This year at the church I pastor, I have decided to emphasize prayer. I didn’t make this decision because of a lack of talking about prayer in the past. Each of my last three years here have seen at least one series where I have taught on prayer on Sunday morning, and a couple of years back I did a several week study on the Lord’s Prayer on Wednesday nights. Also, three times in the past three years we have abandoned our normal Sunday morning routine and had services focused on nothing but prayer and singing praise to God.
Also, since I first arrived at this church in mid-2010, I have kept a monthly calendar with all the active individuals and families spread across 28 days. Each day I pray for two or three households, and every other month I send cards to them letting them know I have prayed for them, encouraging them with Scripture, and asking for any requests.
I guess all of this is somewhat unusual, because on a ministerial evaluation for a class that I am in, one lady wrote: “I’ve never had a pastor who valued prayer as much.”
I am humbly grateful for that statement, yet I must confess that I know my own weakness.
Prayer does not come easy for me, and I feel more often than not I neglect sufficient prayer in my life. I consider prayer and time in the word to be our two foundational acts of devotion to God and the two primary tasks of pastoring (John 15:7-8 and Acts 6:4). The way I think about the two is that time in the word is more heady—we must read, think, and meditate; and prayer is more relational—we talk to God as Father, Brother, Spirit, Lord, King, and Friend. In my own personality, I’m more wired for the heady and less the relational. I can get along fine in a day with my nose in a book and not saying hardly a word to anyone else.
Thus, I can read and study and diagram and dig into the Bible until the cows come home. But prayer…talking, relating, communing? That takes more energy for me and more fighting against my natural inclinations. Prayer is harder. Prayer is a personal weakness.
I have found this to not only be true for me. One day within the past year, a deacon and I were visiting with a lady in my church. She is a dear, sweet lady in her mid 80’s who has essentially spent her entire life in one of two churches depending on where she lived at the time. Her husband, before his passing, had been a deacon in these two churches. Towards the end of our visit, I asked her (as is my custom): “What can we pray for you?”
She thought for a moment, looked at me, and said, “Pray for my prayer life. I don’t think I know how to pray.”
Those words took hold of my heart. Here is a lady who had spent her entire life active in church, and now in her final years she says, “I don’t think I know how to pray.” How does this happen?
And it’s not just this one lady and it’s not just prayer. I’ve also had conversations with church members who have been involved with churches longer than I have been alive. We’ve talked about how much of the Bible they have read. “Maybe most of the New Testament but not really any of the Old Testament.” In thirty some-odd plus years, they have not made it through the Bible even once.
These aren’t fringe members. These aren’t the ones who show up once a month and don’t really have anything else to do with the church. These are men and women who spend far more Sundays in church than they don’t, who attend Sunday School, and who have been a part of other Bible studies. They have actively served in church ministry.
Yet, they don’t know how to pray and have never read through the Bible even once. Again: how does this happen?
It burdens my heart. I don’t know how long I will be in this place—be it five years or fifty years—but however long I am here as pastor, I want to work so that the legacy I leave behind is that these people were taught and challenged to pray and these people were taught and challenged to know their Bibles. I hope that when I’m gone, all the people I serve will be devoted to God through prayer and the word; and if they are not (and I hope this wouldn’t be the case) I want it to be because they chose not to learn and engage, and not because they weren’t taught and given opportunity.
Two things I’m doing this year to emphasize prayer: First, to the start the year, I wrote a little booklet on prayer and made it available to all the people at the church. We even handed them out on a Sunday morning with men and a stack of booklets stationed at each door. The booklet is based on the Lord’s Prayer and breaks down the five main ways Jesus taught us to pray, as well as providing ways to put these into practice. I’ve attached a .pdf copy of the file to this post for you to use if you want to take a look at it (here: Daily Prayer Guide booklet). Just a word of warning: it is formatted to be printed out as a booklet, so it won’t make much sense if you just start at the top and try to read it through.
Second, on Friday February 7th from 7pm to whenever we feel like we have reached the time to finish, we are hosting a prayer meeting at our church building. I’ve advertised and pushed (gently nudged) our church members to attend. I’ve also invited all our area and associational pastors to join us and bring leaders or others from their churches. I don’t know how many to expect, but if there’s three of us we will pray and if there are three hundred of us we will pray. I also plan to do this at least two more times during the year.
Part of my inspiration for such a meeting was the services we have had over the past few years to just spend time in prayer and song. Another inspiration for it is another church and another pastor not far from me. Towards the end of last year, I was having a difficult time with a certain situation in my church (that’s all of that detail you need). Sitting at home, I was reading through Daniel 9 and came to the part where Gabriel showed up with an answer from God to Daniel’s prayer.
I paused, shook my head, smirked, and said to God, “It’d be nice if you still gave answers like that.” I returned to reading and before I reached the end of the chapter I received a text from this other pastor inviting me to his church that evening for a 7-to-Midnight prayer meeting. Even though I originally had something else planned, I stared at the text, nodded, and then said to God, “It’s not Gabriel on my doorstep, but I’ll take it.” I changed my plans and went.
There were only three of us at that meeting, but it was a good five hours of prayer, worship, and fellowship. It didn’t bring complete resolve (yet) to the situation, but it helped on several levels.
God desires our prayers. He desires our relationship with him, even if we’re not the most relatable of persons. I need to be more faithful in prayer, and I want to lead the church I shepherd to be more faithful in prayer.
This is my aim: to make 2014 a year of prayer that will hopefully carry on into 2015 and beyond.