Prayer In The Pastor’s Life
When I moved to Canada, I experienced several shocks … like weather, culture, the price of everything. One of the biggest shocks was just how cold the water is. I made a comment that this stuff must be right off a glacier … and it was! When we arrived we had a dog, a golden retriever named Parker. I bathed him outside using the hose. He was less than thrilled every time he got a bath. The cold was overwhelming. You could say the cold water killed his zest for being clean.
As a pastor I often feel the cold hose on my back as well. There have been seasons when all I experienced was the shock of cold water. I have faced some cold things in my life and I have traveled down some frozen roads with lots of folks. None of this has caught God off guard – nothing sneaks up on Him.
Biblical truth reveals that nothing happens to a believer that is not filtered through God’s love (Romans 8:28). That truth is sweet, but it is also disturbing. I don’t like the cold, hard places of life and I wish God would not allow them to happen. I want life to be easy, not hard and cold. I don’t enjoy the cold hose … just like Parker, I lose my zest.
So what do I do? How do I respond? Aren’t pastors exempt from this sort of stuff? In Psalm 31 we hear David’s prayer in the middle of struggle – while the cold hose is turned on him. In this passage he shows us how prayer is a priority in the life of a God-honouring leader. Let’s pray through this passage together:
1 O Lord, I have come to you for protection;
don’t let me be disgraced.
Save me, for you do what is right.
2 Turn your ear to listen to me;
rescue me quickly.
Be my rock of protection,
a fortress where I will be safe.
3 You are my rock and my fortress.
For the honour of your name, lead me out of this danger.
4 Pull me from the trap my enemies set for me,
for I find protection in you alone.
5 I entrust my spirit into your hand.
Rescue me, Lord, for you are a faithful God. (Psalm 31:1-5 NLT)
David prays with intentionality – and so must we. Notice how many times David uses intentional language in this passage. He prays, “I have come to you … you do what is right … turn your ear to me … rescue me quickly … be my rock” … on he goes. David is placing his whole life in God’s hands. God is his only option. If God doesn’t come through, he is doomed.
I have discovered that in the “cold water” seasons of life I find God with more clarity than in any other time. God wants me to so long for Him that all other options fail. The question for me is will I lean into God? Throughout my time as a pastor, some 30 years, I have experienced several cold water seasons – and none colder than a recent season.
My wife Tara and I, along with a team of pastors, planted a new church in Tallahassee, Florida. This was a hard, cold season. Starting a new church is hard … starting a new church at 50 is really hard. During the development of this new work I went through some tough stuff. My dad died; my mom was affected with dementia; the church struggled financially; three out of four of my family members – including me – had unexpected surgery; we lost a business due to the recession. We lost our house and most everything we owned. The cold hose was turned full force on my life. I learned to become very intentional in my prayers. I learned to become very focused in my prayers. I learned my sweet little "quiet time" was not going to cut it. I became desperate for God. This Psalm became very real. I prayed this Psalm almost everyday. I spent large amounts of time with the Lord. Desperation produces intent.
Here is the big take away … God allows me to "get the hose" so I will run to Him. As I run to Him I get very intent, or intentional. That is what God wants me to do. As a pastor God wants me to be totally dependent on Him – well, He wants that for every believer. When the hose is turned in my direction I have a choice to make: run to Jesus and find relief, or … well, maybe there is only one choice. David ran to God; so will I. After the cold season is done, I am left with more love for my God.
There is another by-product of intentional prayer – joy. Look at this:
"I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul. You have not handed me over to the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place." (Psalm 31:7-8)
This is an interesting thought. This statement goes against what you feel, because you can feel rejected or abandoned by God – but what you feel is not real. He saw your affliction. Really? He saw the cold hose turned on me … was He holding the hose?
Back to Parker the dog … after a bath he never ran from me. He wanted me to pet him and reassure him. I caused his discomfort for his good. He needed to be cleaned so he could live in rich fellowship. A funny thing would happen following Parker’s cold water experience – he would run around the yard filled with puppy joy. In his anguish he found joy.
Last summer – if you can call what we experience in Canada “summer” – we held a kids’ camp on our church campus. One day was water day. The leaders set up slip and slides and sprinklers and such. I drove up and saw those kids playing in that freezing water. How in the world could they enjoy that cold water plunge? Because they trusted the leaders that it was fun. Wow … really? I learned a deep lesson. I could find joy. Trust the leader … that would be God.
During those dark days in Tallahassee, joy was tear-stained. During those days of the cold hose, God was building me. I remember one bad day declaring to God in prayer that I was going to serve Him and live in joy no matter what. Prayer kept me alive. God’s word guided my soul. Times were hard and cold, but God was good. Even if He was holding the hose, I had to trust Him.
Those days led to Canada. Through prayer I was called to serve a great church up here. When Tara and I first landed here, I thought, "This is a spacious place". Yep … just like in Psalm 31. I laughed. I would never have found this spacious place if not for the cold, hard days. Prayer kept me alive, kept me aware that God is my rock. I have not yet come to the place of thanking God for the hard, cold days but I have learned to make prayer a priority. Not just because I am a pastor, but because I really need Him! I refuse to live another way.
So … let’s go play in the sprinkler …