Leading People to a Devotion to Prayer
As the pastor of Jefferson Baptist Church, I feel I have a responsibility to lead, encourage, and motivate those in our church to be devoted to prayer. The better I do at this responsibility the higher the percentage of people who attend JBC will be truly devoted to prayer. The better I do at leading people to devotion to prayer the more time each person will give to prayer. As I have worked at leading those in our church to a greater commitment to prayer I have discovered several keys that help give me greater success in this leadership effort.
The first key starts with my belief and faith in prayer. I believe everything else being equal, the more prayer that is happening by those in our church the more blessings we will receive from God. The motto we use is, “Much prayer – much blessing; little prayer – little blessing; no prayer – no blessing.” If I truly believe that motto, my motivation to lead well, encourage a lot, and preach and teach on prayer will be red hot. A major issue with leadership is that if we are not super passionate about what we are trying to convince people to do, the probability of their doing it is pretty small. I must truly believe that the more praying that happens at our church the more blessings we will receive from God as a church.
I begin by identifying from the Bible some blessings that God will give in direct response to prayer. I have a list of a dozen blessings that I review often as a way of keeping my own personal passion for prayer hot, and to keep myself motivated as I lead those in our church to a greater faith and devotion to prayer. I will list a few of the blessings I believe God gives to a church that prays much.
The first blessing that I focus on is that of unity in our church family. John 17:20-21 records the prayer Jesus prayed for His disciples and for those who would believe in the future because of the words of His disciples: “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” Jesus prayed for unity and we can as well. We could pray for one minute once each year that God would make us one, and I suppose God would do something in response to that prayer. But much prayer would clearly indicate how badly we really want unity in our church, and would result in a strong unity that all in the church would enjoy and would attract many outsiders. Disunity is a major problem in churches which often keeps them small and ineffective in reaching the lost and making disciples. People leave churches all the time because of disunity, and pastors leave their churches and sometimes the ministry because of the pain of disunity. The more prayer there is in a church the more God will make us one. I truly believe that, and because I want, really want unity to exist in our church I work hard at motivating and encouraging people in our church to pray more.
Another blessing that comes into a church that prays much is a growing love that people will have for God, for each other, and for lost people. This is obviously important as Jesus gives this as the greatest commandment and is emphasized in the New Testament numerous times. Paul writes prayers in his letters to the various churches that give us insight on what we can pray that God will answer. One of those is in 1 Thessalonians 3:12 where Paul prays, “May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you.” God is the one who is “causing” the “increasing and abounding in love.” If we pray a little, God will cause some growth in this super important area of our lives and that of our church, but if we would pray much (a lot!) then God would cause much love to abound in our churches. With all my heart I believe this to be true. Every conflict in the church motivates me to pray more and to teach more on prayer. Every indication of a lack of love in relationships motivates me to pray more and to encourage more and to stir people up to a greater commitment to prayer any and every way I can.
One of the most discouraging things for me about being a pastor is the number of divorces and bad marriages that are in our church. I get frustrated with the low success rate of counseling, seminars, and retreats that are designed to grow marriages. I have come to the conclusion that if God will “make us one” and “cause us to increase and abound in love” as a result of prayer then we should make prayer a major focus of our church, increasing the volume of prayer so that we will see marked improvement in the marriages and families in our church. I truly believe that much prayer will result in growing marriages. The more I can motivate people in our church to pray the less counseling I will need to do.
Another major blessing that grows in a local church as the volume of prayer grows is the quality of the preaching. This blessing would obviously be very important to me as I am the one primarily responsible for the preaching ministry in our church. I want to preach well; effectively preaching in a way that teaches the content of God’s Word and truly motivates people to live it out in their everyday lives. Anybody who preaches knows the difference between really great, anointed preaching and preaching that is boring and uninteresting. In reading older books on prayer this blessing of anointed preaching is one that is emphasized. At least once each year I preach a sermon on the importance of praying for me, the preacher, so that I can preach better and better. I am passionate in my desire to preach the Word of God effectively. I also believe without a doubt that the more I pray for my sermons and preaching while preparing my sermon, and the increasing number of people I can motivate to pray for my preaching, and the more volume I can get those different people to give in prayer for me and my preaching, the more I will be filled with and anointed by the Holy Spirit.
A couple of years ago I preached a really bad sermon. I knew it was bad all the time I was preaching it. Nothing was working and I got more frustrated with myself, and as I got more frustrated the worse I did. I cut the sermon short and wanted so much to sneak off without talking to anybody. I was really embarrassed about the poor job of teaching God’s Word that I had done. As I stepped down off of the stage a lady practically ran up to me and began to carry on about how wonderful my sermon was and how God had worked in her life that morning as a result of the teaching. When she finished and walked off another person came up with the same response. There were more people coming up with similar stories than I could remember ever happening to me before.
On the way home from church I told my wife about the experience. When I said, “I thought that was the worst sermon I have ever preached.” She replied, “I thought so, too.” So I asked, “How do you explain the response from people who heard it?” She said, “That’s easy. It was bad when it left your mouth but before it reached people’s ears, God fixed it.” I said, “That can’t happen!” and she answered, “Look, I don’t know how it happens, but a lot of people pray for you every week and God is obviously answering their prayers.”
I began to think about this. If I truly believed that the volume of prayer for me and for my study and speaking is critically important to the quality of my preaching, how motivated would I be to pray a lot and how motivated would I be to encourage those in our church to pray a lot.
My leadership effectiveness goes up with my passion. My passion goes up with my faith. I truly believe that “much prayer equals much blessing.”