I RECENTLY RETIRED from a life of preaching. It was a difficult decision, and a sad day, but one that had to come. At my retirement party God indelibly engraved on my heart a crucial lesson. God hears prayer.

I believe passionately in the ministry of preaching. I also believe that effective preaching is much more than the transmission of information. Preaching is effective to the degree that the Holy Spirit shows up and drives the word deeply into the heart of the listener.

I said the heart, not the mind. Good preaching aims its arrows at the mind. It starts there. Good preaching is never less than well-organized biblical information. However, it is always more. The “more” is the active work of the Holy Spirit, and his power is on a rheostat. It is present some times more than at other times.

That brings me to prayer. If this is true, then prayer for the sermon is crucial. Because I believe this, over the years, I have prayed laboriously and patiently for the Holy Spirit to come and work his power in my listener’s heart.

However, many times after I finished the sermon and sat down, the lack of response has been deafening. No “that was a great sermon.” “That really helped.” “Thanks for all the work. God really spoke to me this morning.” Instead, silence. No response from anyone. It is as if I had not spoken. Did God hear my prayers? Did all that praying really make a difference?

My retirement party was a pleasant surprise, for I realized that God had been listening, and that he was usually at work in deep and mysterious ways of which I had no knowledge. I received an outpouring of comments on my sermons. Many with very specific references to ones that were life-changing. Few ever shared these comments with me at the time. I wish they had.

So, what is the take away? If you are in Christian ministry (counseling, preaching, evangelizing, leading a Bible Study) you are in word ministry, and you are utterly dependent on God for results. Therefore, pray earnestly and from the heart, and never give up, because God hears prayers. You may not know at the time how he heard your prayers, but I guarantee that he is working in ways of which you have no knowledge.