Nothing jerks our prayers out of their “blessed generality” stage like a crisis. The best kind of crisis for that is for a close loved one to get in serious trouble–car wreck, cancer, emergency surgery, that sort of thing.
But a close second is a personal crisis, the kind where someone is making life miserable for you and it’s taking all the reserves you can muster to get out of bed in the morning and walk into one more day. You either quit praying altogether, the worst possible choice, or your prayers lose their vain repetitions and meaningless phrases and get down to business.
Yesterday, going through a stack of notes from the 1990s, I found such a prayer of mine, written in the thick of church conflict. It’s undated, so there’s no way of determining what particular struggle was going on then. We went through so many, the first six or seven years of my 14-year pastorate at the last church we served.
The prayer was written in longhand and filled two pages. It’s about as specific as one would want a prayer to be. No more “bless him” and “help her.” But on the other hand, it does not call names and I’m glad to report, it’s not as harsh as some of the Psalms where David or whoever is praying for the children of his enemies to not live to see that day’s sunset.
Here is the prayer, along with a few comments. I send it forth in the hope that some servant of the Lord in the fight of his life may find encouragement to hang tough and be faithful.
“Father, what I’m praying for is that….
1) Everything I preach may come from thee. Lead me please regarding subjects, texts, stories, applications, and especially in the delivery.”
When people are fighting the pastor, invariably they attack his sermons. That happened to me at various times over a long ministry. In a sense, the critics are hitting us where we are most vulnerable, because few of us feel that our preaching is all it should be. They will find fault with what you are preaching, the scriptures you use, the stories you tell, the way you say it, everything. If you are doing all things well, they will criticize your tie–or the lack of one.
The remedy is to turn their opposition into motivation to pray harder, study more diligently, and do everything you know in order to preach the sharpest, most powerful sermons you’re capable of doing.
2) “Every position I take, every pronouncement I make, be from Thee. May I be silent until the right moment. May it be obvious to those who love you that this is a Godly word.”
The first request concerns sermons. The second concerns those off-the-cuff remarks made in casual conversations or during deacons meetings. Even though nothing here mentions deacons per se, I’m confident that was the arena I was thinking of. It seemed to be the place where those who opposed me fed off each other and gained encouragement to attack. At the same time, the “good guys” tended to be silent there. I have no explanation for that, other than outright cowardice. (Hey, let’s call it what it is. They were afraid to stand up to the bullies.)
Responding to charges and questions in such meetings required the restraint and guidance of the Holy Spirit. So that’s what I was asking for.
I’ve been in meetings where some person sat quietly throughout the discussion and debate. Finally, he or she rises and says something that settles the matter. The bon mot, the French call it. The right word. That’s what I wanted to be able to do and this is what I was praying.
3. “I may have a strong inner sense of closeness to Thee which gives confidence and quietness.”
Who among us does not revel in the picture Acts 7 gives of Stephen. As his enemies pound the life from his defenseless body with their bruising stones, he is hardly aware of them, so caught up is he in the sweet nearness of the Lord.
“They were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this they covered their ears and yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him…. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed” (Acts 7:55-59).
Such dying grace is not the result of a quick prayer uttered at the end of one’s life. Rather, it is the crowning glory of a life well spent in service for the Father in Heaven.
4. “I may always act in love.”
It’s not enough that my sermons be strong, my comments be wise, and the peace of God guard me. I must show love to my detractors in all I do. If I act unlovingly, it fuels their harassment and opposition.
Nothing is more important in this than remembering that scripturally, love is something we do. More than an attitude or affection, we are to do loving things to everyone around us. Luke 6:27ff names four specific acts of love we are to carry out even to our enemies: do good deeds for them, bless them with positive, uplifting words, pray for them, and give to them.
Such actions will glorify the Lord Jesus, bless His church, stun the opposition, infuriate the devil, defuse your own anger, and bear an incredible witness to outsiders watching the fight.
5. “Your people stand up quickly, that they be courageous, that they win this fight.”
You will notice the total absence of false humility here. None of this, “And Lord, if they are in the right, show me and give me the strength to change.”
Sometimes that is in order, and we should never hesitate to pray it. But at other times, not even close. When God leads you to a church and you are serving Him with all the faithfulness you know how, but when people want to see the church fail, when they harass you and hound you and accuse you falsely, there is no question as to right and wrong.
Those are the times to pray courageously.
My prayer was that the faithful people would not be content to sit on the sidelines and watch their church ruined and their pastor torn to shreds by mean-spirited spiritual pygmies. I longed to see them take the initiative in responding to unChristian behavior and ungodly attacks–to stand to their feet and speak out powerfully and not let the devil savage the Lord’s church and His servant.
6. “That any who oppose Thee shall further alienate themselves from everyone else; that church members shall abandon them, leaving them isolated and powerless.”
In every church fight, there are sincerely good Christian people who are caught up in taking the wrong side. The Apostle Paul was sincere in arresting Christians and trying to stamp out the faith of the Nazarene. He acted from ignorance and, through the intervention of the Lord, came to see how wrong he was. So my prayer was not against the sincere but against the evil-doers, whoever they were. At no time have I claimed omniscience. Unable to see inside the heart of man, I make no judgments as to who is sincerely wrong and who is purely evil. That’s God’s realm.
What I can pray is for those who are pawns of the devil to be exposed for what they are, and for them to find no one listening. A dose of humility and even a little humiliation wouldn’t hurt them, either. I’m human enough to want to see their comeuppance. That takes the form of the Lord blessing His church and prospering my ministry. After all, that’s why He sent me. So I’m on firm ground in praying for it.
7. “That the result shall be:
–a purging of the membership in accordance with Thy will for this church.
–a shutting of the voices of those rebellious souls who will be leaving; protection for any church to which they shall go.
–peace in this church. I pray for a HARMONY of spirit, of action, of words. I pray for a HARVEST of souls because those who remain are alive. And for a HARBOR of safety for lost and weary souls. Make this a place of refuge, of healing, of safety.”
As a young pastor, I began praying a three-fold prayer that I’ve stayed with over the years: “Lord, send to this church only those you want here; keep away any you do not want here; and if anyone needs to leave, would you get them out.”
It’s a prayer for unity, for harmony, for Christ-honoring peace.
This prayer–specifically the 7th request–is a plea that ours would be a healthy church. But it’s also a concern that the trouble-makers not spread their infection to other congregations in the area.
And lastly, I prayed:
8. “That finally there shall be the joy of heaven in our relationships, in our worship, in our business, in our witness. Thank you, Father.”
The question, readers will want to know, is whether the Lord answered that prayer. My strong sense is that He did.
A healthy church is not a static thing. It’s a living organism, always in flux from one day to the next. One person leaves and the church changes. Someone joins and it changes again. A member backslides and the church weakens. Someone gets serious about praying or giving or serving and the church strengthens.
Our congregation became strong and the fellowship sweet over the final seven years of our pastorate there. The numbers did not always consistently reflect that, but often they did. What convinced me more than anything that God had heard our prayer was when the constant carping had gone silent, the prayer ministries of the church were flourishing, our giving became sacrificial, and people began to find their greatest joys in ministry and missions.
“Father in Heaven, thank you for hearing the cries of your servant who, in the midst of the struggle, sends up a plea for divine intervention. Thank you for coming to our rescue.
Some servant of thine who reads this is in such a battle at this moment, Father. Surround him/her with Thy presence with such power and assurance that the burdens of the day shall melt away. And Lord, give them a few Godly friends who will stand up and speak out no matter the cost, who are willing if necessary to lay down their lives for this thy servant. In doing so, we know you take this personally. When they bless your servant who is faithfully doing thy work, they bless Thee.
Through Jesus Christ. Amen.”