To a room of successful Christian leaders, Puritan John Owen said, “A minister may fill his pews, his communion roll, the mouths of the public, but what that minister is on his knees in secret before God Almighty, that he is and no more.”
In other words, a prayer-less minister is a pitiful pastor.
John Owen challenges leaders to use prayer as the litmus test for true fruitfulness, impact and success in ministry. Do you use the same test?
Whether you are a Christian leader or not, I am sure we would all agree – at least intellectually – that prayer is important. But what about in practice?
There is a wide chasm between what we know intellectually and what we experience existentially regarding prayer.
Why is this?
- Technology Technology makes us practical atheists. It struck me, after watching the Christmas classic Planes, Trains and Automobiles, that every single problem John Candy and Steve Martin encounter in the film could be solved by my cell phone. Things have changed since 1987.
- Schedule It’s packed, which means no time for Sabbath, rest and reflection. Our work schedules are more demanding than ever as we try to make ends meet while living in one of the most expensive places in the entire world.
- Culture I wrote about the contributions of Charles Taylor’s cultural analysis here, but he notes that our culture enforces “the buffered self”, which Collin Hansen describes by saying: “Meaning, morality, and satisfaction come from without the self in Christianity. A buffered self seeks all that from within.” Our culture prizes self-sufficient humanism, not prayer.
- Life and Family It is difficult to carve out any time in the midst of Disney dance parties (I would pay a high ransom if these were ever filmed), snotty noses and sleepless nights.
As a pastor, I often hear people say they are unsatisfied with their prayer life. They indicate that it could always be better. When we read the list above, it is easy to see why.
So, what do you do about it? In the summer of 2017, I was unhealthy: too busy, tired and running on empty.
I decided to do something about it: I lost weight, created more margin and most importantly prioritized prayer.
I am happy to say that I experienced the healthiest season of ministry in 10 years. What did I do?
The 3 Ways Forward
1. Pray intentionally everyday
I heard about another Christian leader who prays the Great Commandment, the Fruits of the Spirit and the Great Commission every morning in the shower. I thought this was simple and effective, so I started to do it myself.
Think of how powerful this framework is:
Great Commandment (Mark 12:29-31): This prayer directs my love and worship to God first, and then to others second.
The Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 22-23): This prayer focuses on the areas of growth and refining needed in my life. Throughout my day, I am reminded to ask the Lord to give me patience in a meeting, love for my family or gentleness with my kids.
Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20): This prayer prompts me to live my life on mission, in partnership with Jesus.
As you start your day, intentionally pray through this simple framework. It will anchor your soul, capture your love and send you on mission.
2. Pray for a day
There was an old dusty policy in our staff manual that I finally took advantage of. The policy states that every full-time pastor is allowed 1 day away a month to pray. For 7.5 years I didn’t take advantage of this gift.
However, this past fall I scheduled a day, once a month, to get out of the office and pray. I had to battle the magnetic pull to get things done, the fear of appearing lazy to the staff and outsiders, and the constant distraction through email and technology to actually pray.
I walked, I sat in coffee shops, I journaled, listened, reflected and grew in prayer. I am not anywhere close to where I want to be, but I did have this day set aside to learn the rhythms of prayer.
Perhaps you don’t have a policy that enables you to do this, but could you schedule a morning away once a quarter to get out and pray? I’m sure your spouse or Lead Pastor would support your desire to commit yourself, church, family, and city to God.
3. Get others to pray
Instead of allowing technology to pull me away from prayer, I decided to leverage it.
I reached out to trusted family and friends and asked if they would be a part of my prayer team. I had 32 people – uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters, friends and former colleagues – say yes.
I send an email once a month, highlighting how God answered prayer that month and requesting prayer in the three main areas of my life: personal, work and family for the next month.
This strategy has forced me to reflect and acknowledge the ways that God is working and answering prayer, as well forecast ahead to invite God into every realm of my life.
At first, I felt awkward asking these people to pray for us, but now I am so grateful for these 32 prayer warriors who stand with me as I serve God and my family.
I can assure you, this email doesn’t take long and the benefits are immeasurable. For instance, I had numerous people tell me that something had changed in my preaching this fall. They couldn’t place what it was, just that it was more powerful and insightful. The funny thing is that I had changed nothing. I credit this to prayer.
I was more focused, energetic, reflective and thankful. I credit this to my prayer team interceding for my family and I.
If you want the template I use to send this out, fill out the contact form, and I’d be glad to help you out.
Time for Action
Tim Keller, in his book Prayer, notes “Prayer is awe, intimacy, struggle – yet the way to reality. There is nothing more important, or harder, or richer, or more life altering. There is absolutely nothing so great as prayer.”
Although I am still striving towards my goal I have found these words to be true as I started prioritizing prayer in my life.
Perhaps you can’t implement all three of these, but surely you can start one today?
You’ll be glad you did and then wait to see what God will do.
Is this an area that you would like, or need, support and accountability in? I would be glad to explore a coaching relationship with you.