by Mark Taylor
“Talking to men for God is a great thing, but talking to God for men is greater still.”
The quote from E.M. Bounds, posted on Facebook by Harvest Prayer Ministries, is not controversial. In fact, many busy church leaders probably read it without giving it much thought.
“Yeah, yeah. Prayer is important.”
“I always pray when I’m preparing my sermons.”
“I really appreciated it when they prayed for my sick mother.”
It’s common to acknowledge the value of prayer while hurrying to serve God without spending much time in prayer. Yet David and Kim Butts, who direct Harvest Prayer Ministries, have reminded us again and again that prayer is one of our principal duties as leaders of God’s people.
In their new book Prayer Ministry: Equipping You to Serve, they point out that prayer was one of only four priorities demonstrated by the first church, along with apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, and breaking of bread (Acts 2:42). But how many congregations today would include prayer as a core value?
The Problem with Prayer
As much as we talk about prayer, many feel uncomfortable with prayer. Perhaps this is because they are people of action; sitting in silence before a distant God doesn’t fit their temperament. Probably they would say they are busy, and no church leader would deny how many expectations and duties pile on to preachers, elders, and ministry organizers.
But the reason some leaders don’t do much praying is so simple or embarrassing that it’s often not mentioned. They don’t pray more because they don’t know how.
In their prayer ministry handbook, the Buttses acknowledge that prayer is a problem for most Christians:
Recognize that the majority of the congregation struggles in prayer. … Most adults in your church have grown up in homes where prayer is little practiced or neglected altogether. Many have prayed only during meals or in times of extreme crisis. They have prayed to open and close meetings, have mentioned mostly health issues in their prayer requests, have a distinctive sameness to their prayers, and generally feel inadequate about their prayer lives.
It seems sure this description fits many church leaders as well, not only volunteers but also professional, paid staff. Yet a congregation will not become a praying church, according to Dave and Kim, until “they see their leaders praying and placing great importance on the practice of prayer.”
Anyone Can Do Better
But the challenge to pray need not intimidate or discourage. Anyone can improve his prayer life. Here are a few first steps.
- Study what the Bible says about prayer. A search for “pray” or “prayer” at a site like Biblegateway.com can create a list of Scriptures that will deepen anyone’s desire to pray. [Editorial Note: Depending on the version searched, there are approximately 350 references to “pray,” “prayer,” “praying” etc. in the Bible.]
- Keep a prayer journal. Some use a notebook. Some keep prayer requests in their smartphones. Many have reported that faithfully doing this for months demonstrates that God is listening and responding.
- Set a goal. Establish a routine. Habits aren’t formed overnight, but consistent practice will make a difference. It’s okay to start with a goal to spend fifteen or even just five minutes every day in prayer. Negative messages will invariably come to the person who makes such a commitment. “I’m too tired today.” “I need to get to work early.” “There’s no place I can be alone.” “I’ll do double time tomorrow.”
Patiently resisting such thoughts will lead the growing Christian leader to discover prayer as a delight more than a duty. He will see God at work, feel more confident about his Christian life, lead more effectively, and discover new depths of peace and joy.