There are few things as significant to a Christian as prayer, and there are few things that are so easy for a young pastor to neglect as prayer. Prayer doesn’t feel like it “does” anything. People aren’t known for prayer—it isn’t sexy and it doesn’t bring accolades.
As I started this little blog series, I wanted to focus on things that I’ve learned after about 10 years of pastoral ministry. I do this for me because it helps me to figure out how I have changed (and likely how I need to keep changing). The first post was about how faithful ministry is better than fast ministry. How does ministry remain faithful, though? Through prayer.
I have not ever been a great prayer person, so I am not the expert here in a discussion about prayer. However, if there was some advice that I could go back and tell younger Hans, I would say, “Create a regular way to pray for lots of things in your life, in your church, and in this world.” (This post will still be true in 10 years when I’d talk to myself today.)
If one needs a prooftext as to why prayer is important, look no further than 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (“pray without ceasing”). Most “serious” Christians know that verse, though, so it clearly doesn’t have the effect that it should. I’ve come up with another way to challenge myself in considering how seriously I view prayer: the amount of time you spend praying for something is directly correlated to how much that thing matters to you and you recognize your inability to do anything about it.
Are there better ways to say the above statement? Sure. But you get the idea. Prayer isn’t just an add-on to pastoral ministry, it is lifeblood (not “the” lifeblood, because that’s Jesus). There is little more significant work that a pastor can do than pray for his family, for his people, for his world, and for himself.
Still, prayer is not a go-to for many folks, pastors and members included. My counsel for people is often pretty short. A familiar interaction might go something like this.
“Hans, I’m not sure what to do in my marriage. My spouse is driving me crazy.”
“Hmm. Sorry about that. Do you pray regularly for your spouse and your heart toward your spouse, specifically about this thing?”
“No. Not regularly”
“It might be good to do that.”
I certainly don’t want to sound trite or pedantic (or tritely pedantic), but we should all be praying more. We should all be bringing all types of things before the Lord—big, small, and other. If you are praying for the wrong thing, the Lord will clear that up. Am I saying that I WANT people praying for the wrong things? No. However, God is sovereign and he is good and he will correct the crookedness in our own hearts and motives (Jas 4:1-3), so I’d rather people be praying for something rather than nothing.
For pastors, I’d encourage a few specific things (I mean, anyone could do this, so it isn’t really pastor-specific):
- Have a system: By “system” I mean have a way to keep up with prayer needs, know who and what you’re praying for, and how often you’re praying for those people and things. Currently, and this might change, I have certain prayer lists that recur daily and others that recur weekly. The system is nimble and I can easily add to and adjust, and I often do that (sometimes daily). I do all of this electronically so that I can have the list on my computer or my phone and can go through it with regularity.
- Set a goal: Here I would encourage folks to have a set amount of time to pray. This is just a guideline, but I’d say pick an amount of time—five minutes, twenty minutes, whatever—and use it as the time to go through your lists. It probably won’t be enough time, and that’s ok. Just go longer.
- Pray for your membership: I wrote about how I tried to do this better while in Baton Rouge. What I do in Spring is different, but the heart is the same. I want to regularly pray over the needs of the membership of the church. Why the membership? Because they are the ones who have committed to the church as the place they want to be and the leaders as the ones they trust with a part of their care. It is important to know what is going on with them. My system to pray for the membership is a little different than the other lists I use, but it is still all a part of my larger prayer approach.
- Follow-up with people you pray for: Let folks know you pray for them. Let them know what you are praying for. Ask them if there are other requests. Even the people in your life who don’t know the Lord will likely be encouraged in some way to know that you pray for them, so make telling people and interacting with them a regular part of your prayer time. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a texter, so I text folks a LOT.
This isn’t the end of the journey for me. I am sure I’ll look back on this post in a few years and go “that was such a paltry effort”—at least I would pray that is the case.
I’d love to learn any ways you’ve been able to pray more. Help me—in helping me you help my church and those in my life who deserve me praying for them more than I do.