So you’ve taken a couple of months since reading the previous post and have gotten to the point that you are delighting in the commands of God and actually obeying what Scripture teaches and seeing the results of that in your life! Excellent! If not, then you probably just took a few minutes, if that, to reflect on the previous post, and then have since moved on to the next one. Well, that is mighty fine, because that is precisely what I did in writing these posts! However, it would still be beneficial for you to take some time before moving on to really make an attempt at getting into the Word and seeing what areas of your life do not yet match up with how the Lord wants you to live. That does not have to be a couple of months, but that would also be incredibly beneficial.
Regardless, for those of us who are ready, we will move on to the next section of this blog.
“The greatest thing anyone can do for God and for man is to pray. It is not the only thing, but it is the chief thing.” I heard this statement said in a class at Liberty University that the Lord used to completely change my life. The class was taught by a wonderful man of God named Dave Earley, and the Lord used him to get through to me on a variety of areas that needed changing in my walk with Him. One area that God turned me around on was in my prayer life. I had a pretty normal Christian prayer life up to that point in my life. I would pray before meals, and in church, and when requested to by pastors and professors. I would sometimes even pray to God in the middle of the day when I wanted something, like before I had a big test and wanted a good grade, or when I was tired and needed energy, or when I was in trouble and was looking for mercy, or when I saw an oh*o state fan and prayed for the strength to not commit any violent crimes. I prayed on what I would call an ‘eventual’ basis. If I told someone I would pray for them, I would go into a brief little prayer that minute for them, because I knew that if I waited it would never get done. If I had a big trip or a big decision or a big event, I would pray for that right before I had to make the decision, or right before I left on the trip, so that the Lord would be on my side. However, my prayer life beyond these things was virtually nonexistent.
That all changed with the lecture that Dr. Earley gave on prayer. The class was actually a Pastoral Leadership class, so the point of his lecture, like the point of this blog, was to equip spiritual leaders with what they need to lead others well. Yet, much of leading others well consists of leading yourself well. So, one of his very first lectures was on prayer, and the Spirit moved in a powerful way with me both during it and after hearing it.
He started off with quotes from famous Christian leaders; quotes that inspired us to both see the importance of prayer and to act against the lack of it that we saw in our lives. He gave us examples from his own life and from the lives of others that showed us how powerful prayer really can be. Then he gave us a challenge to set up a prayer plan, one that specified at what times we would pray, how much time we would pray, where we would pray, and what we would pray about. By the end of class, I was in tears. I immediately left the room and went to a prayer chapel that we had on campus and for two hours sat there crafting my prayer plan. Being the organizational freak that I am, it ended up being incredibly complicating and probably way oversophisticated, but it laid out everything for me. And the Lord used that plan to get me on my knees for an extraordinary amount of time (when you compare it to what I previously was doing). For 90 minutes a day my face was pushed against the floor as I cried out to God for my own spiritual growth, for my peers, for the unsaved, for Christians around the world, for my family, for my community, for anyone that I could find a need for (which pretty much includes everybody). In fact, if you are reading this right now as a person who has known me for a while, then odds are that I was on my knees praying for you at some point or another, if not multiple times a month. The Lord often had me in tears, especially for those that I care about the most. And I started to see the Lord answer my prayers in extraordinary ways! In addition to all of this, I spent an hour in the Word each day as well. And all of this went on for a good three months, until circumstances caused me to revise my prayer plan.
So I have known what it means to truly be on my knees and spend time, even a great amount of time, with the Lord. Even now, though I am not able to spend an hour and a half with the Lord every day, I am able to pray throughout the day and retain a thriving prayer life with the Lord that has seen God come through on multiple occasions. I have learned that it is of utmost importance, especially to the Christian leader, that one is with the Lord both for an extended period of time, as well as throughout the day, every single day. The purpose of this can be dumbed down to being two-fold, even though it could be drawn out to looking a lot more like an origami masterpiece.
1-> Christians, especially those in positions of spiritual leadership, need prayer for their own lives. You need to pray in order to keep away from sin. You need to pray to worship and tell God who He is and what you think of Him. You need to pray because it is the connection that you have with God; it connects you to the Creator of the Universe. You need to pray to give thanks to God. You need to pray so that you are in fellowship with the Lord and are acknowledging His presence. Without prayer, none of these things happen. How empty would your life be if you had none of these things? How empty is your life because you do not have any of these things?
2-> Those who are in spiritual leadership over others need to pray because they absolutely have to pray for the people that they are in leadership over. Even if the only spiritual leadership that you possess is over your children, you need to pray for them. Even if you are only discipling one person that you meet with once a week for coffee, you need to pray for that person! Intercession is a particularly important part of discipleship/leadership because you cannot lead a person effectively if you do not care about them enough to take them to God the Father on your knees, how can you lead them? How can you say that you care for a person that you are leading if you do not care enough about them to pray for them? How can you expect someone to follow you if you are not asking the Lord to allow them to follow you? How can you desire that a person grows without setting them before the one who causes them to grow?
Recently in my small group we discussed intercession out of the book of Nehemiah, which is subsequently one of my favorite books of Scripture. In chapter one, verses 5-11, we see a beautiful prayer that Nehemiah lays before the throne of God for the people of Israel. Just before this, he learned of the destruction that remained in Jerusalem despite it being years after the Israelites were allowed back into the country after being exiled in Babylon. His response was to weep and mourn for days (verse 4), and to fast and pray for his people. While praying, he set before the Lord this glorious word:
“O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him and keep His commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the people, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O LORD, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”
– Nehemiah 1:5-11a, ESV
Four observations can be made when looking at this text, and even the context of it, which I believe are especially important to today’s spiritual leader:
1-> Nehemiah is humble in every area of this prayer. He is humble for God in that he recognizes who He is and what He has done. He is humble in the way that he prays for his people. Notice that he mentions himself and even his own father’s household when he is confessing the sins of his people. We are often quick to note the sins of others, but rarely do we include ourselves in those sins. You can pray all you want to God about the sins of the people He has blessed you to lead, but where do you fit into all of that?
2-> He is worshipful in that he praises the Lord for who He is, what He has done, and what He is going to do. Nehemiah does not offer up prayer to God without worshipping Him in some way and focusing in on the truth of who He is.
3-> Nehemiah is desperate. He has wept, mourned, and fasted for these people for days. We do not know how long that this went on for, but it is of importance to note that when the book is introduced, Nehemiah says this all started in the month of Chislev (1:1). Just after the passage I quoted, when chapter 2 starts, it is said to be the month of Nisan (2:1). The separation between these months in our calendar would be between November/December to March/April. Furthermore, as Nehemiah learned of what all was going on in Jerusalem, he makes the statement that “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (verse 4). In addition to this, also in chapter 2 verse 1, Nehemiah says that he has never been sad in the presence of the King of Babylon. Thus, the end of verse 11 in chapter 1 and the beginning of chapter 2 could not have had a large time gap in it. So really the only time gap that we know about is that of how long his brother, Hanani, who told him of Jerusalem, was with Nehemiah before he asked about the state of Israel. Still, Nehemiah spent a long time weeping and mourning, as well as fasting and praying before the Lord over this. He was completely desperate before his God, with no where else to look for for hope, and with no one else who could have possibly helped him, even the King of the Babylonian Empire.
4-> Nehemiah obviously loves and cares about the people that he is praying for. He fasted and prayed possibly for a couple of months over the situation at hand. He mourned and cried bitterly over them. Do you cry for the people that you lead? Do you care enough about them to mourn over their situations and circumstances? Especially with those who do not know the Lord, do you love them enough to fast for them? Do you pray for your people?
Without prayer, the people that God has given us to lead are not being prayed for. In addition to that, the person that is leading them is not connected to the God that is supposed to be the one leading him or her! If you are not connected to Christ in prayer, then where is your power to lead coming from? How can you expect for powerful things to happen in discipleship when nothing is happening in your own life?
If this is something that you are admittedly struggling with, then I would suggest you take the same steps that I took when the Lord got ahold of me on this issue: lay out a prayer plan that includes what times you are going to pray, how much time you are going to pray, where you are going to pray, and what you are going to pray about. In short, think of it as the 4 keys to more effective prayer:
Amount of Time
Give it some thought, and then get on your knees before the Lord and do work with Him there. Connect with God, so that you are able to more effectively connect with others.