If anyone on planet Earth needs to pray faithfully and fervently, it’s the pastor. For one thing, this job requires more of you than there is and more time than you have. The person accepting the Lord’s call into the ministry is agreeing to live in a world of unfinished tasks. You are literally being sentenced to live beyond yourself.
It is by its very nature impossible to live this life and do this work in your own strength. You will develop a strong prayer life or you will not survive. It’s as simple as that.
It reminds me of the opening line from Luke 18. “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not lose heart.” Now, if anyone knew the efficacy and power of prayer, it was our Lord. And here He reminds the disciples of two great truths about prayer:
1. The imperative of prayer. “You must pray.” It is not an option for anyone who takes the Lord seriously and means business following Him.
2. The alternative to prayer. “Losing heart and quitting.” The KJV says we ought always to pray and not to faint. And that is the truth in bare facts.
Now, nothing new here. Every pastor knows the importance of prayer and preaches on it to his people. The only thing is many have trouble practicing what they preach.
With that in mind, I want to recommend an approach to you the minister.
Get up early and take a walk in the neighborhood or a park–or if you are fortunate enough to live in my area, on the levee beside the Mississippi River–and talk to the Lord while you walk. By walking while it’s still dark and no one is around, I talk out loud to him. Not very loud, just enough to get the words out of my mouth, but I’m not just “thinking a prayer,” but speaking it.
It’s a half mile from my house to the levee, and takes around 7 minutes. I use that time to praise the Lord and “prime the pump” for my prayer. To get warmed up. I recite the Lord’s Prayer, sing a verse or two of a praise song or hymn, quote the wonderful opening line from the Song of Mary in Luke 1 (“My soul doth magnify the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”), and use a couple of psalms, such and 1 and 23. Praising the Lord.
Then, on the levee, during the next 30 minutes (that’s one mile down and a mile back), I spend time thanking the Lord and lifting up my requests. And confessing my sins.
But, my opinion is that the most critical part of my prayer time is what comes next. I talk to the Father about what’s coming up today. I pray for the people with whom I have appointments, for the phone conversations waiting for me, for any messages I have to deliver, and for meetings I’ll be attending. Later, as I go from one to the other, it is not necessary to stop and pray. I’ve already prayed; this meeting or appointment already belongs to the Father. So I walk confidently into the room and greet my next caller.
This practice of praying while walking seems to have been one of our Lord’s favorite prayer methods. In John chapter 11, Jesus walks with the disciples to the village of Bethany where His friend Lazarus has died. The grieving sisters meet Jesus outside town and escort Him to the tomb. He ordered them to remove the stone, then He prayed a brief prayer: “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.” Then, He added by way of explanation, “I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
Faced with this task of unimaginable proportions–raising the dead is no simple feat!–Jesus did not feel it necessary to call His team together for a prayer meeting or even to withdraw Himself for one. He had done His praying and now He did His job. “Lazarus, come forth!” He called. And the formerly dead man exited the tomb.
I suppose we could say that pastors are called to raise the dead, too, in one way or the other. We are to proclaim the gospel of Jesus which does indeed have power to give life to those dead in trespasses and sin. From the pulpit and in personal conversations, we deliver life-giving words to people who need a Savior. And those who hear, live. It’s a wonderful privilege and a frightening responsibility.
Paul said, “Not that we are adequate to think anything of ourselves. But our adequacy is of God.” (II Corinthians 3:5)
In my job as director of missions and treasurer for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans with its 95 churches, I sign a lot of checks. The other morning, as I wrote my name at the bottom of thirty or forty checks, I gave thanks that these are not drawn on my personal bank account. The third or fourth check would have depleted my small resources, and after that, I would have been in trouble. Yet, I know pastors who work hard in the Lord’s service in their own strength. And they wonder why they burn out.
We’ve all done that, haven’t we? Tried to live for Jesus in our way, by our strength. Tried to serve God and do the work of a pastor without praying, then drawing on and overdrawing our scant resources. And consequently, getting in trouble. Not with the law, but with ourselves.
The pastor who lives in his own strength and preaches and serves by his own resources, soon finds himself weak, discouraged, and ready to quit. He does not have wisdom sufficient for all the decisions facing him. He does not have patience enough for all the problems awaiting his solutions. He does not have time enough for all the tasks, energy enough for all the meetings, inspiration enough for all the messages, and compassion enough for all the people who need him.
Pray or quit. That’s the choice our Lord left us with. It fairly well sums it up. Develop an effective prayer life or find another line of work, pastor.