People say it all the time, “I’m praying for you, pastor.”
I suppose they are.
My question to you, as a minister of the gospel, is: Can you tell?
I think I can. And I’m guessing you can also. Particularly if you have ever been the focus of genuine, heart-felt intercessions.
One president of the Southern Baptist Convention said the next day after he turned over the leadership of the denomination to the preacher who succeeded him he felt the difference–people were no longer praying for him. It was a sad day for him, he said.
My friend Bill Hardy tells of the farewelll reception Woodland Hills Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi, was giving him and his family as they prepared to move an hour up the state to the First Baptist Church of Kosciusko. An elderly lady went through the line to greet them and said, “Brother Bill, I have kept you at the top of my prayer list all these years.” Bill thanked her and said, “I hope you will keep me there.” “Oh no,” she said. “I’ll be praying for our new minister. Let the people in your new church pray for you.”
Little dose of reality there for my friend Bill.
Over the last few months, I have noticed the difference prayer makes in my own life.
Now, the obvious question is: Who’s praying for me now that I’m a retiree and have no natural constituency?
Answer: God alone knows.
I know a few people who intercede for me regularly. My college roommate and best-man-in-my-wedding Joel Davis told me once, “Wilma and I pray for you every day.” Now, considering that he and I saw each other only every decade or so, that was a staggering thought.
My family members pray for me, no doubt. And once in a while a friend here and there will confess to praying for me.
My pastor prays for me. Sometimes Mike Miller comes into my little office in back of the church library and sometimes I drop into his office, and once in a while, we simply walk around the block together and chat and pray. When I’m out of town preaching, Mike will phone after church to ask how it went. As a pastor for 42 years and a director of missions for 5 years after that, this is a first for me, and I’m loving it.
And then, one friend in particular–who shall remain nameless, since I’ve not asked for permission to share this–has been making my ministry a major cause for intercessions.
Second question: So, what difference has prayer made in my life? (And by that, I mean the prayers of other people on my behalf?)
Short answer: God knows.
There is no way I will ever know what temptations the Lord directed away from me, what traffic accidents He shielded me from, what health problems He prevented, what crazy people He may have kept away.
I had a reminder of this once when a group of us rented two cars to drive to a conference in New Mexico. We drove through the heavy traffic of Dallas, Texas, and stopped for lunch on the other side. Someone in the other car said, “Wow, preacher–that car almost hit you. We thought he had.” I had no idea what they were talking about.
In the heavy frantic traffic of Dallas’s speedways which they call interstates, a driver had cut across several lanes of traffic creating havoc and endangering everyone. Our friends in the other car watched in horror as that maniac almost hit my car. The thing is, though, I had no idea. For some reason I had been completely unaware of it.
That set me wondering how many times the Lord protects us when we do not know it. All we know are the ones we see or the times when we are actually in an accident or get sick or wrestle with the temptation.
As I write, on Wednesday of this week, tornadoes wrought havoc in several Southern states, wiping out entire towns and killing hundreds of frightened residents. A friend asked me, “Why doesn’t God stop storms like that? We know He can, He has the power. So why doesn’t He?”
I said, “My answer is partial, because even Paul said ‘We know in part’ (I Corinthians 13:12). But it occurs to me that God probably does protect us far more than we have a clue. The problem is, however, if He stops a disease from getting to us, stops an out-of-control car from hitting ours, or decrees that the tornado about to drop onto our house never leaves the clouds–we would never know it.
Since it did not happen, we would have no way of knowing it was about to have happened. We saw nothing out of the ordinary, so we gave God no credit for this blessing of protection He just poured out upon us.
No doubt, the reason I am still alive and alert and healthy in my 72nd year and still actively preaching the Gospel is that God has been gracious and merciful to me. And I praise Him.
Thank you for praying for me, all who fall into that category.
Well, that wasn’t a very “short answer,” was it?
But the second part of that question–what evidence have I seen that people are praying for me?–is the sense of peace and power and productivity in my life.
I know those are “three P’s” but I didn’t mean to pull a preacher thing on you. It just came to me that way as I was laying it down here on the computer.
God’s Peace is so sweet.
For me, the opposite of God’s peace include such things as anxiety, fear, and guilt. Ask anyone who has ever been anxious and now they aren’t; it’s sweet. Ask anyone who has been fearful for much of their lives and now they are unleashed: it is wonderful to be fearless. Ask anyone who has been guilt-ridden; there is nothing so sweet as His peace.
God’s Power is so wonderful.
For me, the opposite of God’s power involves such things as passivity, helplessness, negativity. Ask anyone who has ever been passive–reacting to life instead of taking the initiative–and they will agree: the power of God enables us to get up and get going and do good things.
Ask anyone who has felt helpless against the forces arrayed against them–whether man or satanic–and they will tell you: it’s so much sweeter to go forth in God’s power knowing the enemy has no hold on you.
Ask anyone who has been riddled with negativity and then has been overwhelmed by the love of God and they will agree: where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is His power and His positiveness.
God’s Productivity is so encouraging and motivating.
For me, the opposite of productivity is writers’ block, dullness of mind, and discouragement.
Ask anyone who has had writers’ block, then felt the Holy Spirit take charge when he sits down to write and he will tell you: that surge is so sweet, so encouraging, so motivating.
Ask anyone who has known the dullness of mind that cannot even decide where to have lunch today and then has seen the Lord move in and sharpen all those edges and set every nerve ending alive, and they will agree: the sweetness of the Lord moving in and taking control is as good as it gets in this life.
Ask anyone who has been so discouraged they would have resigned from the universe (or at least, they’d have quit what they were doing had they been doing something!) and then seen the forcefulness that results from the indwelling Holy Spirit and they will tell you: “I don’t ever want to be discouraged again. It’s suicidal and so self-defeating. And completely unnecessary since we have the Lord with us every day.”
That’s the difference prayer makes in my life.
I know what it’s like to feel discouraged, anxious, and weak. Given enough time, every Christian will; every preacher will. Sometimes the problem is unconfessed sin, sometimes it is the result of wrong choices or laziness or our letting bad people over-influence us. Whatever the reason, no believe ought to ever feel this way. There is no reason for us to lose heart, to worry, to feel powerless.
Prayer does not protect us from every negative influence or hurtful thing that comes down in life. If it did, we could put every insurance company out of business and God’s people would never die an earthly death.
This is a fallen world and bad things happen. There are car wrecks and tornadoes and diseases. To my knowledge, no preacher–no believer at any level of spirituality–has all the answers to this or formulae for avoiding them.
The best any of us who are disciples of Jesus can ask or expect is that we would be in His will, doing His work, bringing glory to Him, and staying on His schedule. Whatever that happens to be.
That place–in His will, serving Him–is the safest place in the universe. It’s where you and I want to live all of our earthly days.
That’s what we pray for. Thanks to those who pray it for me.
And may I say, “God is answering your prayer.” And I am loving it.
There’s nothing sweeter, believe me.