Have you ever noticed how often Paul asked others to pray for him?
Romans 15:30 – “I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf,”
1 Thess 5:25 – “Brothers, pray for us.”
2 Thess 3:1 – “Finally, brothers, pray for us,”
Eph 6:18-19 – “[pray] at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me,”
Despite having an incredible grasp of biblical theology – who God is, who humanity is in relation to him, and how God has definitely acted in Christ (just read Romans and Galatians!); despite having a divine mandate to preach to the Gentiles (Acts 9); despite his confidence in the gospel of Jesus Christ (Gal 1), Paul still believed he needed the prayers of God’s people for spiritual strength and the success of his ministry.
One pastor who understood the importance of the church’s prayers for his ministry was Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Spurgeon is known as the ‘prince of preachers’ and had one of the most successful preaching ministries ever in London during the mid- to late-1800’s. Many times, other pastors from America and around the world would come to visit Spurgeon, hearing him preach, and sometimes, seeking his advice on various issues. When they did, Spurgeon was always fond of showing visitors the “boiler-room” of the church. In his day, steam was the power source of the day. Boiler rooms were the powerhouses, the driving forces of everything from vast machines in factories to household heating systems. Boiler rooms however, were not pleasant places to visit. They were functional, dirty, and hot, often tucked away in the basement. They were places of hard work, not entertaining guests. So, when Spurgeon would say he wanted to show his visitors the ‘boiler-room’ they often were not thrilled at seeing it. However, the room he would lead them to, was not as they expected. They didn’t see the elaborate system of pressure gauges and pipes; instead, they saw 700 people bowed in prayer. Looking very confused, Spurgeon would explain that the real power behind his pulpit ministry was this so-called boiler room – the place where his people prayed. Spurgeon knew why prayer was important to a church.
Many pastors lack spiritual vitality because they lack prayer support from their people. Can you imagine the difference it would make for the relationship between the pastor and congregation if the people were committed to pray for their pastor every week? How much more willing would the church be willing to listen to the sermon they prayed for? How much more willing would the church be to follow a man they had been praying would be filled with God’s Spirit? How much more willing would the church be to show love for the pastor they have prayed for with tears? It is no surprise that the author of Hebrews unites a congregation’s willing to follow their leaders and their prayers for them: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things” (Heb 13:17-18).
As a practical measure, someone in the church should organize a formal or informal group to serve as a prayer team for the pastor. Whether behind the scenes, or meeting on a regular basis, they should be committed to serving the pastor by constantly lifting him up before in prayer. Find passages that describe pastoral ministry (such as Acts 20), or passages that call for godly virtues (like Matt 5:3-12 or 1 Cor 13) and turn them into prayers for your pastor. If a more developed program is desired, the leader of this ‘pastoral prayer team’ could even contact the pastor a regular basis to find specific requests to be prayed for. A less formal approach could simply be a basic list of prayer concerns updated and slipped in a bulletin once a month. However, it is done, the words of Samuel towards Israel should be on the hearts and minds of God’s people: “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way” (1 Sam 12:23).
M’Cheyne gave wise counsel to the church when he said, “Pray for your pastor. Pray for his body, that he may be kept strong and spared many years. Pray for his soul, that he may be kept humble and holy, a burning and shining light. Pray for his ministry, that it may be abundantly blessed, that he may be anointed to preach good tidings. Let there be no secret prayer without naming him before your God, no family prayer without carrying your pastor in your hearts to God.”