A prominent preacher was delayed in getting to a meeting. Seeing this, Satan got there first and told the people he was the substitute. He opened the pulpit Bible, read a text, and proceeded to preach.
The scheduled preacher finally arrived, recognized Satan in the pulpit, and was amazed to hear him declaring evangelical truth. After the meeting, he said to the Devil, “Weren’t you afraid to preach the truth of God’s Word, lest it weaken your own kingdom?”
Satan smiled and replied, “My preaching won’t change anybody’s life. You see, I can speak the right words, but I don’t have any unction. “
What Is It?
A. W. Tozer used to say, “If God took the Holy Spirit out of the world, most of what the church is doing would go right on, and very few people would know the difference. “This applies to our preaching as much as to any other church ministry, and perhaps more.”
The rustic preacher was right when he said, “I cain’t tell you what unction is, but I can sure tell you when it ain’t!”
Effective preachers of the Word must have unction, the power of the Holy Spirit at work in their lives. This unction is necessary, not only for sermon delivery, but also for sermon preparation. The Spirit of God wrote the Bible, and He alone can make it living and real to us. How can He bless a sermon that He didn’t help us prepare?
Unction makes the difference between a religious lecture and a burning word from heaven. It makes the difference between words that cut and convict, words that bless and Heal, and words that are merely uttered to empty space. When we preach with unction, God uses the Word to accomplish great things.
How Do We Know?
We must learn to distinguish between true unction and mere “human charisma.” When the Spirit of God is at work, the message flows out with clarity and vitality. It excites you, and there is a living bond between you and your listeners. God is there and at work!
The flesh is capable of imitating spiritual unction, but the difference is this: human charisma inflates your ego (“I’m really preaching today!”), while divine unction humbles you and enables you to magnify Jesus Christ. After all, the main ministry of the Spirit is to glorify Christ, not the preacher (John 16:14).
Unction does not relieve us from bearing responsibility or exercising control as we declare the Word. “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (I Cor. 14:32), and “the fruit of the Spirit is…self-control” (Gal. 5:22, 23). The Spirit does not work instead of us, as though we were robots. He uses our God-given faculties and gifts as ‘we surrender to Him.
Nor does the Spirit give power in spite of us, for He always seeks a fit vessel to fill. If we have done our part, God will do His and give us the power that we need to understand and declare His eternal truth.
A sense of helplessness as we face a congregation is often what the Holy Spirit is looking for. In fact, those times when we feel we have failed may be just the times when the Spirit does His greatest work. Unction is not a predictable commodity that we bargain for at the throne of grace. There must always be the element of God’s sovereign grace.
Using a Life
Unless the Spirit of God is our constant source of power day after day, we cannot expect any divine enablement when we preach. Power in the pulpit must not be different from power in our home, in pastoral work, or in the church office.
Secret sin, the neglect of prayer and the Word, bad relationships at home or in the church, unbelief, and a desire for praise can all grieve the Spirit and rob us of power. It is a terrible price to pay.
John A. Broadus, the dean of American homileticians, said, “After all our preparation, general and special, for the conduct of public worship and for preaching, our dependence for real success is on the Spirit of God.”
Not that any preacher is perfect, but God knows our frame and sees the desires of our heart. We may not always be conscious of all that God is doing in and through our preaching. Moses did not know that his face was aglow, and Samson did not realize that the power of God had departed from him. Our relationship to God’s Spirit is serious and sensitive, and we must walk in the fear of God.
When we find our hearts getting cold and hard, our minds dull, our wills undisciplined and our work without challenge, then it is time to get alone with God and rekindle the flame on the altar (II Tim. 1:6). The Holy Spirit is more than willing to grant us the unction we desperately need, but He will do it on His terms.
The important thing is that we seek God’s power, not for the purpose of ministerial success, but for the purpose of glorifying Jesus Christ and building His church. G. Campbell Morgan made an awesome statement when he said, “God chooses to be helpless apart from cooperation with man.”
“And he [Jesus] did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (Matt. 13:58).
“According to your faith be it unto you” (Matt. 9:29).
©2002 WWW used by permission. This article is copyrighted by the author and is for your individual use. Reproduction for any other purpose is governed by copyright laws and is strictly prohibited. This material originally appeared in This material originally appeared in Prokope, March-April 1989.
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).