Our ministry has held many conferences for pastors over the past several years, but I have purposely never taught on how to preach. I struggle enough with my own preaching, let alone would want to advise someone else how to do it.
I vividly recall times during my fifty-plus years of preaching when the word that came out of me stirred and penetrated my own soul. I knew as I delivered those sermons that a spiritual authority accompanied the message. There simply was no mistaking the Lord’s touch.
I also remember, just as vividly, times when my message lacked that special anointing. There was no “sound of the trumpet,” no probing to the very depths of people’s souls, no real spiritual authority. On those occasions, my message was muted, informational but neither convincing nor convicting.
In such times, my own soul was dry and empty, and the word I preached was “just another sermon.” This always happened during a period when the Lord had lifted his anointing from me for a season.
The Holy Spirit didn’t take away my pulpit during those seasons, but he did lift from me the spiritual authority I’m speaking of here. Those days were dreadful to me. Yet I always knew deep in my soul why my preaching had changed, and why my messages were not deeply impacting hearers. It was because God withholds spiritual authority from any servant with whom he has a controversy.
The fact was, there were heart issues I had not faced, sins of the spirit I had thought I was above committing. I could easily see these same sins in others, but I couldn’t acknowledge that they were in me.
We all know that the times we’re living in now call for preaching with great spiritual authority. I’m not talking about better preaching, or polished preaching, or even preaching with greater revelation. In fact, the kind of preaching I’m talking about wouldn’t dare be called “good preaching.” Why?
When you hear the kind of preaching I’m referring to, your spirit is too sober to even think in such terms. You don’t judge whether the sermon was good or not, much less flatter the preacher who delivered it. Your only response is to be driven to your knees in humility before the Lord’s holy presence.
This kind of preaching goes beyond merely our emotions, and instead brings us face to face with our conscience in God’s sight. The effect is as if we’re literally standing before the Lord, with our thoughts and deeds laid open before him.
Paul describes the kind of servant upon whom such authority is bestowed: “[He has] renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully” (2 Corinthians 4:2).
Such a servant has been shut in with Jesus and has opened his heart to the dealings of the Holy Spirit. According to Paul, this servant’s constant prayer is:
“Lord, show me my sinful motives, my unholy ambitions, any and all dishonesty or manipulation. Let me not preach with any hidden, deceitful attitude in my heart.”
The Holy Spirit has spoken to me very clearly on this subject, saying, “There is a price to be paid to have my spiritual authority.” He whispered to me, in particular:
“David, you are blood-cleansed. You are under covenant, and you’re my redeemed son. But if you want this kind of anointing — the kind that manifests truth to every man’s heart — you must allow me to deal with certain issues that hinder your spiritual authority.”
Let me share with you how the Lord is dealing with me on this matter:
In Luke 14, Jesus was invited by a certain chief Pharisee to “eat bread” in his house. Other Pharisees had been invited as well, men who, like the host Pharisee, were leading keepers of the law.
When the host called his guests to be seated, there was a sudden scramble for the chief seats at the head table. Scripture tells us that as Jesus observed this, “he marked how they chose out the chief rooms [seats]” (Luke 14:7). It was a brazen display of pride, a need to be seen and recognized.
When Christ himself sat down to eat, he gave that roomful of Israel’s top religious leaders this word of rebuke: “When thou art bidden [invited] of any man…sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honorable man than thou be bidden of him; and he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room.
“But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:8–11, italics mine).
Christ’s words in this scene apply to all of his followers. Yet, as he considered his audience at that Pharisee’s house, he was describing a particular type of leader: those who “love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts…and for a show make long prayers” (Luke 20:46–47).
In short, Jesus tells us, there are men and women who do good works only to be seen by others. These people love the spotlight and are constantly blowing a trumpet for themselves.
In my travels with my son Gary, we have witnessed this kind of “trumpet blaring” for self. At some of the pastors’ conferences we hold internationally, men have approached us with their retinue of attendants, boasting of many grand and glorious achievements:
“I pastor one of the largest churches in the country. We have 20,000 members, and we’re on TV from coast to coast. We are planting churches all across the nation and throughout the world. Multitudes are being saved.”
Often, these men are so taken with their great works that they don’t even take the time to tell us their names.
When we meet such men, our hearts leap up within us upon greeting them. Mostly, these pastors have sat unnoticed in the audience. They have no entourage, no report to give us about their ministry. And we can see Jesus clearly in their countenance.
We met such a man at one conference and asked him, “Are you a pastor?” “Yes,” he replied. “Where?” we inquired. He answered, “I have various responsibilities.”
Later, we were told, “Brother David, Brother Gary, do you know who that man is? He is a bishop over 6 million believers in a half-dozen countries. He is one of the most respected pastors in this region of the world.”
Here was a man of great honor who had a huge ministry, yet he had learned to choose the lowest seat in the house.
What exactly does Jesus mean when he gives us this statement? As a minister, I take this particular word from the Lord very seriously. With it, he is inviting every pastor, evangelist, teacher and lay person to “come up higher,” into a place of righteous honor. What is this honor he invites us to?
It is to obtain the spiritual authority necessary to pierce the hardest walls in men’s hearts. It is to have his anointing to rend the veil that is cast over the mind of every blinded soul. Indeed, this call to “come up higher” is a call to enter into the fullness of God’s touch. It is a call to have a richer intimacy, and to become a more convincing, sure, righteous oracle of the Lord.
Yet, this fact remains: as long as I keep on boasting — as long as “my” works and “my” ministry crop up in almost every conversation — there can be no true authority in my preaching. I have to confess that I was shocked recently at what I found myself saying to certain people as I was introduced to them. I recognized in my words a subtle need to be honored and respected. I was not taking the lowest seat in the house.
I believe this word is especially hard for ministers, but it is also a word for every child of God. Jesus’ statement to us here entails the most difficult work he has ever called us to. It is a call to learn to listen to others and not try to outdo them. We are all called to be proclaimers of Christ’s gospel, and without humility our words fall to the ground.
Let me give you a personal example. At a ministers’ luncheon years ago in New York City, a leading pastor was boasting about a famous millionaire who attended his church. At one point, I jumped in and added, “Oh, yes, he drops in on our meetings frequently.”
I was so ashamed afterward. Crushed in my spirit, I prayed, “Oh, Lord, will I never learn to quit bragging and shut my mouth?”
We all have seeds of jealousy and envy in us. The question is, who among us will acknowledge it?
A holy Puritan preacher named Thomas Manton said of the human penchant for envy and jealousy: “We are born with this Adamic sin. We drink it in with our mother’s milk.” It is that deeply a part of us.
Such sinful seeds keep us from rejoicing in the blessings and accomplishments of others’ ministries or works. Their effect is to erect powerful walls between us and our brothers and sisters: “Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?” (Proverbs 27:4).
James adds to this, “If ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth” (James 3:14).
As a messenger of Christ’s gospel, I simply cannot hold onto any jealousy or envy against someone. James makes it clear that this will hinder me from preaching or teaching with any spiritual authority, because I will have been living a lie against the truth.
In plain terms, this sin of jealousy and envy is a bitter poison. And I write this message today because the Holy Spirit has shown me the wretched evil of this sin in the Lord’s sight. If we hold onto it, it will not only cost us spiritual authority but will open us to demonic activity.
In 1 Samuel 18, we find David returning from a battle in which he slaughtered the Philistines. As he and King Saul rode into Jerusalem, the women of Israel came out to celebrate David’s victories, dancing and singing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”
Saul was wounded by this joyous celebration, thinking to himself, “They have ascribed unto David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands: and what can he have more but the kingdom?” (1 Samuel 18:8).
Immediately, Saul was consumed by a spirit of jealousy and envy. In the very next verse, we read the deadly effect it had on him: “Saul eyed [envied] David from that day and forward” (18:9).
All that night, Saul seethed, pouting in self-pity. He thought, “I’ve worked so hard, giving up everything to serve these people. And now they turn on me, to give David more honor and glory. They’re singing the praises of my assistant minister, while they ignore me.”
Tragically, after this, “Saul became David’s enemy continually” (18:29).
The reality was, it didn’t matter how loudly the people cheered or honored David. God’s Spirit was still upon Saul, giving the king his spiritual authority and anointing, and Israel still loved him. Indeed, Saul was loved by God, and the Lord’s promise to build this man an everlasting house was clearly still in place.
Had Saul humbled himself before the Lord in repentance, recognizing the enemy’s insidious attack on his soul — had he acknowledged his own envy and plucked it out of his heart — God would have heaped honors on his anointed servant. Saul would have become not only Israel’s first king but also its greatest. And the truth about David is that this loyal captain would have gladly secured the kingdom for Saul with his military skills.
But Saul could not bring himself to take the lowest seat. Instead, he was drawn by his envious spirit to the highest. And what happened the next day ought to fill us all with holy fear:
“It came to pass on the morrow, that the evil spirit from God came upon Saul…And Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him, and was departed from Saul” (18:10–12).
Every congregation, large or small, deserves to hear the Word of God preached with authority. But that simply cannot happen until these issues of the heart are settled with God by his servants everywhere.
God needs every one of us in these last days. And every nation needs each minister in it, whether ordained or a layperson, to go forth with true spiritual anointing. Simply put, Christ must be preached with authority. And the word we have been given to preach is not complicated.
I confess to you, I have in no way entered fully into this spiritual authority. Yet, in his love and mercy, the Lord has told me what I must do to receive an ever-increasing measure of it.
Twenty years ago, I stood on the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway, in the heart of Times Square, praying that God would raise up a church there at the crossroads of the world. Times Square Church was birthed on that street corner, and every year I return to that same spot to talk with the Lord.
Last month, near my seventy-fifth birthday, I went back and stood at the very place where I had stood years ago. This time, I asked the Lord, “What would you have me do for the rest of my days? What should be my focus?”
My answer came: “Draw near to me, and I will draw near to you.” That was all.
This is my first priority now. I am to spend much time simply drawing near to the Lord. And I’m convinced that it will be during these times of nearness that he’ll show me his heart and reveal to me what is in mine.
For every Christian, drawing near means unceasing prayer…never letting up…making time for the Lord…indeed, making him the most important work in our lives.
It is my belief that if we heed this word, God will faithfully remove from us all that is unlike Christ, by his Spirit. And he will pour out on his servants his spiritual anointing, for the authoritative proclamation of his Word.