You Are What You Pray

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We are familiar with the phrase, “you are what you eat,” but did you know you are what you pray? Our prayers connect us with God, but they also reveal our priorities. The things we prioritize, we pursue, and the things we purse we become. If you thank God for your food, you become grateful. If you pray for the safety of your friends and family, you become caring. If you pray for unbelievers to come to Christ, you become evangelistic.

Jesus focused on his mission and his followers throughout his earthly ministry. It shouldn’t surprise us that when he prayed just before his arrest and crucifixion, he prayed a selfless, mission-focused prayer. The prayer recorded in John 17:1-26 has been labeled many ways but it was Jesus’ last words before he was taken away and killed. In it, Jesus prayed for three distinct things.

1. JESUS PRAYED FOR HIS MISSION TO BE COMPLETE (v. 1-5).

Jesus came to earth with a mission to live a perfect life and die a perfect death so that he could save the world and share his life with his followers. If Jesus didn’t finish his mission his disciples wouldn’t have a mission of their own or a message to share. Jesus knew how important his mission was.

Notice three principles from this section of Jesus’ prayer that helped Him finish. First, Jesus was God-centered (v. 1). Prayer is more than a task, it is a relationship. Second, Jesus has an eternal focus. Eternity begins at conversion, progresses with Christian growth and discipleship, and continues on into heaven. Third, Jesus was totally surrendered. Jesus gave us his own will so that He could accomplish the will of the Heavenly Father.

2. JESUS PRAYED FOR THE CHARACTER OF HIS FOLLOWERS (v. 6-17).

Jesus prayed for three things in regards to the character of his followers. First, he prayed that they would be kept in God’s name (v. 1). Someone’s name usually represents their character in the bible. Jesus prayed that his followers would be kept close and their character would mirror his own.

Second, Jesus also prayed that his followers would be kept from the evil one (v. 15). Jesus acknowledged that Satan’s destructive influence in the world. Jesus prayed that his followers would be protected from that influence. Satan may be a bully, but he should not be feared.

Third, Jesus prayed that his followers be set apart in the truth of God (v. 17). God’s Word should have a prominent place in the lives of Christ’s followers. There are five practices today that allow God’s Word to permeate your life: hearing the bible, reading the bible, studying the bible, memorizing the bible, and meditating on the bible.

3. JESUS PRAYED FOR THE MISSION OF HIS FOLLOWERS (v. 6-26).

Unfortunately, there are many people today who do not finish their God-given mission. The average church loses 3% of its membership each year. Thousands of pastors leave the ministry each year before retirement.

Jesus prayed that his follower would all be one (v. 11). Solidarity is just as important for individual local churches as it is for the Church as a whole. Unity is more than just doing stuff together, its “being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (Philippians 2:2).

Jesus also prayed that his follower would be with him where he was (v. 24). He has just announced that he would be leaving his disciples behind while he went to prepare a place for them in heaven (John 14). Even though he would be leaving, he wanted his followers to be with him eventually so they would see his glory.

Jesus prayed for himself and his followers because you are what you pray. His prayer flowed from his priorities and passions. What do your prayers say about your priorities and passions? Are you working to complete your God-given mission? Are you developing a Christ-like character? Are you contributing to the oneness of your church?

Like in many other area of life, you and I have good intentions. But if you genuinely want to make good on of those good intentions, start with prayer.

Why I Pray for My Church Members and then Tell Them About It.

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As a pastor, I have the privilege of shepherding a flock of God’s people through prayer (1 Peter 5:2). Prayer is just one of many tools of a spiritual shepherd. While I have always prayed for the church that I serve, I have just recently started to pray for the members of my church systematically.
After I pray for them I stop and write a note to let them know I prayed for them. The note is not a request for a pat on the back, but a line of spiritual encouragement and communication. Handwritten notes are meaningful and welcome these days because they are so rare.
I pastor a “mid-sized church” which allows me to pray through our church directory about once or twice a year. A weekly and daily goal allows me to make consistent progress without feeling rushed. A family-by-family approach ensures that none is left out.
This practice has yielded benefits for me and the people I serve. Here is a list of the benefits in each category:
Benefits for me
  • It helps me pray consistently.
  • It helps me learn names and make connections between families.
  • It helps me stay connected to quieter “sheep.”
  • It helps me move people forward in their faith.
  • It helps me encourage those who are struggling and hurting.
  • It helps me update contact information.

Benefits for my church members

  • It reminds them they are not alone.
  • It gives them a personal connection to their pastor.
  • It allows them to focus on the positive side of their pain and problems.
  • It teaches them about the importance of prayer.
  • It encourages families to talk about spiritual issues and the church.
  • It highlights the care of the whole church.

Churches come in all shapes and sizes, but they all need prayer. Pastors have the unique responsibility and privilege to shepherd their people through prayer. I hope this guide helps you pray for your church members more effectively.

Are you a pastor or a church member?

How often do you pray for others in your church?

How do you highlight the importance of prayer in your church?

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Six Tips for Leading Others in Prayer

How can you lead others in public prayer more effectively?

prayer-part-2-pic-web-586x300Pastors, deacons, and other Christian leaders often have to privilege of leading others in prayer in a worship service, Bible study, or similar gathering. Here are six suggestions to help you pray more effectively in public.

  1. Prepare.  Prayers don’t have to be spontaneous to be meaningful. Feel free to write down some notes or focus your mind for few minutes before hand so that you will feel more at ease.
  1. Don’t apologize.  Nervousness or humility can lead some people to start their prayer out with an apology. Leave it up to the congregation to decide if they are sorry that you were asked to lead in prayer; don’t make their mind up for them.
  1. Match the mood of the service.  Different services have different tones. Some services are energetic and upbeat while others are more somber and reflective. If you violate this principle you may make people wonder if you have been attention to the rest of the service.
  1. Pray for the benefit of other.  Leading others in public prayer is not the same as praying by yourself. Share enough details to draw the congregation in, but not enough to embarrass yourself or the people listening to you.
  1. Don’t editorialize. Public prayer is not the place to air your negative thoughts or opinions on the sermon, the church, or other church leaders. Instead, concentrate on lifting others up and leading them into the presence of God.
  1. Keep it relatively brief.  You will not wear God out, but you might wear the congregation if you choose to drag on with long-winded prayer.   If this suggestion doesn’t make sense, review the previous suggestions till it does.

This is not an exhaustive list.  What would you add to it to help other pray more effectively in public?

How to Start a Prayer Support Team

prayerWhen it comes to prayer support, there is no such thing as too much.  I’ve never met a Christian leader, paid or volunteer, who complained because they had too many people praying for them, too often, or with too much passion.  If you  need more prayer support, you may want to form a prayer support team.

A few years ago I read The Book of Church Growth by Thom Rainer.   In a chapter on the power of prayer, Rainer listed 6 potential facets of a church-wide prayer ministry.  One of those ideas was to organize a team of prayer warriors called the “Pastor’s Intercessory Prayer Partners” who were devoted to pray for their pastor and his ministry on a daily basis.  Over the past few years I’ve taken this idea and put it to use in my own ministry with some modifications.  I call my team the “Pastor’s Prayer Team,” but you don’t have to be a pastor or a church staff member to benefit from this approach.  You could use it with your Bible study group, international mission ministry, or non-profit organization.  All you need is a ministry, a group of people who are willing to pray for you, and a way to communicate with them.  Here is a 5-step process for starting or improving your own prayer support team.

1. Teach and model the importance of prayer.

Jesus did more than just talk about prayer. He taught his disciples how pray and modeled prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane among other places (Luke 11:1-13, Matthew 26:36-46).  People will not be motivated to pray if they don’t know how to pray or why prayer is important.  They will not be eager to join you in pray if they are not convinced that you are passionate and persistent in your own prayer life.

2.  Ask people to commit.

Some people are not ready or willing to join a prayer support team, but some are!  Those who are willing are just waiting for your invitation.  This can be done in a number of ways, but I would recommend doing it in writing so you have a list of people for follow-up. Depending on your situation you could use a sign-up sheet, a commitment card, but I prefer email.  I ask those who are interested in joining the team to send me an email to let me know.  Then, I use those email addresses to send a return email acknowledging their request and to build a distribution list for future use.

I do not ask my prayer support team members to commit to a specific frequency of prayer.  Instead, I ask them to pray for me, my family, and my ministry on a “regular” basis. If that ends up being daily, great; if it ends up being once a week or every other week, I’ll take it.  My goal is to equip and organize people to pray.  I don’t want to discourage anyone from participating just because they can not make a daily commitment.

3. Share regular praises and prayer requests.

Once again, this can be suited to your situation.  You can send out regular praise and prayer requests via “snail mail,” email, or social media.  They could also be added to a newsletter, either in print or online.  I choose to use email because it is faster and easier than “snail mail,” but more manageable and accessible for the people on my team.

Praises should be shared along with prayer requests because people like to hear good news along with your needs.  Sharing praises is a way of thanking your team for their prayer as well as reminding them that prayer really does make a difference.

Every ministry has its own cycle.  A non-profit organization or missions ministry may operate best on a quarterly or monthly cycle.  The local church runs on a weekly cycle, so I try to send out my praise and prayer requests on a weekly basis.  Whatever your frequency, let your team know your intentions and stick to them.

4.  Be humble and transparent.

This is not as much of a step as it is a general principle.  One of the pitfalls of kingdom work, especially if it is perceived as successful, is pride.  Pride causes us to keep others at a comfortable distance because we are afraid they might see our flaws.  This simply will not work with a prayer support team.  Put yourself in the shoes of one of your team members.  Would you be motived to pray regularly for someone who came across as superficial or fake?  This does not mean you should share every sin and struggle with your team.  It does mean, however, that you need to be open and honest about your needs

5.  Show gratitude and appreciation

Who doesn’t like a little appreciation for their efforts?  Being a part of a prayer support team is usually something that is done behind the scenes.  In order to keep your team inspired and engaged, you need to let them know they are not alone and they are making a difference in your life and ministry.  You should tell your prayer support team how much you appreciate them every time you share your praises and prayer requests. You may also want to send a separate “thank you” note sometime throughout the year.  If you use email like I do, you may choose to send a “pen-and-paper note” for emphasis.  If possible, you could organize a reception once a year to recognize your prayer support team and let them interact with each other.

What methods have you found effective for recruiting prayer support?  Have you ever formed a prayer support team?  How have you benefited from the process?

Devotional Thoughts for Leaders: The Danger of Success

SuccessSuccess can be gratifying, but it can also be dangerous.  When things come together in life or in ministry, it makes you want to surge ahead and tackle the next challenge.   Momentum is an important part of success, but it can give you a false sense of independence from God and push you beyond His guidance and direction.

Take the Israelites for example in Joshua chapter 9.  Their victories over Jericho and Ai had “the kings beyond the Jordan” on the defensive.  The Gibeonites, however, went on the offensive by pretending to be people from a far away country.  They gathered worn out supplies, put on worn out clothes, and came to Joshua and the men of Israel asking for peace.  The Israelites asked the right questions, but they didn’t ask the right people.  They were so flattered by the Gibeonite’s ruse they made  covenant with them without even asking God for his advice (9:14).  In other words, Joshua and the Israelite leaders rushed ahead of God and made a major decision without consulting God and it cost them.  When the truth came out, the people of Israel grumbled against their leaders (9:18).  When the Gibeonites were attacked, the Israelites were forced to defend a people they had been commanded to destroy.

How have you seen this situation play out in your life or ministry?

What decisions are you, your church, or organization facing in the next week, month, or year?

Have you taken time to seek the Lord’s counsel on these issues?

Trouble Shooting Your Prayer Life

prayer11The lights on the front of my garage are a mystery to me.  They come on when they want and go off when they want, no matter what I do with the switch.  I’ve checked to see if they are on timer and I’ve replaced both bulbs.  The best explanation that I have is that there is a disconnect somewhere in the electrical circuit that feeds the lights.

This reminds me a little of my prayer life.  Sometimes the lights are on and everything is great.  Other times things are dark and I don’t know why.  The Bible teaches that God hears and answers prayer, but I don’t always feel like my prayers are getting through.  Sometimes there seems to be a mysterious disconnect in my prayer life.  As I began to search for answers I found four prayer short circuits in the book of James.

1. LACK OF FAITH (James 1:5-8)

What sort of things inspire you to pray and what discourages you?  In these verses we see that expectation (or faith) is an essential part of prayer.  Our expectations can be bigger than our circumstances, because our God is bigger than our circumstances.  Those who lack faith are like the waves of the ocean that tossed back and forth by their circumstances.  They don’t pray with expectation because they are overwhelmed by what is happening around them.

The only way to fix this short circuit is to own up to it.  Like the man with the demon-possessed son in Mark 9:24, we must cry out, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” God is not offended by our lack of faith when we are willing to admit it and humble enough to ask for his help.

2. FAILTURE TO ASK (4:2b)

Familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt; sometimes it breeds indifference and neglect.  My wife and I have been married for 13 years now.  On more than one occasion, I have had to ask her, “Did we talk about X, or did I just think about it?” God knows us better than our spouses know us.  He knows what we are thinking before the words come out of our mouths, but he still loves to interact with us through prayer.

This short circuit can be resolved by simply speaking up.   Either audibly or internally, God wants to hear from His children.  King David is a good example of this.  In Psalm 5:1-3, he wrote “in the morning I lay my requests before you (God) and wait patiently.”  Go to God with your wants, concerns, and needs and He will do want is best.

3. SELFISH MOTIVES (4:3)

The Apostle Paul included two of his prayers for the Ephesian believers in his book to the (Ephesians 1:15-18, 3:14-19).  What strikes me about these prayers is how selfless and spiritual they are.  Human nature drives us to ask God for things that benefit us.  It also moves us to pray for temporal things above the eternal.  But Paul seemed to be aware of James’ words here.

God’s plans for this world are much bigger than you and your needs and wants.  The way to repair this short circuit is to keep following Paul’s example.  In Ephesians 6:18 he offers prayer “for all the saints” as way to challenge us to look beyond ourselves.

4. UNCONFESSED SIN (5:13-16)

The book of James is a challenging book that addresses a long catalogue of sin.  In just five short chapters, James deals with apathy and inaction (1:26-27), partially and prejudice (2:9), an untamed tongue (3:6), jealousy and selfish ambition (3:14), arguing and murder (4:1ff), pride and boasting (4:16), and stinginess and extravagance (5:3).  In chapter 5, however, James urges his readers to “confess your sins to one another” (5:16).  This crucial for restoring broken relationships on a human level, but it presupposes confessing your sins to God as well.

The clear fix for this short circuit is repentance.  When we confess our sin and turn to God for forgiveness, He rushes to embrace us.  1 John 1:9 states, “He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”

When we don’t feel like God is hearing or answering our prayer, it is easy assume that the problem is with God, but that is not true.  Our connection with God can be interrupted by a number of things.  Which one of these short circuits have you experienced?  How did you overcome it?  What would you add to the list?