What the embattled pastor prays

Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and that I am your servant…. (I Kings 18:36)

Elijah was confronting the prophets of Baal when he prayed that brief but potent prayer. But his goal was not to win these renegades over. His target audience was the spectators, the Israelites who in their shallow affection were going with the deity who could produce the most dramatic fireworks that day.

I have prayed Elijah’s prayer.

Many a time as I entered the sanctuary for the Sunday morning service, I sent up this plea. “Lord, there are a few people in this church who are roadblocks to us doing anything. They fight me on every proposal. And they do it in Your Name. Father, please–let them know that You are God and that I am your servant.”

Now, you would think it was the second part of that prayer that occupied my attention, that what I wanted most of all was for this bunch of nay-sayers to get clear on the fact that God in Heaven had sent me as His ambassador. But you’d be wrong.

Before anything else, I wanted the same thing Elijah wanted for God’s people that day: for them to settle once and for all that the Living God is Lord and in charge and in this place. That He is “God in Israel.”

I am personally convinced that the trouble-makers in most churches do not really believe in God. Oh, they do, theoretically. If you press them, they can tell you when they professed faith in Jesus and were baptized. Call on them to pray in the service and they will render up an invocation or offertory prayer with the best of them. It’s just that they don’t really believe God is on the premises.

The proof of that is how they play fast and loose with the Bride of Christ and the Body of Christ. The way they mistreat the family of God shows beyond a doubt that the “God” they serve is some kind of absentee landlord who is not around to defend Himself and they can do as they please.

Listen to them and you’ll hear: “This is our church.”  “I didn’t get anything out of the service today.”  “I paid for that (organ, pew, whatever), so I should get to decide.” “The pastor is here to serve us, right?”

These people need to know two big things: The Lord is in this place and on the job; and that man standing behind the pulpit is on assignment for Him.

One is just as critical as the other. As essential. As vital.

God is alive and on the job.

One day while reading through Ezekiel, I was struck by how many times the Lord told the prophet that as a result of His dealings with Israel in that day, one of His purposes would be that they might know That I am God in Israel.

I’ve debating listing the places in Ezekiel where this statement is made (or a variation of it), and decided to go for it, even though it will appear as only a pile of numbers. But for anyone in doubt as to the importance of this, wonder no longer. God wants His people to know Who is on First! Ezekiel 6:7,10,14; 7:4,27; 11:12; 12:15; 13:9,21,23; 14:8; 15:7; 16:62; 17:21,24; 20:20,26,38,44; 22:16,22; 23:49; 24:24,27; 25:5,7,11,17; 28:24,26; 29:16,21; 30:19,26; 32:15; 33:29; 34:30; 35:4,9,15; 36:11,23,38; 37:6,14; 38:23; and finally 39:28.

Whew! Are you in awe?  I am. If repetition means anything, then clearly it’s important to the Living God that His people know He is alive and on the job and involved in their situation.

That is the missing element in the worship of many in our pews. They go through the motions, sing the hymns, offer up the prayers, bring their tithes, and teach their lessons. But God is far off. He is a concept more than a Living Presence. This, we might add, is not always their fault. We in the pulpit have frequently conducted ourselves and delivered our messages as though we were off on a picnic far from home without oversight or accountability. If the pulpit acts that way, the pew will not be long following.

Praying, therefore, that your people might experience God today in worship is right up there among the greatest desires of the Heavenly Father.

God wants us to know He is Lord.

This man standing before you is Heaven-called and God-sent.

Once the people come face to face with the reality of God’s presence among them, they will humble themselves in awe. The next prayer–that they might know “I am your prophet”–is a short step.

Twice in Ezekiel, among all those declarations that “they will know that I am the Lord,” we see God wants Israel to know that prophet whom they’ve been despising is God’s man.

As for them, whether they hear or whether they refuse–for they are a rebellious house–yet they will know that a prophet has been among them (Ezek. 2:5).

And when this comes to pass–surely it will come–then they will know that a prophet has been among them (Ezek. 33:33).

Is this a legitimate prayer for a preacher to voice to the Father?

Oh man, is it ever!  Yes, indeed.

Pray it, pastor. Heavenly Father, let these people know that You are God and that I am your servant.

Pray it often. It’s the will of God, it’s the need of your people, and it is the validation of your ministry. It is the remedy for what ails the church.

It weighs heavily on the heart of every God-sent messenger that there are in every church men and women who treat his ministry with scorn. It’s important that the preacher not take it personally or react as though personally offended.

It’s the Father, it is the Lord Jesus Christ, whom they are rejecting and not just the pastor. (See Exodus 16:8 and I Samuel 8:7)

When God sends revival to your church, two big things will occur.

One: The people will be in constant awe of the Father’s presence. They will need no convincing or reminders that He is alive and on the job and involved in what we are doing in this place. His presence will be so real that many times the people will feel they can almost reach out and touch Him.

Two: They will adore their pastor and support him.

But not all.

Not all? I thought you said the church was in revival. Why not everyone?

Every congregation has its share of hangers-on. Israel in the wilderness had them, a carnal group that did not understand or value spiritual things. (Scripture calls them “the rabble.”) Every church since has been infiltrated by their sons and daughters.

What we must not do is make them leaders of the congregation or sit still and wait for all of them to be on board before moving forward.

If you are indeed “the called of the Lord,” pastor, then you must keep your eyes on Him and take orders from no one else. You may take counsel from many, but orders from only One.

You’re wondering if the Lord ever answered my prayer in that church, that they would know I was God’s man. He did. Not as dramatically as He did for Elijah, but He answered affirmatively. No fire fell from heaven. No prophets of Baal were executed. Nothing like that.

What happened is that a few of the nay-sayers apologized and got their hearts right with God and the pastor. Several moved out of town. Some went to Heaven. And the others just gave up.

Remember how Joseph in the Old Testament had 7 good years in Egypt followed by 7 years of famine? Well, this Joseph put in 14 years in that church–7 really difficult ones in which I was continually having to prove myself, followed by 7 wonderful years, the kind every pastor dreams of.

That prayer is well worth praying. I recommend it heartily.

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