Tag Archive for: pastoral prayer

Where have the past eight years gone? It seems just like yesterday that I was first appointed to the Capital Area South District, then to the Capital Area North District, and then to the Olentangy River District. In many ways, the past eight years have been some of the best and most enjoyable of my fifty years of appointed ministry. 

I am at that rare juncture in life, which is at the same time fragile and strong.  Although it is most beautiful, it carries with it the possibility of being the ugliest of any transaction I can know. I am at the stage of giving and receiving a gift. 

On July 1, I will become the lead pastor of Christ Church in Charleston, West Virginia. So, as I am leaving the season of district superintendent, I’m entering a new season of being a pastor of a local church. As I am giving God thanks, I am receiving a gift. 

Grace 

Paul, more than any other writer recorded in the Bible, uses the same word for giving and receiving. The word is charis. It is usually translated as “grace.” But it can also be translated as “gift,” or “thanks.” 

When Paul uses it, you don’t know whether it is being given (thanks), being received (grace), or being given (gift). In a way, I am at a charis moment. It is as sacred as the Eucharist (thanks) and at the same time, it is charisma and charismatic. In other words, as I am giving thanks, I am both receiving and giving. 

Giving Thanks for You

All of that to say, I’m at a moment of giving thanks for you, but as I do, I am acknowledging what I have given and what I have received. May I say it again? I am at the juncture of the most beautiful and rarest moments that any one of us can know. 

So, with one last feeble attempt, I want to thank you for the opportunity and honor of serving with you over these past eight years. Using Paul as my guide, I want to thank you for helping me grow in my relationship with Jesus. Paul says, “I have been initiated into the mystery (secret). 

What is the mystery? What is the secret? 

Let’s see if Paul gives us a clue in his letter to the Philippians. 

Read: Philippians 1:3-11 

3 I thank my God for every remembrance of you, 4 always in every one of my prayers for all of you, praying with joy 5 for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.  

Reflect 

Paul’s letter to the Philippians is a note of thanks. Throughout his letter he expresses his gratitude for them, his affection for them, and offers prayer for them. 

As I reflect upon his words, I want to use his structure to express my gratitude for you and your ministry.    

I Thank My God for Every Remembrance of You

Paul writes, “I thank my God for every remembrance of you…” 

Friends, I am who I am because of you. I am convinced that God brought us together so that I might become more who God created me to be. I am even more convinced that God puts people in my life because I still need to experience and to be shaped by God’s love. 

Bonhoeffer wrote, “In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.” 

I am grateful for you, your ministry, your friendship, and for all God has done to make me who I am in and through you. Please know that every time you come to mind, I will give God thanks for you as I pray for your health and well-being. May I ask you to do the same for me? Every time I come to mind, pray for me. Even if you don’t remember my name and don’t know what to pray, just pray, “Jesus, help that old man. He needs all the help he can get.” 

“I thank my God every time I remember you…” 

Paul writes, “praying with joy for your partnership in the gospel…” Colleagues in ministry, “I have you in my heart…and I long for you…” (Philippians 1:7-8). 

Paul gives thanks for the joy of their partnership in the gospel. They have taken up residence in his heart. Wow. I know what that is like. You now live in my heart. You have helped expand my heart to include not only you but many others I did not know existed until I opened my heart to you.

I am grateful. 

But there is something I am learning because I have allowed you into my heart. 

The Deeper the Bond…

The deeper the bond, the more painful the absence. 

How will I manage the separation from you and our ministry together? I have been thinking about it and I have concluded that it is a matter of memory.  I’ll remember the good times, the special occasions, the profound worship. I will remember the Lord’s Table (Do this in remembrance of me), baptism (Remember your baptism and be thankful), and the conversations we have had describing God’s call upon our lives. 

I will hold you in my heart, as I sing the hymns, pray the prayers, and preach the gospel. I will hold in my heart what we have experienced together, the memories that we have made, whether through celebrations of worship, one-to-ones, or strategizing mission. We have made memories together. 

As I reflect upon it, what we have shared together is what will sustain us tomorrow and beyond.  I have you in my heart, and I long for you to be who God has created you to be as a Christ-centered leader. You must know, that will never change. 

I am praying with joy for your partnership in the gospel…Know how much you are loved and appreciated. 

The One Who Began A Good Work in You

Then Paul adds, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”   

What do you think he intended to say with those words? If your reading continues to include verses 9-11, you will find an answer. Paul prays that they will grow and mature in love, a love that is undergirded by understanding and knowledge, a love rooted in experience and discernment, a love that is put to the test and strengthened in real-life situations, a love that is the foundation for making choices in matters that count. He assures them that God is working in and through them because he is certain that they are instruments of God’s love and peace.   

No prayer, no power. 

Little prayer, little power. 

Much prayer, much power.

Paul prays for them because he is holding them in his heart. If you take nothing else from this blog, take this, “No prayer, no power. Little prayer, little power. Much prayer, much power.”

Listen to me closely, for all the education and training you have, no one can teach, train, or give you the love you need for your congregation. 

There is no education that will break your heart for the church or your church’s heart for the community. There is no training that makes you get up early in the morning to pray for the people entrusted to your care. There is no one who can give you the burden for the broken and marginalized in your community. But that is what it means to be about God’s business. If God called you, God will equip you, but you have to be in conversation with God to keep God’s love at the center of who you are and what you do. Truly, it is a matter of prayer. 

What is Needed: Prayer

Let me say it another way. Education, knowledge, and training are good, but you do not need more training. I know you want to learn more about leadership and organizational structure. I have heard your desire to learn more of the scripture and to communicate with clarity. I have experienced your yearning to be effective in every aspect of your ministry. But from what I have learned over these past eight years, you do not need more training to be who God created you to be or who God needs you to be at this important time in history.

It is my “bias” opinion that what is needed most is prayer. So, more than anything else, here is what I hope you learn and put into practice. Learn to pray. Prayer is the good work God has started in you, and it is prayer that needs to continue until the day of Jesus Christ.

Prayer is Hard

Let me say it this way: prayer is hard. Effective prayer is even harder. A.W. Tozer, author, and preacher in the 20th century, had a person who sat outside his office door while he prayed each day. That person was not to let anyone interrupt him during his prayer time. Think about it. Learn to pray not as an exercise in worship but as an expression of your relationship with Jesus. The good work God has started in you is a matter of prayer.

At the end of Matthew 9, Jesus tells His followers to pray to the Lord of the harvest that workers would be sent into the harvest. With his own heart broken in compassion, Jesus sent his followers into the world, the community, because he saw the people as sheep without a shepherd. Think about it. Jesus is saying, “Pray to the Lord of the harvest so that your hearts will be broken in compassion for the people you encounter each day.” This is part of the good work God has started in you. It is a matter of prayer.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul calls the followers of Jesus to pray. He reminds them that they do not fight flesh and blood, but they fight against the spirits and powers of the day. He identifies prayer as the full armor of God. So, to fight the powers and injustices of this time in history, you first need to pray and then act. The action grows out of the love of God. This is part of the good work God has started in you. It is a matter of prayer. 

Clear is Kind

One of the things I have learned over these past years is “clear is kind.” May I be clear with you? Most of us, as leaders, lack a deep and meaningful prayer life. It is my experience that we are too busy. There are too many meetings, too many expectations, and too many demands upon time and energy. When translated, it means that your time and solitude with Jesus is cut short so you can “run the church” effectively. Your leadership is a byproduct of the good work God has started in you. To be connected to that good work, you first must pray, seeking to know about God’s business of loving others.

As a leader, your authority comes from your closeness to Jesus. The hours you spend in prayer will change your heart, will deepen your sermons, and be experienced in your compassion. You will lead with trust, compassion, stability, and hope.  This is the good work God has started in you. It is a matter of prayer.

Prayer is Our Primary Work

Now, please know that I understand that few churches allow their pastors to spend this kind of time and effort in prayer. Most church members don’t see prayer as real work.

So, let me once again be clear. Prayer is the primary work of the church. How can you be a Christ-centered leader if Christ is not the center of your faith and work?

When prayer becomes your primary work, you will provide and protect time to pray, to study the scripture, and to seek God’s guidance in loving others as you have been loved. This is what it means to be about God’s business. This is the good work God has started in you. You were created to be in relationship with God, to reflect his glory in the community and all your relationships.

I know this to be true, your time with Jesus will not only change you, but it will change your church, and transform your community and the world.

“I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”  

Respond 

So, what is the secret Paul refers to when he writes, “I have been initiated into the mystery.” 

May I tell you what I think? It is gratitude. The secret of the fundamental relationship with God that sets you free is gratitude. The closer you get to Jesus; the more your gratitude grows and deepens. 

From my experience, people of gratitude are people of grace and generosity in their relationships. They are people of hope and compassion, as well as people of courage and care. I can tell that they have spent time with Jesus because they love the people Jesus loves, and they give themselves for the welfare of the people around them and for the community in which they live. 

Let me say it this way. If I were on a Pastor Parish Relations Committee, waiting to receive a new minister for the church, and I had a chance to ask one question, before I would say, “Tell me about your preaching or about study habits or your leadership style,” I would ask, “What evidence of gratitude is there in your life?” 

How will you thank God for the people in your life today? Whether you call it grace, gift, or gratitude, keep your eyes and ears open to God’s good work in your midst. How will you live the good work God has started in you today? 

Prayer 

O God I am grateful for the good work you have started in my life, and I am grateful that you will continue your good work in me until the day of Jesus. By your grace, give me the faith to assist people to grow in their faith. Give me the courage to lead people into the community to love others as you have loved me. I am grateful for the opportunity to thank you for the people who have helped shape me into the person I am today. By your grace, give me faith to love and trust you more. Amen. 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. In whom did you meet Jesus? Where did you discover the need to assist people in growing in their faith? How did you respond to their need and desire to give care, support, encouragement, and hope to others? What good work has God started in you that you want to share with others? What did you learn that you will do differently tomorrow? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to become more who God has created you to be. Keep in mind, who you are is how you lead. 

Now, please pray for me as I turn my face toward Christ Church in Charleston, West Virginia. Just know this, “I thank my God for every remembrance of you…” I am grateful!

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This is the fourth blog in the series, “Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry.” You can find the previous three blogs linked at the bottom of this page.

How often do you pray? Do you have a particular posture? Do you say particular words? What is your focus when you pray? Who taught you to pray? What is prayer anyway?

Over my years in ministry, I have discovered that one big assumption is people know how to pray.  The reality is we have difficulty praying. We have learned to pray short prayers publicly for dinners or special occasions, but few of us have a pattern for prayer.  Our difficulty in praying is not that we don’t have time, or that we lack discipline. Our difficulty in praying reveals that we do not know how to pray, what to pray, or even why to pray.

Heartfelt Prayer

In the tradition in which I grew up, I experienced prayer as heartfelt, genuine, and spirit-led. People prayed extemporaneously from the heart. They just let prayer flow because what just flowed was more genuine. They didn’t think about what to pray. 

What I remember is, what flowed naturally was what was on their minds and in their hearts at the moment. Too often they were not thinking of the conditions of the world or of the people beyond their own families or community. Their prayers were genuine, but the brokenness of the world and the pain of others beyond themselves did not automatically flow. 

As a teenager, I attempted to follow what I had experienced by watching and listening to others.I even went through a time of thinking that real prayers were unrehearsed prayers. In other words, the written prayers, whether in liturgies or offered by worship leaders, were not “real prayers.”

Understanding of Prayer

I certainly am not saying I know how to pray today, but as I reflect back upon my years of ministry, I have matured not only in my understanding of prayer but in my practice of prayer. Prayer is no longer something I do. Prayer is interwoven into who I am.

My prayer life has matured and deepened through several seasons of life. During each season there have been certain individuals, resources, and experiences to help me grow in faith and practice.  I am grateful for each person, resource, and experience, but early in my ministry, I was introduced to E. Stanley Jones through his book How To Pray.

Much of what is recorded in that book is true today. He wrote, “If I were to put my finger on the greatest lack on American Christianity, I would unhesitatingly point to the need for an effective prayer life among laity and clergy.”

“If I had one gift, and only one gift to make to the Christian Church, I would offer the gift of prayer, for everything follows from prayer. Prayer tones up the total life.” 

“Prayer, in the curriculum of living, is the required subject. We do not graduate into adequate human living without it…the difficulty comes in the how of prayer.” *

Prayer is Bigger than Anyone of Us

One of the difficulties of prayer is that it is bigger than anyone of us. To not give thought to what to pray makes prayer small. To not give time to prayer makes prayer insignificant. Not to pray keeps you from becoming all who God has created you to be.  

I think the disciples had not given much thought to prayer until they experienced Jesus praying. Other than observing Jesus, their only experience of prayer was with John’s disciples. They had seen the power of prayer and they wanted their prayers to make a difference. They knew that John had taught his disciples to pray and now they wanted to pray.

I find it interesting that the disciples did not ask Jesus to teach them how to tell a parable, multiply the loaves, or heal the sick. They asked him to teach them how to pray. And when asked, Jesus taught them a pattern of prayer. 

Let’s use our pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to focus on prayer.   

Read Luke 11:1-13

Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”  

 So, he said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, may your name be revered as holy. May your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything out of friendship, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

“So, I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asked for a fish, would give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asked for an egg, would give a scorpion? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

Reflect

Luke has Jesus praying at important points in his ministry. His pattern is to go off to a desert place or a lonely place to pray. It was in those times of prayer that Jesus kept his focus on the ministry God called and commissioned him to do. 

Through prayer, Jesus not only received his call and commission for ministry, but he also sought direction for his ministry. When he experienced success in his ministry, he prayed. He prayed to check the desires of his heart, “Do I go with the crowd, or do I go to the cross?”

It was through prayer he chose twelve apostles out of all the disciples who followed him. He was seeking those who, in the present, could hold together Israel and the emerging Christian community. 

In the feeding of the 5000, Jesus was feeding those who are hungry as the sacrament of Holy Communion. In relation to Simon Peter’s confession, Jesus prayed because Simon Peter and the other disciples misunderstood his suffering and dying as a contradiction of who and what they understood the Messiah to be and do. 

In the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus prayed because his identity and purpose as a suffering Messiah did not match the images of the people who loved him and who followed him. In the mission of the 70, it is in prayer that Jesus gives thanks to God for the faith given to his followers. 

Teach us to Pray

Now, when he returns from his time of prayer, his disciples are asking him to teach them to pray. They knew that John the Baptist had taught his disciples to pray, so when Jesus returned from prayer, they took advantage of the opportunity, “Lord, teach us to pray.” 

They have been present with him through each of these experiences of prayer and they have not prayed. Jesus has been praying to keep his focus on God and what God has called and commissioned him to do. Are the disciples now asking for the same focus? 

Persistence in Prayer

Luke gathers Jesus’ teaching material on prayer in chapter 11. Immediately following what we know as the Lord’s Prayer, Luke tells a story of persistence or perseverance in prayer. This teaching is to reassure believers that their prayers are heard and answered. 

If a grouchy neighbor awakened from sleep will respond to an urgent request for bread, how much more will God respond to our prayers? The story is not about praying harder or longer. Luke is encouraging his community to persist in prayer because to pray is to stay focused upon God and God’s call and commission to ministry. 

Jesus’ pattern was to go to a lonely place to pray and then come back to engage in ministry. His time away to pray was to keep his focus on God’s call and to test his desires in response to God’s call. Luke’s encouragement to persevere in prayer is to keep your focus on God. 

Perseverance in Prayer

Next to persistence in prayer, Luke places the “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” sayings. “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” He teaches perseverance in prayer.

In Chapter 10, Luke tells of Jesus sending the disciples out, his instructions on what to take with them, and how to respond to those who accept them and reject them. The “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” material was adopted by the early Christian missionaries as an encouragement to live out their mission, depending only on friendly supporters along the way. Luke uses the sayings in relation to prayer. Since God is eager to hear and respond to the believer’s prayer, we may confidently ask, seek, and knock, no longer on human doors, but on the gates of heaven. 

Luke concludes the teaching material with, “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

The Focus of Prayer

So, the difficulty of prayer is seen in the persistence and perseverance of staying focused upon God and God’s call to ministry. Focused prayer involves preparation. There are times when your mood may not be right; an irritated or anxious temper may get in the way. Or perhaps the preoccupation with work and family may be clouding and crowding your thoughts. 

A dozen different demands and pressures make special preparation an absolute necessity for real prayer. So, remember this: To pray is to focus on God and God’s call. To pray is to live in God’s presence and to receive God’s power.

Prayer is who you are as a Christ-centered leader, and who you are is how you lead.

Respond

We are not sure what brought the disciples to the point of asking Jesus to teach them to pray. But as I think about it, motivation is not as important as participation. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus was ready to provide them with direction. He did not ask them about their motivation; he provided them with a pattern for participation. 

His pattern was to pray, so he could engage in ministry. His time away to pray was to keep his focus on God’s call and to test his desires in response to that call.

Pray to Stay Focused on God

As a follower of Jesus, called and commissioned as a leader, you pray to keep your focus on God and to keep the desires of your heart in alignment with God, as you have experienced in and through Jesus. 

To learn to pray, practice focusing your prayers. Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • What would happen if I walked through the neighborhood focusing upon my neighbors as I prayed? 
  • What would happen if I educated myself to think naturally of children, poverty, gun violence, prejudice, hunger, or homelessness in my neighborhood, community, or city? 
  • What would happen if I listened to the news or read news stories in preparation for prayer? 
  • What would happen if I became more aware of the politicians, the first responders, the teachers, the medical personnel in my neighborhood, community, or city?  

Asking Jesus to teach you to pray means that you prepare yourself to focus upon more than your thoughts and feelings. As a Christ-centered leader, focus your prayers to become more than “just how I feel” prayers. Praying extemporaneously is important, focused prayer is what makes the difference. 

The difficulty of prayer is experienced in actually praying. When prayer becomes a part of who you are, you begin to participate in your prayer. So, I offer this caution with prayer, when you pray be ready to act, because God will empower you to be the answer to your prayers.

Prayer helps make you who you are, and who is are is how you lead. 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you met today.

  • When and where did you pray?
  • In what ways were you assisting others to pray?
  • How were you exercising leadership when you prayed?
  • What did you learn about yourself and about your feelings and actions toward prayer?
  • How did you experience God’s love?
  • With whom did you share God’s love?
  • Who is helping you grow as a leader?
  • What will you do differently tomorrow?

Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Prayer 

O God, as I open myself to you, I am asking you to teach me to pray. Keep me focused on you and your direction for my life. Keep me mindful of the world around me so that I may pray for the well-being of the people around me and the community. By your grace, continue to make me an instrument of your love and peace so others might know of your love and acceptance. Thank you for the opportunity to be one of your leaders at this point and time. I do believe you created me and gifted me to lead for such a time as this. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus. Amen*

*How to Pray, by E. Stanley Jones, first published in 1943. Reprinted by the E. Stanley Jones Foundation 2015.

Other Blogs in this Series

O creator God, who hung the stars in space, knitted each of us together, and set before us a plan and purpose for your world, we are grateful for this time of worship.

Tag Archive for: pastoral prayer