Over the last two posts, I’ve tried to show that an essential part of the pastor’s ministry is prayer and that the ministry of prayer should consist in two things: the pastor in prayer for himself and for God’s people. Now, we turn to some practical matters. How do you actually develop a healthy prayer life that empowers your ministry?
Passion Begins with a Plan
How often have you intended to pray for someone and simply forgot? How many times are you made the promise, ‘I’ll pray for you” only to think about that promise a week later? If you’re like me, the answer to both questions is: too often. We long for passion in prayer, but passion in prayer begins with a plan to pray. Discipline is the breeding ground for intimacy with God.
The easiest way to become consistent in praying for your people is to begin with some kind of list of requests and a basic plan for when to pray. For example, one of my professors in college simply assigned himself a group to pray for each day of the week. If you follow this pattern, your schedule might look something like this: Sunday, pray for those in ministry; Monday, pray for lost friends and family; Tuesday, pray for family needs; Wednesday, pray for church family; Thursday, pray for missionaries; Friday, pray for personal needs; Saturday, pray for governing authorities.
Pastor Derek Prime writes about how he keeps a list of people to pray for on a regular basis and pulls it out right after his devotional time. He writes down a key thought from the passage he’s just read, and then prays that thought for each of the names he covers that day. So if you read over 1 John 2:15—“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” You might write down, ‘do not love the world,’ and make that your petition for everyone on your list for that day. You can pray through a couple people or families, mark where you ended and pick it up there the next day.
Mark Dever has made the case over the years for the church directory being an important part of pastoral ministry in recent years. I’ve heard him say that he keeps a copy with him and make sure to regularly spend time praying through names and faces of those God has entrusted to him. Garret Kell (who previously served with Dever at Capital Hill Baptist Church) recently spent time laying out the biblical and practical benefits for this same conviction to extend to the entire church.
The Battle Is Won in the Closet
In the end, the method itself isn’t important. What is important, is finding some way of carving out regular time to spend with God, passionately praying for the people of church. How can we expect to see prayer grow our church, if our pastors are not praying? As the shepherd leading the sheep, the pastor must be a man of prayer or the church never will be a house of prayer. Spurgeon once wrote,
If you are a genuine minister of God you will stand as a priest before the Lord, spiritually wearing the ephod and the breastplate whereon you bear the names of the children of Israel, pleading for them within the veil. . . . The preacher who neglects to pray much must be very careless about his ministry. He cannot have comprehended his calling. He cannot have computed the value of a soul, or estimated the meaning of eternity. He must be a mere official, tempted into a pulpit because the piece of bread which belongs to the priest’s office is very necessary to him, or a detestable hypocrite who loves the praise of men, and cares not for the praise of God. . . . He cannot be one of those who plough deep and reap abundant harvests. He is a mere loiterer, not a labourer. As a preacher he has a name to live and is dead. He limps in his life like the lame man in the Proverbs, whose legs were not equal, for his praying is shorter than his preaching.”
It is imperative, then, for pastors to arrange their lives in such a way that plenty of time is dedicated to prayer, for the protection and promotion of their own spiritual condition as well as the needs of their people. Edward Payson is surely right when he says, “It is in the closet that the battle is lost or won.” So, block it out in your calendar, turn off the phone, shut down the computer, lock the door to your study, and get on your knees. Even if some get offended at first, you will never have power in the pulpit or serious spiritual transformation in yourself and your people if you are not committed to prayer. If a church is to become a house of prayer, then the pastor must be a man of prayer.