Holy Spirit’s power.”40
In his autobiography, Graham says his contact with British leaders, especially Stephen Olford, deepened his personal spiritual life.41 A biographer, John Pollock, goes much further in describing this watershed event. Coming to England for his own meetings, Billy Graham and his team attended another conference featuring a young Welsh evangelist—Stephen Olford—who preached on the text “Be not drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18).42
After the service, Graham approached Olford and asked why he had not given an invitation, because he would have responded himself. Billy said, “You’ve spoken about something that I haven’t got. I want to know the fullness of the Holy Spirit in my life, too. I want what you’ve got.”43
Graham and Olford spent two days in a hotel at Pontypridd studying Scripture and praying together. Graham prayed, “Lord, I don’t want to go on without knowing this anointing You’ve given my brother.”44 On the second day, Olford shared his testimony of the Holy Spirit’s fullness and anointing. He told Graham, “There is no Pentecost without Calvary,” and insisted that Billy must be broken before God could use him and fill him.45
Graham said, “Stephen, I see it. That’s what I want. That’s what I need in my life.” They knelt, and the 28-year-old Graham prayed with tear-filled eyes, offering himself totally to the Lord. At last, Olford recalled, young Billy rose with joy, exclaiming, “My heart is so flooded with the Holy Spirit!” They praised the Lord as Graham shouted, “I have it! I’m filled. This is a turning point in my life.”46
The change in Billy Graham’s preaching was dramatic and immediate. That same night, Olford later wrote, Billy Graham preached to a packed house with the anointing of God. Before he was able to give the invitation, people began coming forward. Ultimately, nearly the whole audience responded to Christ. Olford recalled, “My own heart was so moved by Billy’s authority and strength that I could hardly drive home. When I came in the door, my father looked at my face and said, ‘What on earth happened?’” Young Olford replied, “Dad, something has happened to Billy Graham. The world is going to hear from this man.”47
The Spirit’s claim on Billy Graham did not go untested. Just as Satan tries to disrupt our lives what he cannot prevent from beginning, even so the enemy realized the powerful tool the Spirit-filled evangelist was in God’s hands. The devil launched a determined assault on Graham, using a weapon that found him most vulnerable—the influence of his friend Charles Templeton.
Templeton was one of Billy Graham’s closest friends. They preached and travelled together on many occasions. However, Templeton began to be influenced by neo-orthodox theologians and started to doubt the inerrancy of the Bible, a journey that ultimately led him away not only from his ministry but also his faith.48 The questions Templeton posed challenged Graham and caused him to study supposed contradictions in Scripture. He knew he must resolve this conflict or resign from ministry.49
Finally, he lay his questions before God and declared that he would accept all of God’s Word by faith alone and committed himself afresh to preaching that Word through the Holy Spirit’s power. He later reflected on that holy moment, “When I got up from my knees…that August night, my eyes stung with tears. I sensed the presence and power of God as I had not sensed it in months. Not all my questions were answered, but a major bridge had been crossed. In my heart and mind, I knew a spiritual battle in my soul had been fought and won.”50 The crisis passed and the Spirit’s empowerment grew stronger. This victory came just before the historical Los Angeles crusade of 1949.
From his experience and his study of Scripture, Graham’s practical theology of the filling of the Holy Spirit emerged. In his book The Holy Spirit, Graham summarized his understanding of the New Testament teaching regarding the filling of the Holy Spirit as “Understanding, Submission, and Walking by Faith.” By understanding, he means one must understand the reality of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit and God’s command to be filled with the Holy Spirit. He adds that such knowledge should lead to repentance and confession of all known sin. Dealing honestly and thoroughly with sin is a key aspect of yielding control of one’s life to the Holy Spirit.51
Addressing the issue of submission, Graham reiterates the importance of confession and repentance of sin before moving to the act of yielding oneself to God and His will in every aspect of life.52 He refers to numerous Scripture verses specifically commanding the believer to yield to God (Rom. 6:13; 12:1). Graham wrote, “More and more I am coming to see that this surrender is a definite and conscious act on our part in obedience to the Word of God.”53
Interestingly, Graham does not see biblical support for the concept of praying to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Instead, he argues that by faith through prayer one asks God to take control of our lives completely as we empty ourselves of self-will.54 At that point, one begins to walk in the Spirit by faith (his third stage of filling). Referring to Paul’s admonition in Romans 6:11, Graham argues that having repented and confessed our sins and having submitted ourselves completely to the Lord, we must act as Spirit-filled believers by faith. We do not wait until we feel some special emotional validation of the Spirit’s filling. We take daily action based on the belief that God has done what He promised in filling us with His Spirit.55
Graham adds that while believers receive the Spirit as salvation, never to lose His presence as ones sealed by the same Spirit, the filling of the Holy Spirit requires continuous attention. While we do not lose God’s Spirit, we can retake control of certain aspects of our lives, and through such sin grieve and quench the Spirit. Thus, we continually must seek to remain free from sin, yield ourselves to God, and walk by faith.56
Lewis Drummond observed, “Billy Graham fills the criteria of the Spirit-filled evangelist as exemplified by the apostle Peter.” Drummond adds that Graham “has made a significant contribution to the body of Christ in heralding the truth of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer…Countless people have been challenged by Billy Graham’s teaching and ministry and consequently have been enriched and brought into the fullness of the Spirit-filled, Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered life.”57
Sherwood Wirt, Billy Graham’s friend and biographer, adds, “Here is the secret: Billy Graham is filled with the Spirit of God. That is the source of his inner power. His life is not so much controlled as invaded by this unseen Source. No matter where he is, no matter what the situation might be in which he finds himself, no matter what his physical condition, he is never more than half a second out of touch with God.”58
Regarding his life and ministry, Graham wrote, “I am absolutely helpless and only the Holy Spirit can penetrate the minds and hearts of those who are without Christ…All I am doing is sowing seed. It is God—and only God—who can make the seed bear fruit.”59
Nicknamed “the Billy Graham of Latin America,” Luis Palau saw in Graham a spiritual dynamic he did not have, creating a spiritual craving that was only satisfied by the Spirit Himself. A somewhat privileged life turned tragic for young Luis Palau when his father died unexpectedly while Luis was away at a boarding school.60 Luis’ mother told her son how her husband faced the final moments of his life singing about heaven. His final words were, “I’m going to be with Jesus, which is far better.”61 The thoughts of his father’s final words stayed with him throughout his life.
Still, Luis did not come to Christ quickly or easily. At 12, while traveling with a trucker in the family business, the worker showed him a pornographic magazine, which disgusted and yet attracted the adolescent’s mind.62 These conflicting thoughts pursued him as he went to a Christian camp. There he encountered godly men who served as holy role models. One night, a counselor confronted Luis with his need for Christ, asking him if he were a born-again Christian and encouraging Luis to receive Christ. There, sitting on a log in the rain, young Palau gave his life to Christ.63 He returned home full of joy with a changed life.
Planning a career in business, Palau heard a radio preacher who stirred his heart. He prayed, asking God to use him to bring people to Christ like this speaker was doing. Later, he discovered the voice on the radio belonged to Billy Graham. In the following months, Luis was struck by the congregational hymn “Am I a Soldier of the Cross?” by Isaac Watts. The words seized his heart and forced an ongoing tug-of-war regarding his future. He awoke one night after a nightmare in which he became a leper while serving in Africa. Trembling, he prayed and told God he would do whatever He asked. Soon, he was baptized and began thinking more seriously about preaching.64
Opportunities to preach began on the streets and continued with an invitation to preach at a church youth meeting. Still working in secular employment, Luis began preaching more but always with more fear than fervency and often with few results. He recalled thinking, “Nothing I do seems to make any difference. It’s obvious I don’t have the gift that other evangelists have. I don’t have the Holy Spirit’s power in my life.”65
While serving as a leader in the national youth congress, Palau attended a meeting of 1,000 church leaders. A representative of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association talked about an Argentina crusade and showed a film of Graham’s preaching. The evangelist’s text was Ephesians 5:18—the same used by Stephen Olford when God touched Graham’s heart with the need for the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Luis felt Graham was looking directly at him as the evangelist asked, “Are you filled with the Spirit? Are you filled with the Spirit? Are you filled with the Spirit?” Luis realized, “That’s my problem. That’s what causes my up-and-down Christianity. That’s why I have zeal and commitment, but little fruit or victory. I don’t know how to be filled with all the fullness of God Himself.”66
Soon, invitations began to come for Luis to lead more evangelistic meetings. At one event, he invited those who wished to receive Jesus to pray and indicate by uplifted hands that they accepted Christ. So many people responded he thought they must not have understood. Repeating the message of the gospel, he asked again and more responded. His road to world evangelization had begun.67
Luis came to the United States to study at Multnomah Biblical Seminary in Portland, Oregon. While there, he heard Major Ian Thomas speak about how God used the burning bush to reach Moses. His point was that any bush would be sufficient; the fire did not belong to the bush, but to the presence of God. Luis thought himself to be like that bush, dried and ineffective, needing the fire of God. Thomas concluded with Galatians 2:20: “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Rushing back to his room, Luis tearfully thanked God for revealing that what was necessary for service was not himself, but God working in him. He prayed, “Please forgive my pride in thinking I was something special…I want to depend not on myself…but on Christ alone: the indwelling, resurrected, almighty Lord Jesus.” In peace, he finally felt he could cease his struggle.68
In the following years, Palau’s ministry began to expand to other countries and crusades, with thousands in attendance and many conversions. Amazing stories emerged of government leaders and gang leader coming to Christ. Stadiums filled across South America. In the midst of an extensive, wearying schedule, Luis’ wife, Pat, developed cancer. The combined stress began to take its toll. Tempted to quit, Palau declared that similar to Moody and Graham before him, he would remain faithful to death. In succeeding months, he completed a series of evangelistic meetings in several countries, including Great Britain, where he preached to more than 518,000 in London alone, witnessing more than 28,000 professions of faith for Christ.69
Natural abilities and fortunate circumstances can produce some results, but supernatural fruitfulness depends on the divine work of the Holy Spirit. What is required to receive God’s anointing? Studying the lives of these selected evangelists, one might suggest several conclusions:
1. Saved and serving.
A preacher does not have to be a superstar before God begins to use him. If he is genuinely converted, he already has the Holy Spirit within him. If he is authentically called, he already is being used by God. If he is faithful in ministry, he already has God’s promise of increasingly blessed work to come. Remember the faithful steward who took what his Lord gave him and returned an increase? “His lord said unto him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things. I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord'" (Matt. 25:21).
2. Hungering for righteousness.
The evangelists did not so much want greater ministries as they each wanted a greater relationship with God. Effective evangelism begins with a desire for the holy and recognition of sin resulting in repentance, confession and cleansing.
3. Humble brokenness.
The evangelists experienced personal brokenness before God. As long as we refuse to deal honestly and completely with sin and self, the Spirit cannot fill and use us.
4. Honest and complete yieldedness.
Each of these evangelists identified the central issue holding the doors of their hearts was willingness to yield entirely to God. Each struggled with a bit of pride as they already had experienced significant success. Only when they honestly saw their extreme neediness did they begin hungering and thirsting for the fullness of God and surrendered to the Lord.
5. Faith that God who promised also will perform.
While the great evangelists had many natural gifts, they realized their impotence in transforming human hearts. Each confessed his neediness and fell back solely on faith that God would do in and through their lives what He alone could do and what He promised to do. “Faithful is He who calls you, who also will do it” (1 Thess. 5:24).
6. Not seeking something, but desiring Someone.
The evangelists were not seeking a thing—some power they could command for successful ministry. They desired Someone. They wanted more of God Himself. God responds to such desire by filling us with Himself through His Holy Spirit. The power is a byproduct of His presence.
7. Faithfully walking in the Spirit.
Continuing to walk with God in the power of His Spirit is paramount in continuing to enjoy the anointing of God. “Be continually filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18).
Spirit-filled evangelistic preaching clearly delineates Jesus’ gospel and invites a faith response of repentance of sin, trust in Christ, and reception of Jesus as Savior and Lord. The results lie not in cleverly worded sermons, emotionally packed illustrations, or the personal charisma of the preacher, but in God.
Jere Phillips is professor of practical theology at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tennessee.
1Arnold Dalliman, Spurgeon: A New Biography (Edinburgh, UK: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1985—reprint 2009), 84.
2James S. Stewart, Heralds of God (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972), 31.
3Lyle Dorsett, A Passion for Souls: The Life of D.L. Moody (Chicago: Moody Press, 1997), 43.
4James Findlay, Dwight L. Moody: American Evangelist (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969), 47-48.
6A. Chester Mann, Moody: Winner of Souls (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1936), 28-29.
10William R. Moody, The Life of Dwight L. Moody (New York: Revell, 1900) 137-139.
11Edward Pell, Dwight L. Moody: His Life, His Work, His Words (Richmond, Va.: B.F. Johnson Publishing, 1900), 127.
16Phillips, John. Only One Life: The Biography of Stephen F. Olford Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeaux, 1995), 19.
21Stephen Olford, “When the Spirit Became Lord” in David Enlow, My Most Memorable Encounter with God (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1977), 151.
24Stephen Olford, I’ll Take the High Road (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), 17.
25Stephen Olford, Believing Our Beliefs: Preaching on the Foundations and Evidence for New Life. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 63-64.
27Stephen Olford “The Evangelist’s Gifts and Ministry” in The Work of an Evangelist, J.D. Douglas, ed. (Minneapolis: World Wide Publications, 1984), 144.
28Stephen and David Olford, Anointed Expository Preaching (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1998), 30.
32Ibid., 157, 177, 178.
33Ibid., 214, 187.
36Adrian Rogers, www.stephenolford.org.
37Billy Graham, Just as I Am (New York: Harper Collins, 1997), 25.
42John Pollock, Billy Graham: The Authorized Biography (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966), 38.
43Marshall Frady, Billy Graham (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1979), 170.
44Sherwood Wirt, Billy: A Personal Look at Billy Graham, the World’s Best-Loved Evangelist (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1997), 29.
46Harold Myra and Marshall Shelly, The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2005), 23.
50Graham, Just as I Am, 139.
51Billy Graham, The Holy Spirit (Waco: Word Books, 1978), 162, 164.
55Ibid., 175, 177.
57Lewis Drummond, The Evangelist (Waco: Word, 2001), 34.
60W. Terry Whalin, Luis Palau (Urichville, Ohio: Barbour Publishing, 1998), 8.
62Ellen Bascuti, Luis Palau: Evangelist to the World (Urichville, Ohio: Barbour Publishing, 2000), 25.
63Luis Palau, Say Yes! (Portland: Multnomah, 1991), 32-33.
65Luis Palau, The Luis Palau Story (Old Tappan: Revell, 1980), 83-84.
66Palau, Say Yes!, 40-41.
68Luis Palau, Out of the Desert (Tucson, Ariz: Two-Twenty Press, 2012), 39-42.