Sincere Leaders + Supportive Prayer = Shared Thanksgiving
Four obstacles stand in opposition to a culture of powerful gratitude in a church:
- Leaders who fail to transparently share their real needs and rob God’s people of the privilege of praying on their behalf.
- Leaders who default to self-reliance rather than God-reliance when they encounter trials.
- Leaders who lose hope in God’s power to deliver.
- People who do not pray together for the work of God and thus fail to see Him at work.
So, we might say that self-protection, self-reliance, waning hope, and meager prayers are enemies of an outbreak of congregational thanksgiving.
Trusting in the Trials
In 2 Corinthians 1:8–11, Paul opened his heart to the believers of Corinth. They were his “problem child” congregation. The letter was prompted by an invasion of false teachers who were systematically polluting the beliefs and stealing the hearts of the church members. These spiritual invaders were also degrading Paul to woo the saints away from the apostle’s gospel. In response, Paul wrote this incredibly transparent letter to win their hearts back to his teaching and ultimately to Christ.
He began the letter by extoling the “God of all encouragement.” He drank deeply of the living waters of God’s encouraging provision during his seasons of suffering. Focusing the opening ink drops of his letter, Paul also sought to point the discouraged and besieged Corinthians to the sufficiency of God (1:3-11).
The Raw Reality
Then, Paul postures quickly to open his heart wide, inviting them into his life through their prayers. In speaking of his trials, his goal was not self-pity but rather a new experience of God-reliance. Paul knew that many in the church had become suspicious of him. Yet he knew that calling them to prayer would bond their hearts to Paul, to one another, and primarily to God in widespread thanksgiving. A critical spirit and a grateful spirit are incompatible.
A critical spirit and a grateful spirit are incompatible.
Read Paul’s words:
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.
Honest in Hardship
Paul was secure in his calling, in spite of the opposition and criticism he faced. He opened his heart to the church about his incredible hardships, even disclosing his unbearable pressures and the sense that he would not live to tell about it. Insecure, self-protective leaders don’t share openly. Vulnerability is not in their vocabulary.
Insecure, self-protective leaders don’t share openly. Vulnerability is not in their vocabulary.
Writer Carey Nieuwhof notes:
Being an authentic leader is hardly negotiable anymore. People want to see the real you, with your weaknesses, mistakes and vulnerabilities. You know that, because you’re watching the last fumes of the ‘never let ‘em see you sweat’ leader vaporize into the stratosphere. But you’ve also seen the pendulum swing the other way. You don’t want to be the ‘oversharing’ transparent person on your Facebook newsfeed whose every emotion, relational struggle and moment of self-doubt is posted for the planet to gawk at.
Nieuwhof further offers three helpful guidelines for managing transparency. First he wisely suggests that a leader process current issues privately. A pastor should unpack struggles initially within a tight-knit circle (i.e. spouse, elders, close friends, mentors, and counselors). Nieuwhof notes, “Just because somebody needs to know about them doesn’t mean everybody needs to know about them. Discretion and transparency are not a contradiction at all. Telling the right people is often the difference between success and failure in ministry.”
Next, Nieuwhof counsels a leader to express publicly only what he’s processed privately and to share only what will help the listener, not himself. Using the pulpit to divulge the struggles and lessons of a personal journey is never intended to draw attention to the preacher. The Sunday service is not the context for personal therapy or a solicitation of affirmation. The goal is to honor Christ and empower and equip the church with practical applications of truth, often flowing from the preacher’s life.
Paul wisely shares his deepest struggles to honor Christ and encourage the believers in their faith, based on his previous journey. This is one incentive toward gratitude to God as Paul elevates the Lord’s faithful instruction.
Paul was quick to point to a paramount lesson: “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” Godward reliance leads to Godward thanksgiving for Christ’s resurrection power in our lives. Self-reliant leaders often feature shallow highlight reels of their own resolve and tenacity. Flesh gets the credit.
Godward reliance leads to Godward thanksgiving for Christ’s resurrection power in our lives.
Heartened and Hopeful
God’s past deliverance spurred Paul’s firm hope in the future deliverance of God. “He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” Paul was intent on turning the account of his difficulties to a testimony of firm trust in a sure Deliverer. Gratitude grows in a congregation when leaders give credit where credit is due, fixing their collective eyes on the God of their hope.
Gratitude grows in a congregation when leaders give credit where credit is due, fixing their collective eyes on the God of their hope.
Prayer with a Purpose
Finally, Paul calls the church to participate fully by helping his ministry through their corporate prayers. “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” When congregations pray they have eyes to see the blessing and provision of God. Prayerless people rarely recognize God at work because they never participated with Him in the process and are thus oblivious to the outcome. Prayerful people anticipate and faithfully assess the Lord’s answers to their prayers. Collective thanksgiving abounds.
Prayerless people rarely recognize God at work because they never participated with Him in the process and are thus oblivious to the outcome.
The church needs leaders who are transparent, trusting, and tenacious in fixing their hope on God. These leaders will resolve to call the church to participate in prayer SO THAT God may receive abounding thanks for His active intervention in their lives. As God’s people pray they will recognize God at work more frequently and more powerfully than ever. This is the recipe for a grateful church. A grateful church will be a healthy and growing church.
As God’s people pray they will recognize God at work more frequently and more powerfully than ever.
Copyright © 2017 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.