Column Entry, Our Helper, by Joseph Bird

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Column Title: Fanning the Flame: Reigniting the Joy of Christian Communication for Pastor, Pew, and Public

Column Entry: “Our Helper”

By Joseph Bird, PhD, MDiv, William Carey University

Column Description: Preaching and teaching are public communication art and science, but never easy. It is especially difficult when we lose the joy we once had to effectively communicate God’s Word. This column aims to encourage Christian communicators–whether in the pulpit or in the pew- to find joy once again in preparing, crafting, and delivering God-honoring messages that equip the Body of Christ and witness the redemptive power of the Gospel to the world. The column engages with Scripture, Christian thinkers, teachers, and theologians throughout Church history, contemporary homileticians, rhetoricians, and other communication scholars and practitioners to rediscover a deep, lasting joy in Christian communication that nourishes and transforms.

April-May 2024 | February-March 2024 | January 2024

Our Helper

Some days of ministry leave us feeling energized and expectant to see what tomorrow may bring. Other days leave us exhausted, the kind of tiredness that sleep doesn’t help. If we aren’t careful, the anxiety, frustration, and, at times, apathy we feel can convince us that we “wrestle…this present darkness” all alone.[1] Nothing could be farther from the truth.

One of the most shocking texts in the Bible is John 16:7: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” Not since Adam in the garden had men walked with God. Yet, these men—these disciples—had walked with, talked with, eaten with, and ministered with the God-Man himself.

How could Jesus say that it would be better for Him to leave? What does this convey to us about the supreme role of the Holy Spirit in our lives? It means that the importance of the Holy Spirit in our lives cannot be overstated. It means that our calling, our ministry, and all that God has for us is tied to the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. It means that we are never alone in ministry, nor are we alone as we stand up to proclaim the Word of God.

As preachers and teachers of the Bible, we desperately need the Spirit’s help if we hope to communicate God’s Word to His people effectively. In 1 Cor. 2:4, Paul declares, “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom but in demonstration of Spirit and power.” Writing almost two thousand years later, John Piper states it this way: “Without this demonstration of Spirit and power in our preaching, nothing of any abiding value will be achieved no matter how many people admire our cogency or enjoy our illustrations or learn from our doctrine.”[2] From the first century to the twenty-first century, the Holy Spirit’s power remains the supreme force by which human speech is empowered, and human lives are transformed.

While we know that the Holy Spirit empowers our speech, we may honestly be confused about how exactly this works because the Spirit’s power is exceedingly difficult to explain. In Spirit-Led Preaching, Greg Heisler discusses the Spirit’s work but never tries to define it because “one single phrase or word does not do justice to the dynamic of the Spirit in preaching.”[3]

While the Spirit’s work is mysterious, the evidence of His work is clear. In their popular preaching textbook, Power in the Pulpit, Vines and Shaddix describe the Spirit’s work as “spiritual fervor that flows through a preacher…. At the same time, the people are gripped, moved, convicted.”[4] In a real sense, the atmosphere changes, the Word seems to come to life, and a result is that people hear and respond to the Spirit of God.

In his book Deep Preaching, J. Kent Edwards illustrates what preaching without the Spirit’s empowerment looks like when he relates the story of one of his students in a preaching course who delivered a “technically perfect message.”[5] However, “that sermon, despite being well organized and sporting only the soundest of exegesis, was trivial. . .. The sermon was shallow.”[6] Edward’s story illustrates a profound truth: Christian communication can possess exegetical, homiletical, and technical excellence but lack the power and transformation that only the Holy Spirit can bring.

This reality—that we desperately need the Spirit to empower our message—may cause us to wonder if we actually have any part to play in Christian communication. If the Spirit empowers our speech, does that mean that we don’t need to work to enhance our skills as communicators? In Martin Lloyd-Jones’ seminal work, Preaching and Preachers, he helps us by clarifying this potential point of confusion. He writes, “Careful preparation and the unction of the Holy Spirit must never be regarded as alternatives but as complementary to each other.”[7] In other words, the Spirit’s work in no way negates our need to prepare and work to enhance our skills as communicators.

The Holy Spirit’s role in preaching and teaching is not an excuse for laziness on our part. Rather, our human endeavors are not enough on their own. They are good and necessary, but they are insufficient without the aid of the Holy Spirit.

This leads to another vital question, what do we need to do to receive the Spirit’s empowerment? The simple answer is that we must humble ourselves and ask for it. These are really not separate steps but a single posture of our hearts. At times, we do not experience the Spirit’s power in our teaching and preaching simply because we do not ask. We can easily become so busy researching, organizing, and editing that we forget to go to our prayer closets.[8] We forget that “we are dust” and incapable of transforming our audience through our own efforts.[9]

Honestly, humility and prayer do not seem revolutionary. Indeed, they seem quite ordinary, even basic. Yet, we should not be put off or disappointed that this powerful and mysterious work of the Spirit is wrought through simplicity. On the contrary, this is wonderful news for us. The Holy Spirit’s aid need not be sought through extreme asceticism, ritual, or complex philosophies but through simple humility and faith in the Holy Spirit.

While our task is too great to be undertaken alone, God has equipped us with His own Spirit to do in us and for our people what we could never do alone. Our good and gracious Lord has sent the Helper to aid us in our ministries.

May we all seek to cultivate a vibrant relationship with the Helper. In doing so, we will find not only power in our communication but also help and encouragement in our own lives. May the Spirit of God Himself comfort and empower you as you seek to communicate His Word to His people. As Azurdia declares, “Except the Lord endow us with power from on high, our labor must be in vain, and our hopes must end in disappointment.”[10]

In next month’s column, we will explore some practical ways to strengthen our communication skills while also fortifying our hearts to remain in a posture of humility and faith in the powerful work of the Spirit in our lives.

* The views of any CCSN columnists are their own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the CCSN. We invite and embrace a wide range of views and critiques on important communication and cultural issues. The CCSN is a community of Jesus followers who study communication. We do not support or promote a particular social, political, or denominational agenda. 


[1]Eph. 6:12 (ESV)

[2] John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1990), 42.

[3] Greg Heisler, Spirit-Led Preaching: The Role of the Holy Spirit in Sermon Preparation and Delivery (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), 134.

[4] Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix, Power in the Pulpit (Chicago: Moody, 1999), 64, 66.

[5] J. Kent Edwards, Deep Preaching: Creating Sermons that Go Beyond the Superficial (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2009), 1.

[6] Edwards, 2.

[7] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971), 305.

[8] Edwards refers to this as “closet work” and goes to great lengths to discuss how it is done. See, chs. 6-9 of Deep Preaching.

[9] Ps. 103:14 (ESV)

[10] Arturo G. Azurdia, Spirit Empowered Preaching: Involving the Spirit in Your Ministry (Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor, 1998), 12.


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