It is easy to forget and neglect the main thing; it happens all the time. Sometimes to tragic ends.
Drivers should drive and not text, train engineers should be awake and not asleep, baby-sitters should watch children and not TV. And elders should be men of prayer.
Even a light reading of Scripture clearly demonstrates the place that prayer is to play in a leader’s life. Consider:
Samuel the Prophet
- “Far be it for me to sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you” (I Samuel 12:23)
- 40 days of prayer and fasting to begin His ministry (Matthew 4)
- a morning routine of going off for prayer even with people waiting for Him (Mark 1)
- spending all night in prayer before choosing the 12 (Luke 6)
- Teaching the disciples to pray (Matthew 6)
- The Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26)
- Peter and the Apostles in Acts
- Ten day prayer meeting before Pentecost (Acts 1)
- Making the church pattern from day 1 to be “devoted to prayer” (Acts 2)
- Modeling a prayer meeting in Acts 4
- Identifying prayer as one of their two major focuses…even over other good things (Acts 6)
- Leading a church that “…prayed very earnestly” (Acts 12)
- Promised churches and individuals that he prayed very often for them (Ephesians 1:16 as an illustration)
- Most every letter Paul writes actually begins as a prayer note, and then develops into teaching after that (see Ephesians 1, Philippians 1, Colossians 1, as examples)
- Paul’s first missionary journey is birthed out of a leader’s prayer gathering (Acts 13)
- James, asking the congregation to call for elders “to come and pray over you” (James 5)
It is wholly appropriate to say that prayer is leadership.
But leading our churches by being men of prayer is not easy. Instead, the expectations of God are easily lost to the expectations of men. “The way of the western church” is not normally built around prayer. Oh, among us prayer will be verbally venerated; just less often does it become our actual practice. In the western church prayer is too often symbolic, spoken of in sacred terms, maybe even “formally incorporated” into a worship service, but still not part of our DNA, nor the DNA of our elders and ministers. No, the things that consume the physical and emotional energy of a leader may well be meetings, activities, decisions, budgets, church management, hirings, firings, crisis counseling, and making sure someone turns out the lights at the end of the day. Other things, lesser things, push hard and clamor for our attention.
But prayer…it is a quiet, non-demanding thing. Seldom will it be prayer that corners you in the foyer after a service and demands that you “do something about (fill in the blank) “music,” “youth,” “the preacher,” “the parking lot,” “the nursery situation,” etc. Someone or something will keep your life active as an elder, but it may not always be prayer. If we are to be people of prayer we will have to be the ones who pursue it.
So what can you do to become better at this? There are three simple actions you could take.
- You take a portion of each of your days to pray for the families in your church. It takes no “act of congress,” it requires no group permission, it costs no money; it is simply the courage to start praying.
- You can learn to be a better pray-er by studying the prayers in Scripture. On a personal level, my prayer life changed when I first studied and then memorized the prayers of Paul that are recorded in his letters. (Most every letter of Paul’s begins with a prayer, except for his letter to the Galatians.) Some of the most complete prayers are found in Ephesians 1, Ephesians 3, Philippians 1, Colossians 1, and Philemon. In studying these prayers, I better understood what it is that I should be praying for as I prayed for people. It changed how I prayed.
- Begin to copy Paul’s pattern of writing to the people you have prayed for. Paul not only prayed for people, but he also wrote some of them notes (we call them New Testament letters) telling them he had prayed for them and telling them what he had been praying for them. There is a great deal of encouragement in receiving that kind of letter. A humble leader who writes a simple, non-pretentious note that begins, “I had a privilege today. I got to spend some time in prayer for you and your family. I didn’t know exactly what to pray for, but I borrowed a little bit from Paul’s prayer to the Colossians (1:9-14) and here are a couple of things I prayed.” It is one of the kindest things a shepherd can ever do for his people.
Every elder is leaving a spiritual legacy; may your legacy be…“and he was a man of prayer.”