What I prayed in the night of my soul

Nothing jerks our prayers out of their “blessed generality” stage like a crisis. The most effective kind of crisis for that is for a close loved one to get in serious trouble–car wreck, cancer, emergency surgery.

But a close second is a personal crisis, the kind where someone is making life miserable for you and even getting out of bed in the morning and walking into one more day is taking all the strength you can muster. You either quit praying altogether, the worst possible choice, or your prayers lose their vain repetitions and meaningless phrases and get down to business.

A crisis can kick your prayer life into overdrive.

What follows is such a prayer of mine, written in the thick of church conflict. It was voiced sometime in the 1990’s, during the last of my six pastorates.  This was a troubled congregation in recovery from a devastating split that took place a year before I arrived.  The church was constantly beset with internal strife.

The prayer is about as specific as one would want a prayer to be. No more “bless him” and “help her.” It does not call names, however, and I’m glad to report is not as harsh as some of the Psalms where David is praying for the children of his enemies to not survive that day.

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 fight a 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 the subjects you are preaching, the scriptures you use, the stories you tell, the way you say it, everything. And, if you are doing all these things well, they will criticize your neck-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 deliver the sharpest, most powerful sermons you’re capable of preaching.

2) “Father, may 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 my words are Thy words.”

The first request concerns sermons. The second concerns those off-the-cuff remarks made in casual conversations or during deacons’ meetings.  It was in those deacon sessions 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 intimidated by the bullies.)

My responding to charges and questions in such meetings required the restraint and guidance of the Holy Spirit. That’s what I was asking for.

3. “I ask that 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 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.

All who were sitting in the Council stared at him, and they saw his face, which was like the face of an angel (Acts 6:15).

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 grace-on-display at the moment of death is not the result of a hasty prayer uttered at the end of one’s life, but rather the crowning glory of a long life spent in service for the Heavenly Father.

4. “I pray that I will 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 critics. If I act unlovingly, it fuels their harassment and opposition.

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: we are to do good to them, to bless them with positive, uplifting words, to pray for them, and to 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. “I ask that Your people will stand up quickly, show courage, and 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 such a prayer is appropriate, 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 some people want to see the church fail, when they harass you and hound you and accuse you falsely, there is no question about right and wrong.

Those are the times to pray courageously.

My prayer was that God’s 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. “Furthermore, I ask that those who oppose Thee shall further alienate themselves from everyone else; that church members shall abandon them, leaving them isolated and powerless.”

In every church conflict, there are godly people caught up in taking the wrong side. Saul of Tarsus was sincere in arresting Christians and trying to stamp out the faith of the Nazarene. He acted from ignorance, but 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 did I claim 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 have no influence. 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 feel that I’m on firm ground in praying for it.

7. “And Father, I pray that the result of this conflict 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 obedient. 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 often prayed a three-fold prayer that I stayed with over the years: “Lord, send only those you want in this church; keep away any you do not want here; and if anybody needs to leave, please get them out.”

It’s a prayer for unity, for harmony, for Christ-honoring peace.

This request is simply a plea that ours would be a healthy church. And, 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 ministry 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 generous and 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, sent up this plea for divine intervention. Thank you for coming to our rescue.

At this moment, some servant of thine reading this is in such a battle, 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 thy servant. We have confidence that when they bless your beleaguered servant, You take it personally.  Thank you!

Through Jesus Christ. Amen.”

3 thoughts on “What I prayed in the night of my soul

  1. Thank you, Dr Joe, for continuing to be transparent in what you share. You’re so completely on the mark with this post. This post has helped my wounded heart. ❤️ ❤️❤️

  2. I appreciate your transparency regarding your walk with our Lord and your service in His name. For over 50 years I’ve pastored mostly small churches and missions. I jokingly say, I know it’s God’s will for me to serve a particular church because “it’s in the middle of a fight, has been in a fight, or fixing to get into one. Lol God richly bless you my brother.

    • Amen. In general, Seminaries do not prepare us for the heart-wrenching, Satanic opposition against a simple, straightforward preaching of God’s Word and loving people in a genuine way. We need God’s grace to continue long-term and it took me years to learn to love my enemies like Christ but thank God I have learned and I am still a Pastor after 34 years of ups and downs and little reward but it will all be worth it when we see Jesus face to face.

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