This is my personal opinion. Feel free to differ.
This happens to almost every pastor: Some civic (as in ‘nonreligious‘) outfit calls and asks you to lead a prayer at their gathering. Sometimes it’s the city council or state senate, sometimes it’s a convention or business gathering. Invariably, you are faced with the decision on what to say and what you should not say. Here is my experience…
I was in my fourth year pastoring the First Baptist Church of Kenner, across the street from the New Orleans International Airport. I received a phone call one day informing me that when the American Dental Association held its annual meeting in our city a few months hence, they wanted me to offer the invocation. I was surprised and honored.
The caller said I would have three minutes for the prayer. She added, “And Pastor, please make it interdenominational.” In my journal I wrote: “Had she said to omit the name of Jesus, I would have declined the honor for the sake of principle. As it was, I felt I could do something that would satisfy everyone.”
My secretary Peggy kept referring to it as an “innovation,” instead of ‘invocation.”
The day came. It was a huge hotel in downtown New Orleans. Perhaps 700 to 1,000 people in the room.
Question from a retired pastor–
I recently retired from full-time ministry, and my wife and I find ourselves in the position of having to find a new church for the first time in 43 years. It’s not as easy as I thought it was going to be. Part of the problem may be our location. After spending the last 27 years of our ministry in a metro area of California, we retired to a small town in a nearby state. We’re close enough that we can easily visit our children and grandchildren, who still live in California. Problem: In our little town, there’s only one church of our denomination. We attended twice, and then because of Covid watched at least two dozen services online. Expository preaching is at the top of my list of what I’m looking for in a church, so we would not be happy going to this particular church. Then, we considered the other churches in town: one Methodist church, two Presbyterian churches, two Lutheran churches, two non-denominational churches, and one Catholic church. We’ve looked into each of them and so far, we don’t seem to have found where we belong. Some neighbors of our denomination drive nearly 50 miles to a larger city for church. With a population of 100,000 there are a couple of fine churches of our denomination. We may end up doing that too, but we’d prefer to belong to a church in our little town if possible.
What do we do?
I don’t like being in a position of having to be “critical” of churches, yet now that we’re looking for the church that will be our home, it’s hard not to look at them with a somewhat critical eye. So perhaps another way of framing my question would be, what should one look for in a church? What things are important? What things are not important?
An unsolicited note came this week. The retired pastor and I do not know each other and have never met. He asked if I had written anything on this subject. I said I have not but invited him to give a fuller description of his situation. The above is his response. Below is mine.
They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength…. (Isaiah 40:31)
I waited on the Lord and He inclined to me and heard my cry…. (Psalm 40:1)
So, wait on the Lord. Be strong. Let your heart take courage. Yes, wait on the Lord. (Psalm 27:14)
Are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? (Mark 14:37).
It takes time.
God has all the time in the universe.
Throw away your watch and your calendar, follower of Jesus. You’re on heavenly time now and nothing happens on your schedule.
I suspect most of us are like the fellow who prayed, “Lord, give me patience–and give it to me right now!”
You’ve been praying for a loved one. And you don’t see an answer. You keep praying. For years, you pray and wait and hope. Then the one you were praying for is in a traffic accident and killed. Clearly, God never answered your prayer. You are devastated. So disappointed. Your faith in God wavers. You’re so unsure any more. What is the point in praying and in trusting?
And then one day, years later, something happens.
“You shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things, for this is not my doing” (Numbers 16:28).
“Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and I have done all these things at Your word” (I Kings 18:36).
What Moses and Elijah prayed, I pray.
It is entirely in order for the Lord’s messenger to pray that the people to whom he was sent will recognize that God is God and fully in charge, and that he himself is the Lord’s servant, on mission from Him.
During what was possibly the worst time of my life when a little group of self-righteous members clamored for my resignation and criticized every thing I did, that was my prayer. I was going through the fire, being tried as I rarely had.
The prayer felt like the dying gasp of the weakest child in God’s family. “Lord, let these people know there is a God in this place. And that I’m your servant, just doing your will.”
Did God hear the prayer? Did He answer?
“So, you were the one praying for me!
Tara Edelschick was brought up the daughter of a secular Jew and a lapsed Lutheran. She learned to be fairly self-sufficient, went to a great college and married a super guy. “Weaker souls might need a god,” she thought at the time, “but I needed no such crutch.”
That belief was obliterated when my husband of five years, Scott, died from complications during a routine surgery. Ten days later, I delivered our first child, Sarah, stillborn.
Oh, my. Talk about a double whammy. Life suddenly took a tragic turn, blindsiding the unsuspecting young woman.
Many would never have recovered from such a blow.
They invite you to bring a talk, a lesson, or a sermon on prayer. Your first thought, if you are normal, is, “Who me? What little I know about prayer you could put in a thimble.”
We all believe in prayer. We try to do it. We do not look upon ourselves as role models.
Truly godly men and women who are known as prayer warriors will tell you they feel they have just enrolled in kindergarten.
I doubt if our Heavenly Father is happy with any of His children claiming to have the inside track on how to approach Him, how to “get things from God,” “how to make prayer work for your benefit,” and how to get on His good side.
–Jesus Christ has done everything necessary for us to enter the Throne Room of Heaven. See Hebrews 4:16.
–Jesus Christ has opened the divider between man and God and we have an open invitation to “come on in.” See Hebrews 10:19-22.
If you and I are not entering God’s presence and lifting up our needs and petitions and interceding for those on our hearts, it’s not God’s fault. It’s not the fault of Jesus, who did everything necessary to make it possible for us to pray effectively.
When our church was about to welcome a new pastor, I contacted him to ask what we could do for him. “Tell me the top three things you want from this church.” He had an immediate answer, as though he’d been expecting the call.
“I would love to come to a unified, loving, praying church,” he said. As a retired pastor of six churches, I knew exactly how he felt. So, let’s look at those three gifts the new pastor would love to receive.
In the same way the Spirit also helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Romans 8:26)
Recently, our country had a National Day of Prayer. That’s a good thing. It keeps us focused on the importance of prayer, and probably dumps a load of guilt on all of us for not praying more or better.
Three aspects of prayer make it difficult, and probably even unreasonable. And then, one overwhelming reality keeps us at it with the strong confidence that praying is the best thing we can ever do.
The three impossible aspects of prayer that befuddle us…
–One. The Object of our prayers is unseen.
In prayer, we are addressing One we’ve never seen and can’t even prove exists. And yet, we keep at it, drawing aside day after day, year after year, speaking to the Invisible, Unprovable Lord in the firm belief that He is there, that He hears, and cares and will answer.
Is this bizarre or not?! Smile, please.
You have not because you ask not. –James 4:2
The enemy does not want you praying.
He knows something you do not. He knows the power of your praying.
He will do anything he can to stop your praying, to sabotage your prayers, to throw a monkey wrench in the works of your prayers.
And some of us are cooperating with him, so that his work is done before he gets star
Think of what we do…
One. “My prayers don’t amount to much.”
Ever say that? I’ll bet you have. And I am here to tell you that is rank unbelief. Because you have mistakenly thought your praying was all about yourself–your faith, your maturity, your understanding, your something. But it’s not. Our praying is about our obedience.
I had led a family to Christ. They soon joined our church and were baptized the following Sunday. My notes remind me of something the grandfather said. He was chairman of deacons in a church 3 hours away, and of course, they were excited about what had happened. He said to me, “We’ve been praying for this family, but one by one. We had no idea they’d all get saved at the same time!”
Dale Caston, deacon in my last pastorate, told me something that took place in a high school class when he was a teen. The teacher asked the students, “What do you expect to get out of this class?” She looked at one student: “Eddie, what do you expect?” Eddie said, “Well, I’ve had you before–and I don’t expect nothing!” Dale tells it with a laugh because he knows the part expectations play in a thousand aspects of life.
What do you expect when you pray? The curse of modern Christianity is that we expect little from the Lord, too much from the pastor, and nothing from ourselves.