One of My Most Productive Hours

Phrases like “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17) or pray “on all occasions” (Eph 6:18) intimidate the best of us. How are we supposed to do that? When are we supposed to do that? I’m not sure of every way—there are many in my church who diligently pray. I lean on those people. Still, I always want to grow in how I pray and help others to pray and be prayed for.

I have found, many times, that one of my most productive hours in ministry is not Sunday morning. Those moments on Sundays are definitely where I see the most people and, by God’s grace, see the Scriptures transform people. I love Sundays. However, a small group of folks I gather with regularly on Monday mornings to pray has become one of the essential elements to my ministry rhythms.It started years ago. I cannot remember how many—three or four, I’d guess. I was having conversations with some of the staff about ministry goals and adjustments and whatnot. I realized the work that we were getting into would require something more than witticisms and good ideas. No, these hopes would require God to move.

Thus, we started to gather to pray. The gatherings started rather uneventfully. I honestly cannot remember if those prayer times began on Mondays or not. Maybe they were Wednesdays? Too much time has passed. Over the years, two main expressions have emerged—with the first one leading to the second.

The meetings started with us around a table. I’d have a piece of paper and would ask what people thought we should be praying for. I’d have a few ideas, other people would have ideas, and we’d start a list. That was basically it. After that list hit a saturation point (or what felt like a saturation point), we’d start praying. The hour generally went with about 15-20 minutes of sharing and 40-45 minutes of praying. Nothing magical. However, there was an innate problem with the process (and I was the one who was leading it!).

Our prayers were limited to our knowledge of what was going on. 

This strategy couldn’t go on forever. It got us started, but it couldn’t sustain us. People we knew would rise to the top, squeaky wheels could dominate the conversation, and our own personal burdens (or agendas) would get special billing. We’d look at the prayer cards that would get turned in and we’d pray over those, but I couldn’t help but think that we were missing pieces of prayer needs.

Over time, we made a change.

If you know me, then you know emailing and texting is a common part of my communication. I like the medium of writing because it gives me reminders of what I said to people and when. Writing also gives me opportunities to edit and, to the best of my ability, think through what I’ll say and why I want to say it. Thus, I figured I’d start emailing members of the church and ask them directly how we could be praying for them on Mondays.

About four and a half years ago, I explained why I am a fan of church membership (here, here, and here). I figured this was a good place to start. I had to cull through list after list to get what was—to the best of my ability—a membership roster. It is incomplete, and has its limitations, but it has helped. (Also, in part because of this post, we are going to work harder at updating our roster.) Here’s the current flow:

  • Sunday afternoon: After a service on Sunday, I usually stay in the office. Sometime that afternoon I’ll go to the membership list. I have it separated into batches of about 20 people and I’ll email the next group of 20 with a quick, “We’re praying in the morning; please let me know if you have any requests.” It’s generally two or three sentences.
  • The prayer needs: Now, rather than just ask people on Monday what we should be praying for, we have needs that we did not generate. I build a list that usually includes (1) every name I emailed (and the ones who are on our list with no email addresses), (2) the prayer requests that came in directly on a Sunday (usually through prayer cards), and (3) any specific requests that showed up from the people I emailed.
  • Monday: I get to the office Monday morning, brew coffee (well, Vick usually gets to the office a few minutes before me and now he brews it), and finish off the list. Then I print out a copy for everyone in the meeting (generally four or five of us in total) and we begin to go through it. We add any info we might have on the people on the list (the group has cumulatively like a billion years of Chapel ministry under their belts), we add our own needs, we still add info on people we’re directly connected to, and we simply keep filling out the list until we’re done.
  • Praying: As we pray (and our prayers are nothing fancy, trust me), I’m taking notes on who is praying for what. So are the people praying. Taking notes helps us to be sure that each person is being prayed for by name. You’ll usually find that I wrote the initials of the person who prayed so that I have a record of it. (I don’t know why I want a record of that, but I have it for my own sake, I guess.)
  • Follow-up: One or two people in our group is particularly good at this. Ideally, we follow up with those folks after we have prayed for them so that they know we did indeed pray for them. The past few weeks, I have not been one of the faithful at this part.

A keen observer (or even just a casual one) will find all kinds of holes in this process. Our records are imperfect. Sometimes we are at a spot in the alphabet (oh, I didn’t mention that the prayer list is in God-inspired alphabetical order by last name) where we know someone who has long-attended The Chapel but isn’t a member needs to be prayed for. Never fear; we simply add them on Monday to be sure we cover them, too. Also, not everyone is an emailer—many have never replied back. That’s OK with me, though. We pray for them regardless.

However, adding just a bit of imperfect intentionality to the process has opened up a whole world of knowledge of the flock that none of us would have been able to produce simply by thinking hard enough about it. We know about ministry that is going on through folks at The Chapel that we would’ve never known about by just thinking really hard about it. We are more aware of joys and we are more aware of struggles. With each Monday that passes, we become more aware of the flock.

This short gathering has really become one of the best parts of my week. I love the conversation and I love to be able to follow up with folks and see how they are doing. I love when I’m talking to people and I’m reminded of one of their prayer requests and can ask them about it.

But the process is so simple to execute that anyone can do it—it requires no advanced education and you need not be on staff at a church. Everyone reading this (or most people, at least) has people they know and are praying for. How great would it be if you had a time set aside (each week, each month, etc.) where you prayed for those folks? Not only that, though, what if you actually let them know you were doing it?

Kids, on Tuesdays while at lunch I take time to pray for you. If you have anything you’d like me to be praying for please let me know.

Community group members, I’m taking ten minutes each Thursday afternoon and saying a prayer for you. I’d love to pray specifically, so please let me know.

Friend who doesn’t know Jesus, you might think I’m crazy, and that’s ok, but I want you to know that I pray for you. If there is anything I can be praying for in your life I’d be honored to do so. Just let me know.

This intentionality, over time, can become one of the most effective parts of your week, too. I’d encourage you to consider it.

How about you? Do you have any systematic ways of praying for folks that I (and those reading) can learn from? If so, please share in the comments.

(NOTE: We certainly want to pray on Mondays for anyone who desires it. In fact, if you want us praying for you, go ahead and write a prayer request on the site and I’d love to add it!)

I'd love to hear your thoughts