The Trigger of the Spirit

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Some time ago I bought a handgun for my wife to have at our house, just for safety when I’m away traveling. When we went to the gun shop to pick it up, the seller took some time to show us all of its features. I was particularly fascinated by the number of safety mechanisms that keep you from pulling the trigger accidentally, yet none of which actually require you to turn a safety on or off. This particular system provides a consistent trigger pull from the first to the last round.

Three automatic independently-operating mechanical safeties are built into the fire control system of the pistol which enable the shooter to concentrate fully on shooting without having turn a safety on and off, like most guns I’ve used in the past. This gun is fully prevented from firing even if it’s dropped, and yet it’s fully ready to fire as soon as you put your finger to the trigger. I love it! At my age you grow to appreciate even the little things that are user-friendly and easy to operate.

A Powerful Force

I apologize if it offends you that the pragmatic, old-fashioned part of me is okay with owning a handgun. If that’s the case, I hope you can set aside our disagreement on the issue and follow my illustration.

The Spirit of God who indwells the preacher is the most powerful force in the universe. And God has ordained a system in His Trinitarian economy that provides every safety mechanism necessary to prevent us from accidentally hurting ourselves or someone else with His Spirit, but at the same time enables us to engage His Spirit in our work whenever we are ready to fire. He’s done this by ordaining prayer to be the primary way we engage His Spirit in the Christian life and work, including our preaching.

Through prayer, we ‘pull the trigger’ that fires God’s Spirit and releases His limitless power. That’s why it’s tragic that so many preachers seem to operate with multiple self-imposed safety features by not praying for the Spirit to effectually and dynamically participate in their preaching. Through prayer, God has provided a consistent trigger pull from the first to the last round of every sermon. This enables the preacher to preach confidently in the power of the Spirit without having to worry about harmful abuses and accidents of the Spirit’s engagement.

Pulling The Trigger

The preaching gun is fully ready to fire as soon as the preacher puts his finger on the trigger of prayer. Consider these specific ways the New Testament gives us to ‘pull the trigger’ of the Spirit in our Christian lives which, of course, includes our preaching:

Pray to experience more of God in your preaching. Luke 11:1-13 is one of the most potent passages in all of the Bible on prayer. One of the fascinating things about the text is that it begins with a request by the disciples for Jesus to “teach [them] to pray” (11:1). The passage ends with Jesus telling them that when they pray and ask, “the heavenly Father [will] give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (11:13).

I don’t think Jesus is talking about the initial incoming of the Spirit into a person’s life. I think He was telling the disciples that through prayer they would experience more. In other words, they would know Him more and experience more of His effectualness through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. That’s the end game in prayer! Pray that you will experience more of God as you study His Word and proclaim it to others. And pray that the people to whom you preach will grow to know and experience Him more as well.

Pray for expanding influence through your preaching. John 14-16 is Jesus’ pneumatology—His doctrine of the Holy Spirit. In these chapters, He is preparing His disciples for His departure by telling them about the coming of the Spirit. He sets it all up by saying they will do gospel work to a greater degree than even He did while He was on earth (14:12). Then immediately, he tells them the condition for getting to participate in such an enterprise: Ask for it! He repeats it twice in 14:13-14: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do…If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

His disciples will get to do greater gospel work if they ask for it. Jesus then emphasizes this relationship between prayer and engaging the Holy Spirit by weaving the two together all the way through John 14-16 (see 14:13-14; 15:7, 16; 16:23-24). And then follows it with His High Priestly prayer in all of John 17. While preaching isn’t the only way we do gospel work, it certainly is a big part of it. So, ask for it! Ask for God’s Spirit to attend to your preaching. Ask for God to give you an ever-expanding influence in your ministry of the Word. Ask Him to allow you to do greater works of redemption through preaching.

Pray for boldness in your preaching. Acts 4:26-31 tells the story of one early church prayer meeting immediately after Peter and John had been called on the carpet for preaching the gospel. What these Christians did not pray for is almost as interesting as what they did pray for. They did not pray that God would take away their persecution for the gospel. Instead, what they did pray for is that they would be able to “continue to speak [His] word with all boldness” (Acts 4:29). Just like with gospel works, preaching is not the only way we speak to God’s word. But it’s a big one! So why not do for our proclamation what these early believers did for theirs? Pray for God to give you boldness in preaching (cf. Eph. 6:18-19). Pray that he would help you to preach with an authority that is not your own (cf. Mk. 1:22). Pray to preach with such a blood earnestness that people’s hearts will burn within them as they hear you (cf. Lk. 24:32).

Our dependence on the Holy Spirit doesn’t begin when we get up to preach. While there certainly is a supernatural work of the Spirit in the preaching moment (e.g. Lk. 1:15, 41, 67; Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 9:17; 13:9), His powerful help must be invoked in our preparation, as well as in the lives we bring to the process. In all of it, we have to be intentional about engaging the Spirit in our preaching by ‘pulling the trigger’ of intentional, aggressive, sacrificial prayer. Preacher, fire away! Pull the trigger of the Spirit in your preaching by praying hard for His help!

  • Prayer
  • Preaching
  • Spirit
Jim Shaddix

Senior Preaching Fellow

Jim Shaddix (BS, Jacksonville State University; M.Div., D.Min., Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Ph.D., New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as Professor of Preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, occupying the W. A. Criswell Chair of Expository Preaching. He also serves as a Senior Fellow for the Center for Preaching and Pastoral Leadership, which exists to resource pastors in local churches. Jim has pastored churches in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Colorado, and also served as Dean of the Chapel and Professor of Preaching at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in New Orleans, LA. He is the author of The Passion Driven Sermon (Broadman & Holman, 2003), Decisional Preaching (Rainer, 2019), and co-author of Power in the Pulpit (Moody, 1999, 2017) and Progress in the Pulpit (Moody, 2017), both with Jerry Vines, 2 Peter and Jude (Broadman & Holman, 2018) with Danny Akin, Psalms 51-100 (Broadman & Holman, 2020) with David Platt and Matt Mason, both in the Christ-Centered Exposition commentary series, and Expositional Leadership (Crossway, 2024 release). Jim and his wife, Debra, focus much of their attention on discipling and mentoring young leaders and spouses. They have three grown children and eleven grandchildren.

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