The pastor who teaches the congregation to pray

Now, it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray as John also taught the disciples.’  (Luke 11:1)

The Lord’s people want to pray.

Most of the Lord’s people want to learn to pray.

You are the one to teach them effective praying, pastor.

You do know how, don’t you?

Granted, none of us do it very well. Even the great Apostle Paul said, “We do not know how to pray as we should” (Romans 8:26).  So, we are not saying any of us do it as well as we should, only that we know enough to be able to help others.

Here are some thoughts on the subject….

One. Model good praying for your congregation, pastor. “Being examples to the flock” (I Peter 5:3).

Two. Pray faithfully in the privacy of your home/office/car without ever telling anyone.  Let this be between you and the Lord.  Anything less turns us into hypocrites.  Telling people to do what we are not doing is never good.

Three. But in worship services, understand that people will be learning from you how to pray. They’re listening, and they are learning.

Four. Therefore, give advance thought to your public prayers.  Work on praying better and more effectively.

Five.  Always be aware that people are not only praying with you, but listening to how you pray so they will know how to do it better.  Even if they are not aware of it, they will be copying some of the things you do.

Six. . Teach them these things about public prayer:

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10 signs your church is unhealthy

Recently, when an online magazine sent me an article on “5 signs you’re part of an unhealthy church,” I opened it eagerly. This subject is dear to my heart.

I am passionate about strong, healthy churches.

The writer’s five signs were good, as far as they went. No argument. I did not leave a comment one way or the other in response.

What I felt, however, is that my experience seems to be of another nature from the writer’s.

First, from that article here are “5 signs you are part of an unhealthy church”–

1) Leadership has no clear vision.

2) Leadership can never be challenged.

3) You are comfortable but never challenged.

4) Members are content with being pew warmers.

5) Outreach is never planned or preached.

All of these are true. But there is so much more.

Here, then, is my version of “10 signs (evidences, indications) that the church to which you belong is unhealthy”–

1. Prayer, if offered at all, is a formality, an afterthought, a burden.

While spending a long weekend at a pastors/wives retreat in Italy, I was struck by something. By the time I rose to speak, the service–by then a half-hour long–had experienced at least five prayers. The worship leader had followed a couple of songs with prayer, the presiding leader had prayed, and at least two more people with roles in the service had prayed. Each prayer had been spontaneous, heartfelt, and a joy. I knew then we were in for a rich time of Christian fellowship.

On the other hand, it pains me to remember the Sunday morning worship services where I was the guest preacher and noticed that by the time I stood to preach, not a single prayer–not one!–had been offered.

There is no more accurate indicator of a Christian’s spirituality or a church’s health than the vitality of our prayers.

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I prayed for my preaching–and got answers I did not expect

(This is a reprint of an article I wrote for Leadership magazine sometime around 2001. It was later picked up and included in “The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching,” edited by Haddon Robinson and Craig Larson, published by Zondervan, 2005. In conversations with pastor friends, I’ve learned that many never saw the article and some have asked where they could get a copy. Please feel free to copy and pass along to other servants of the Lord.)

I had been preaching for more than two decades, and I should have been at the top of my game. The church I served ran up to 1,500 on Sunday mornings, and the live telecast of our services covered a fair portion of several states. Most of my colleagues thought I had it made, and if invitations to speak in other churches were any sign, they thought I could preach.

But I didn’t think that.

My confidence was taking a beating as some of the leaders let me know repeatedly that my pulpit work was not up to their standards. Previous pastors carried the reputation of pulpit masters, something I never claimed for myself. To make matters worse, we had numerous vacancies on staff and my sermon preparation was suffering because of a heavy load of pastoral ministry. But you do what you have to do. Most days, my goal was to keep my head above water. Every day without drowning became a good day.

That’s when I got serious about praying for my preaching. Each night I walked a four-mile route through my neighborhood and talked to the Father. My petitions dealt with the usual stuff–family needs, people I was concerned about, and the church. Gradually, one prayer began to recur in my nightly pleadings.

“Lord,” I prayed, “make me a preacher.” Asking this felt so right I never paused to analyze it. I prayed it again and again, over and over, for weeks.

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Twelve insights about prayer, some of which you may not have known

“Pray without ceasing.”  — I Thessalonians 5:17.

I do not imply that I know more about prayer than you.  I hate to hear anyone celebrated as “an expert in prayer,” for the simple reason that no child should be called an expert in talking to his/her parent.  What’s so hard about that?

Granted, we make it harder than it should be, with our rules, our religions, our legalism, our opinions, our blindness, and our sinfulness.  But in its essence, prayer is talking to the Father through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Period.

What I do imply however (for this article) is that there are insights in Scripture on the subject of prayer many of us may have missed.  Here are a few……

One. Scripture says you do not know how to pray as you should.  That’s Romans 8:26. So, let’s not let that stop us.  God’s not looking for eloquence but faith.

Two.  Scripture says both the Holy Spirit and the Lord Jesus are interceding for us.  That is Romans 8:26 and 8:34.  Now, personally, I have no idea how this works, particularly when Romans 8:31 says “God is for us!”  So, it appears the Triune God is on our side!

Three. Scripture says the best pray-ers were Moses and Samuel.  That’s Jeremiah 15:1.

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What the guy in the pew wishes his pastor knew about prayer

A typical worship service will be hemmed in by two prayers, the invocation and the benediction. In between may come a pastoral prayer, an offertory prayer, and occasionally an intercession involving some specific need. Some of those will be voiced by staffers or deacons, but most will belong to you, the pastor.

Pastor, could we talk about how you pray in the services?  The fellow sitting in the pews asked if I would say a word to you about how you pray.  Seriously.

Now, in many cases, he seems to have abandoned hope that you might invigorate your prayers with fresh thoughts and uplifting praise and strong intercessions. But, if I were a wagering man, I’d bet that the laity who read this will connect with it in a heartbeat.

What the guy in the pew wishes his pastor knew about his public prayers….

1) Remember that you are praying with me and for me.

This is not your private prayer time, pastor. You are voicing a prayer on behalf of the congregation. Therefore, say “We” and “our,” and not “I” and “my.”

At some point in recent history, some misguided influencer-of-preachers convinced them that no one can voice a prayer for someone else and that when you pray in public, you should use the first person singular pronoun. “I make my prayer in Jesus’ name, amen.”

My response is that this would be news to Jesus. He taught us to pray, “Our Father…give us…forgive us…lead us….”

So, make your prayers on behalf of the entire congregation. What are they feeling, where are they hurting, what do they need? What has God impressed you to request on behalf of your congregation? Then pray that.

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Ten pointers for God’s people asked to pray in public

In a typical Southern Baptist church–if there is any such animal!–the ministers handle most of the pulpit duties. The times when deacons lead in public prayer are more likely to come prior to the offering and inside the Lord’s Supper.

When an inexperienced layman approaches the pulpit to lead in prayer, there is no telling what will happen. If it’s true that most pastors have never had training in public praying, it’s ten times as sure that the laypeople haven’t.

What we get when the typical layman leads a prayer in the worship service is often some or all of the following:

–trite statements he has heard other people pray again and again

–vain repetitions

–awkward attempts to be genuine and fresh

–uncomfortable attempts to admonish the congregation about some issue, usually their laxity in giving

–a complete unawareness of the time element. He/she may be too brief or go on and on and on.

The typical layman feels out of place doing this. There are exceptions, thankfully, and some wonderful ones. But in most churches, the deacons and other lay leadership would rather take a beating than to pray in public.

When a pastor friend announced to his deacons that they would no longer be leading offertory prayers, he expected resistance and was prepared to respond to it. Instead, without exception, they cheered the news. “They felt like a burden had been lifted off their shoulders,” he told me.

I understand that. But I regret it. In truth, this could be a wonderful time for a man or woman of the Lord to render service of an unusual nature to the congregation and indirectly to the Lord.

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Seven prayers of a lazy pastor

I know a lot about lazy preachers, basically being one myself. Every “prayer of a lazy preacher” below I have probably prayed in one way or another, to one degree or the other.

It’s easy to point at do-nothing pastors as being the anomaly and call for them to leave the ministry and stop being a blight on the name of the Lord. But in truth, many of us who work hard and long in serving Him are basically lazy and have to fight the urge to vegetate all the time. Furthermore, we should not be surprised if some of the real over-achievers found in the Lord’s work fight the same battles and are always working to compensate for those Beetle-Baileyish desires to rest and then rest some more.

Consider these prayers of a lazy preacher....

1) “Lord, give me a great text for tomorrow’s sermon, one no one else has ever noticed before and a clever interpretation of it, one no one else would have ever seen.  No rush. Just in the next hour since we leave for the ball game at six. Amen.”

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Ten things to pray for your pastor–and one big thing to do

“Pray for me, that the message may be given to me when I open my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the Gospel” (Ephesians 6:19). 

You and I would do well to pray for our pastors.

So much depends on our spiritual leaders functioning well, staying close to the Lord, thinking clearly, and maintaining good health.

Here are ten requests we should be asking of the Father for our pastors….

One.  A strong sense of God’s calling on the pastor’s life.

“It is the Lord Christ whom ye serve.”  (Colossians 3:24)

The pastor is not his own, nor is he “ours.”  He has been bought with a price.  So, we pray that He may always have a clear sense of where his allegiance begins and ends.  This will produce a far greater intensity in his faith and dynamic to his work ethic than anything the deacons or finance committee can impose.

Two.   An increasingly deeper love for the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

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Truths which Satan uses to stop people from praying

The forces of hell will do anything to keep us from praying.

Satan tells lies to keep us from praying.  He uses pleasures and misinformation and our laziness to keep us from praying.  He uses false teachers and busy schedules and great television to keep us from praying.

He also has been known to use…

The truth.

As odd as it seems, the dark prince does not hesitate to speak the truth if it will make us think we shouldn’t pray.

Here are eight true statements Satan uses to put a stop to the most powerful force in the world, the prayers of God’s people…

1–God already knows what you need. No point in asking.

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Moderately important Christianity

Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.  –C. S. Lewis

How important is the Christian faith? Listen to the Lord Jesus in just two of hundreds of similar statements from Him:

–“I tell you, no. But unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3,5)

–“Unless you believe that I am, you shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).

The faith of the Lord Jesus Christ is a life or death proposition.

Of the 100,000 excellent things C. S. Lewis said in his writings, and of the hundreds of memorable quotations we pass along from this brilliant British brother, perhaps nothing is of more lasting significance or greater benefit than the way he sharpened the line between faith and unbelief, between weak allegiance to Jesus and the real thing.

“(People say) ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Mr. Lewis would be amazed and more than a little disgusted by the lukewarmness of modern Christianity.

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