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What a challenging first sentence is found in "The Leader and His Praying"! Sanders writes, "In nothing should the leader be ahead of his follower more than in the realm of prayer." If I could choose one area of my Christian life where I feel my personal weakness, it is in the area of prayer. I love to read, to visit, and to preach, but each of them is concrete enough to provide some immediate feedback. I can have a quick sense of accomplishment, whether or not I've accomplished what the Lord desires.
While I intellectually agree that I cannot do anything without the power of Christ, and while I acknowledge that His power is released through believing prayer, I pray very inconsistently, especially about the ministry itself. I pray under the pressure of no other option. When all the best advice of leadership books and seminary classes have not worked, then I pour out my heart in prayer, see good results, but soon forget the way they were granted. When conflicts arise in the church and my best counseling skills give no relief, I pray, and God answers. Perhaps there would have been less conflict in the first place if I had given myself to prayer.
Ideas for Improvement of My Prayer Life
First of all, I must begin to pray more about the messages I bring to the church. Since I'm accustomed to preaching series, I don't wrestle much about exactly what I will be preaching about this coming Sunday. I do need to begin seeking the heart of God more about how these truths are to be applied to our church in such a brief window of time. I need to appeal to Him for a clarity, conviction, and power of delivery that will make His message impact the lives of His people. I need to pray over every point to be sure I'm wording it in a way that He wants.
I must pray for the coming worship services and for those the Lord would have to be there. Often, I preach a message, then realize that someone who really needed it wasn't even present to hear. I need to pray about those who are our members who need to be there and also for the prospects we have contacted through the week.
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I must make sure that in every visit that I make (even cold calls) I ask for prayer requests and pray with those visited. I've really improved in this area in the past few weeks. I pray with members that I meet in the grocery store. I pray with some over the phone. It does seem to be making at least some difference.
Whenever I consider this issue of prayer, I'm also confronted with an accompanying weakness that I have in managing my time wisely. If only I would spend more time on the projects and problems I face as a pastor, however, it might make a significant difference in how much time these things consume. Since "there is no way to learn to pray except by praying" I must make it a time priority.
I need to devote an abundance of time for prayer for the needs and mission of the church. Some of these matters would not be of the kind that would be included in public prayer, but some would undoubtedly bring a greater clarity and power in my public prayers. Some might include some of the "people problems" and "problem people" of the church. I also should really seek the Lord's direction concerning particular types of activity and programming needed in the church. He's able to guide me if I just give Him the time to work it out.
I must ensure that I alternately invite each of my deacons to spend time with me in prayer for our church. Of course, we also need to pray together as a group. Too often we just get together and discuss the business of the church with only a superficial nod toward a need for divine guidance. I need to get closer to these men, listen to their hearts, and pray for them every day and night. If Satan wants to strip our church of power and fruitfulness, he needs to tear down the unity and vitality of its leaders. I need to pray for their wives and children because internal family problems can drain them of the time and energy needed for ministry to others.
In the same way, I need to pray for our Sunday School teachers. I can do that intermittently through the week as I am reminded of them, but I should set aside a definite time on Saturday to pray that God would really use them in class the next day. I need to pray for their health, for them to really love their class members, for their understanding of the Lord and His Word to grow, and for them to be gifted supernaturally with the power to change lives through their teaching.
I must study through the prayers of Scripture, not just in Psalms or Ephesians, but in the narrative portions of the Word especially the life of the Lord Himself. It would be of great advantage to review the circumstances when the Lord Jesus retired for prayer and then assess how those situations correlate to my own modern challenges. Clearly, at the key junctures in His ministry, the Lord Jesus sought the will of the Father. When selecting key leaders, the apostles, He spent the night in prayer. When most pressured by the demands of the multitudes, the Savior when alone into solitary places to seek direction in prayer. I wish that could be my own testimony in times of stress and decision-making. Often, I have relied on my own experience and training without acknowledging that none of that is profitable without the blessing of God and some of that may simply be more expedient than holy.
Even though there is exaggeration and extremes in some modern teachings on spiritual warfare, I do need to add more prayer against Satan to my prayers for individuals who are going through hard times, especially other pastors and leaders within our churches. After all, I know it isn't the Lord who is bringing all the confusion and division into so many of our churches.
I haven't had a prayer partner now for several years. That's another factor that should change. It would be great to have two: one older and more seasoned in the Lord and another to whom I might be an encouragement.
As Sanders pointed out, taken from the example of Hudson Taylor, God can move men through our prayers alone. I need to pray for those kinds of results, and to record the requests and His responses in a prayer journal. Do we need to have a better offering in order to extend some of our ministries? Yes, we do, but I haven't even asked God to do anything about that. We seldom have many respond to my appeals to come on visitation, unless I pointedly ask one or two to go with me on my own visits. But I must confess that I haven't asked the Lord to impress it upon the hearts of our people that they can make a difference in our community one person at a time, by going soul-winning.
It would also be beneficial if I re-read the biographies of great men of prayer such as John Hyde, Samuel Chadwick, and George Muller. I do like the example of Samuel Chadwick, who went into a private room for prayer before he even ate breakfast. As a matter of habit, I normally shower, shave, dress, eat, and then try to start my day with prayer and Bible study.
I've studied many traditional writings about prayer by E.M Bounds and others. Apart from them, however, I am coming to believe that our fruitfulness in ministry is a matter of the grace of God, not just our ability or gifts. I have functioned as if my success would merely be a matter of good plans and hard work. But the Bible itself warns that God resists the proud and gives His grace to the humble. What could be more presumptuously proud than to approach the weighty issues of evangelism, spiritual counsel, comforting the grieving, preaching the Word, or leading a local church without having sought the direction and power of God through prayer?
I must carefully guard against any casual interruptions of scheduled times of prayer. I can do that better by staying away from the church office for times in prayer. I should schedule a full day in prayer for the church each quarter. In order to allow for emergencies, I should actually clear away appointments with others for two days. That way, if the first day is interrupted by a funeral or other emergency, I can shift to the alternate second day for prayer. For this time, I will need to get away from the area, taking only a Bible and a notebook.
Another possibility for improvement in prayer would be for me to set a time each year to teach on prayer for a few weeks. It would be a time for me and for the church as a whole to do a spiritual inventory about how alive and healthy our prayer lives are. As I teach, I could include the four or five most important things I've learned about prayer during the year. This would hold me more personally accountable to pursue a greater spiritual depth in prayer.
I could plan ahead to insure that we more actively include public prayer in our worship services. It is there, but only as a token acknowledgement of our need and our thanksgiving to the Lord. I could have special times, early in the services, when I would call for all the men of the church to come forward for prayer, to call upon the Lord to bless our church and to prepare us for revival. I could have times when we have guided, silent prayer during services, times when I ask them to pray about a specific area, then wait to give enough time before moving on to another area. I could ask some of our members to let me know if they have testimonies of how God has answered prayer in their lives. Then, I could ask one person to share during one service each week about the Lord's faithfulness.