There’s a beautiful line I heard some years ago. I’ve never verified its accuracy because, frankly, if it’s not true, I don’t want to know. But it fits with the life and character of the man who supposedly said it – a Bishop in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, a wonderful man who died some years ago now. This Bishop is supposed to have told his ministers: “If you spend two hours every morning praying for your church and praying for your people, you can have the rest of the day off.”
Superb. That’s my kind of pastoral advice!
What was he saying? Clearly, he’s not encouraging laziness or presumptuous inaction among pastoral workers. He was sending a very clear message to his leaders: Your most important contribution to the growth of the gospel in people’s lives is your prayers. That’s the measure of your ministry. Prayer is your work.
In recent years, many have spoken of a ‘resurgence’ in reformed theology in some circles (especially among young leaders in the United States). In other circles, robust reformed theology has already held sway for a number of years. But as vital as good theology is to the growth of the gospel, what about prayer? Is prayer seen as equally important? John Piper was recently quoted as saying, “Prayer is a huge hole in the canvas of the reformed resurgence.”
It’s worth looking at the example of the apostle Paul – the greatest theologian in the history of the church, and Jesus’ handpicked apostle to take the gospel to the nations. Yet despite all his gifts and his unique divine appointment, Paul knew he was utterly reliant on the prayers of God’s people for the success of his ministry. Look at these examples:
- “I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints.” (Romans 15:30-31)
- “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” (2 Cor 1:11)
- “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.” (Phil 1:18-9)
- “At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.” (Philemon 22)
Paul didn’t think that stuff just happened. He didn’t expect the gospel to bear fruit ‘just like that’. It all happened as God’s people prayed. Likewise, in the book of Acts, prayer is vital to the spread of the gospel, and to the life and ministry of all the apostles (eg: Acts 1:14; 2:42; 4:31; 6:4; 12:5, among others).
For all of us – but especially those that have the privilege and responsibility of leading and pastoring God’s people – do we presume that God will bless our ministry because of our robust reformed theology, our brilliant preaching, our strategic planning, or our insightful insights into culture, if all the while we fail to pray? Do we think it will just happen? Or do we think it will happen through our prayers, and through the prayers of many?
Pray for your church, your ministry, your people, and for the growth of the gospel. Charles Spurgeon, the ‘Prince of Preachers’, is reported to have said, “I would rather teach one man to pray than ten men to preach.” He also said, “We shall never see much change for the better in our churches in general till the prayer meeting occupies a higher place in the esteem of Christians.”
Heavenly Father, please forgive me for the times when I neglect prayer. Please convict me of absolute importance of prayer, so that I may be like Paul in my reliance on prayer. Please make me, my family and my church more prayerful. In Jesus’ name. Amen.