In His sovereignty, God has ordained preaching as a primary means of transforming lives. He has graciously given us creation, His Word, and most dramatically, Himself, in the person of His Son, so that we might know Him. By these three means God sufficiently reveals Himself.
On the human side, He calls out certain men to come to know Him through these means and to communicate His truth to a broader audience—to preach. Why He did it this way, particularly in light of our human frailty, only He can say. But those of us who have been called to this glorious privilege are grateful. There is no higher calling or greater joy than to be such a channel for the God of the universe.
An Overwhelming Task
Our sin makes us unlikely candidates for this awesome work, but God has provided a way to overcome our weakness: anointing. He is exceedingly capable of taking humble, simple men beyond themselves to preach with power.
This enduing of the Holy Spirit is what makes great preachers and great preaching. Not skill, not eloquence, not hard work, not even good training (although these have their place). It is possible to preach without anointing; and sadly, the evidence is almost undeniable that many do.
Anointed preaching is effective. It supernaturally transforms lives. There is the normative work of preaching which God uses and blesses, but there are also unusual moments and seasons of anointed preaching that produce remarkable results.
Anointed preachers are marked as those with power. They can be men of great learning or meager ability. The difference is fresh oil. And they are always men of humility, for God will not waste His unction on men who steal His glory.
The great Welsh revival preachers spoke of it as “the gust.” They would hoist the sail of their sermons and pray for the gust of God’s Spirit to catch the sail. The great preacher of the New Testament lived in this power:
And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5 NASB).
Perhaps no recent preacher has understood this better than Martyn Lloyd-Jones. This great London expositor of Welsh descent preached to thousands in London during the last century (he died in 1968), when most British churches were dying. Two thousand gathered every Friday night for ten years as he taught through the book of Romans!
His preaching was described as “logic on fire.” It is obviously attributable to God’s sovereign hand on his life, but Lloyd-Jones also had a deep passion for this sacred anointing:
What is this [anointing]? It is the Holy Spirit falling upon the preacher in a special manner. It is an access of power. It is God giving power and enabling, through the Spirit, to the preacher in order that he may do the work in a manner that lifts it up beyond the efforts and endeavors of man to a position in which the preacher is being used by the Spirit and becomes the channel through which the Spirit works (Preaching and Preachers, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, p. 305).
If Only . . .
What would happen if every preacher in a city preached with this anointing? What if God, in His gracious sovereignty, fell with supernatural empowering on men, giving them unction beyond themselves? This would not only propel and lift the preachers, but it would be evidenced by life-change in the hearers. Peter preached, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” and 3,000 were pierced to the heart and cried out, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:4, 37, 41).
John Livingstone, a young, nineteenth-century Scottish preacher, was asked to preach one Monday as a group of churches extended the four-day Communion gathering that was common in their day. He wrestled all night in prayer, aware that something unusual was upon him.
In the early morning hours, God gave him His message and a special assurance of unusual empowering; the effect was 500 people coming to faith in Christ the next day. Not 500 quick, spurious “decisions,” but 500 converted people. I’ve stood at the Kirk O’Shotts in Scotland where this visitation occurred and prayed for a similar outpouring in my city for God’s glory.
I want this anointing. I want it on the pastors of our city. I know it is God’s to give, but I long for Him to make His name famous in my city and our nation once again. In the past He has used men filled with sacred anointing, preaching with power and in the Holy Spirit and with full assurance. I see no alternative for our present day. Our best efforts are producing little to stem the tide of godlessness.
I don’t want to glide through the rest of my life, content with meager results and an explainable ministry. I don’t want what happens in our church to be attributed to good strategic thinking.
We need anointing. We need power. We need the gust.
Fresh oil, dear Lord, I pray to Thee;
Let new anointing fall on me.
My feet are tired, my hands are weak;
Reviving oil, O Lord, I seek.
The need’s no greater than before,
As sin lies always at our door.
Your strength unchanged can win this day;
For cleansing oil, O Lord, I pray!
Fresh oil to preach, fresh oil to pray,
Fresh oil to witness night and day!
The fuel that feeds revival fire;
Enabling oil pour out this hour.
And knowing that our lives are weak,
A greater measure now we seek.
Let glory dwell within our land;
Sustaining oil, Lord, from Your hand.
Fresh oil, I pray, pour down on me,
That all my life would burn for Thee!
Poem written by Bill Elliff in Edinburgh, Scotland, July 20, 2006. Taken from Psalm 92:10b.