The Preacher’s Prayer

Week in and week out, the preacher has a tough job. In fact, it is an impossible job apart from work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, preaching, from start to finish (even after the sermon has been preached), must be done in prayer. I have been in pastoral ministry for about 10 years now and the more I preach, the more I realize the vital place of prayer when it comes to the preaching task. The preacher is completely dependent upon God. As Jesus said, “apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). This is true of everything, including preaching.

But what should the preacher pray? Last year I stumbled upon a podcast from an outstanding preacher by the name of Steve Lawson. I have adapted it slightly, but he recommends praying the following prayers as you prepare to preach the Word.

  1. Lord, prepare my heart before you. May I submit myself to the teaching of this passage of Scripture.
  2. Lord help me to be disciplined and diligent as I prepare and craft this sermon. Help me to give myself to this task wholeheartedly.
  3. Lord help me to see the riches contained in this text of Scripture.
  4. Lord, help me come to the right interpretation of the text. Help me to be taught by the Holy Spirit of God.
  5. Lord, help me in the organization and construction of this sermon. Help me to pull together the various parts of this passage so that it might be clear and understandable.
  6. Lord, press this message to our hearts (both me and my listeners) and ignite a passion in our souls. Help us internalize this message and apply it to our lives.
  7. Lord, grant me an effective delivery and the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit.
  8. Lord, help my hearers to be attentive and receptive to the message. Help them to fight off distractions that they might clearly hear your Word.
  9. Lord, may this message accomplish your eternal purposes. Thank you for the promise that your Word will not return void and will accomplish all your purposes (Isaiah 55:11).

 

 

 

Billy Graham’s Biggest Regret

As the tributes have poured in from all over the world following the death of the renowned evangelist Billy Graham, I remembered back to an interview he did with Greta Van Sustern a few years ago. In one of the questions, Sustern asked Graham, “If you were to do things over again, would you do things differently? Graham responded by saying he would study more, pray more, travel less, and praise the Lord more. This is yet another example of the humility which characterized his life.

Way back in 1977, Graham said something similar: One of my great regrets is that I have not studied enough. I wish I had studied more and preached less. People have pressured me into speaking to groups when I should have been studying and preparing. Donald Barnhouse said that if he knew the Lord was coming in three years, he would spend two of them studying and one preaching. I’m trying to make it up. (Christianity Today, September 23, 1977)

What a great reminder for young preachers like myself. Few (if any) will have the kind of platform Graham enjoyed over his long ministry, but we have all been called, in the words of the apostle Paul, to “study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

You can watch the interview here and here

When a Church Closes Its Doors

Last week our family had the opportunity to go to a play in Dubois, PA. We had a wonderful time watching “Anne of Green Gables” and the gal who played Anne was simply superb. As you might have guessed from the above picture, the play was in an old church which was converted into a theatre in the early 90’s. For over 100 years, this structure had served as the meeting place of a Baptist Church, but unfortunately the church had to close its doors.

 

This same tale has been told thousands of times in thousands of communities all over the place. These church buildings typically are either abandoned, bought by another church, or like the Baptist church in Dubois, bought by a business or community organization to be used for something else. As we sat waiting for the play to begin, I thought about all the preachers who had served this local church over its century-long existence. I also thought about all the people who attended and served this church through the years. As I processed this, I couldn’t help but lament over the closing of this church and the many others that have suffered the same fate.

 

My point is not to be overly sentimental and nostalgic about this sad reality, but to make the point that American and Canadian churches are closing like never before. I don’t have any national statistics for you, but I do know that in my own district (the Western PA district of the Christian and Missionary Alliance), we have suffered the loss of at least a dozen churches in recent years. Surely, there are a number of reasons for this, but the fact is, it is happening. While there is tremendous growth in other parts of the world (something we can praise God for), the North American Church is at best stagnant and more likely, in decline.

 

This is probably nothing thing new for most of you. You don’t have go very far in communities both big and small to see what I have just described. For years, we have been told that the church in North American is declining in the same way the church in Europe has been for last half century. The secularization of the culture is now being reflected in several different ways, including church attendance. I guess the big question is……how are we to respond to this? Let me suggest three things.

 

It’s Not All Bad

 

It would be easy to think that any church closure is a bad thing, but that’s simply not the case. In some cases, it is a reason to rejoice. Sadly, there are a lot of churches today that are preaching a false gospel, holding to unorthodox theology, using unbiblical practices, and serving as really bad witnesses for Christ in their communities. That may sound harsh, but it is the unfortunate reality for many churches. These so called “churches” are bound to die and the sooner the better.

 

On the flip side, there are a lot of good, solid churches that are healthy and thriving. We can praise God for this and pray that these churches would continue to grow and multiply and be faithful to the teaching of Scripture for years to come.

 

Join a Good Church

 

You have heard the saying, “the best defense is a good offense.” Like most sayings, there is some truth in it. Perhaps the best way to prevent future church closures is by having strong, healthy, biblical churches in the present. If you are not already, attach yourself to a good, bible believing, gospel preaching church. It always surprises me the number of professing Christians who are not part of a local church. Many of them have been hurt in the past by negative experiences and I don’t want to in any way minimize those experiences. However, the church is the Body of Christ here on earth. The church is where and how God has chosen to display Christ and His glory to the watching world. Joining a local church allows you to worship, to grow, and to serve in a corporate body of believers. In Hebrews we read things like, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). This is a remarkable passage and it reminds us that when the people of God come together, it has a way of strengthening and encouraging us. On the other hand, when we start to view church as optional, our churches are weakened. If you get enough people with that same mindset, inevitably you start to see churches closing their doors.

 

If you are not already, my advice is to get plugged into a church. Your participation and involvement really matters! See to it that you are regularly fed by God’s Word and available to serve in any way you can. Churches are always looking for volunteers and there are dozens of different ways you can serve and use your gifts to the furtherance of Christ’s church.

 

Pray……for Churches, Pastors, and New Church Plants

 

As I said earlier, while there are a lot of bad churches, there are also a lot of good churches and we need to be in prayer for these churches that are being true to God’s word. No doubt you will pray the most for your own local church (that’s natural and healthy), but also be in prayer the churches in your area. I know for a fact that pastors and church leaders of neighboring churches would greatly appreciate your prayers. Each week in our church bulletin we list a local church and pastor to pray for. This is a reminder that we are all on the same team. The apostle Paul keeps it short and sweet when appealing to the Thessalonian believers: “Brothers, pray for us” (1 Thessalonians 5:25).

 

Lastly, we need to pray for new church plants in our area and around the world. As I said earlier, it is sad to see churches close their doors, but often just around the corner, God is birthing something new and exciting. There has been a revival of church planting in recent years, but that doesn’t mean church planting is easy. I learned a long time ago that I was not cut out to be a church planter, but God does call some to this critically important ministry and we need to pray for these church plants as much as we can. 

A Simple Way to Pray

Last year I stumbled across a little book by Martin Luther called A Simple Way to Pray. The story behind the book is that Luther’s barber, Master Peter Beskendorf, asked him the simple but important question – how do I pray? Of course, Master Peter’s question resembles that of the disciples in Luke 11. After hearing Jesus pray, one of His disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). It was clear to this disciple, probably along with all the rest, that their prayer life was weak and in need of help. Jesus responded by teaching them what came to be known as The Lord’s Prayer. We could make the case that the Lord’s prayer, along with Jesus’ prayer in John 17, are among the greatest in all of Scripture.

 

Well, Luther’s advice to Master Peter was to take the Lord’s Prayer (along with the 10 Commandments and the Apostles Creed) and expand on it. Take, for example, the first line, “Father, hallowed be your name.” Meditate on the thought, Luther would say, of God as your heavenly Father. Along with that, think of the greatness and sacredness of the name of God. Luther writes, “Yes, Lord God, dear Father, hallowed be thy name, both in us and throughout the whole world…..Convert those who are still to be converted that they with us and we with them may hallow and praise thy name, both with true and pure doctrine and with a good and holy life. Restrain those who are unwilling to be converted so that they be forced to cease from misusing, defiling, and dishonoring thy holy name and from misleading the poor people. Amen.”

 

As you can see, Luther takes one small portion of the prayer and greatly expands on it, with the central theme remaining the sacredness of God’s holy name. He then moves on to the next part of the prayer, still following the same method. Just as an as an aside, Luther was legendary for his prayer life. Often rising at four in the morning, Luther would spend an hour or two in prayer in order to kick-start his day. If you are struggling in your prayer life (and I think we would all say our prayer life needs some improving), then you would be wise to follow Luther’s advice. What is great about this method is it can be applied to tons of different passages of Scripture. We can go beyond the Lord’s Prayer or the 10 Commandments to many other parts of Scripture. The Psalms are a great place to go, but I would also recommend the New Testament epistles. Paul, in particular, has several prayers in his New Testament letters. Of late, I have been meditating on Colossians where Paul includes a moving and powerful prayer at the beginning of the letter.

 

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him” (Colossians 1:9-10). The prayer continues for a few more verses – be sure to look it up.

 

In using Luther’s method we could proceed in the following manner. “Lord, help me to pray without ceasing. Give me a heart for prayer. Give me great joy in communing with you throughout the day. And Father, help me to pray often for my fellow Christians in the same way that Paul did.” We would then continue with the next part of the prayer. “Lord Jesus, fill me with the knowledge of your will. Thank you that you have revealed yourself to me that I might know how to walk and live. May I always live in obedience to your will, being led by your Spirit at all times. And Lord, fill me with all spiritual wisdom and understanding. I want to be wise beyond my years. I want to live a life that is worthy of you, but I know I can’t do it on my own – Lord help me! Oh, that I would live in such a manner that is pleasing to you.”

 

Obviously when you use this method of prayer you can personalize it. You can pray in your own way, but what is great is that you have a template to work from. One of the benefits of using Scripture is that it allows you to pray in a focused and powerful manner. Many people struggle with distraction in their prayers. They have a hard time staying focused, but in praying God’s Word, I can almost guarantee you will be less distracted.

 

If you can take away anything from this post that will help your prayer life, I would be delighted. There is nothing greater than communion with God, but please understand that you can experience improvement in your prayer life. In teaching them the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus helped the disciples to grow in their prayer life (along with millions of others down through the ages), and I think Luther’s advice continues to be relevant to us today. Using this method of praying God’s Word is an effective way to stay sharp in our prayer lives. Why not give it a try?

He Knows Before We Ask

A couple weeks ago we were playing in our back yard when I noticed our son John headed towards the red wagon. We store our little red wagon underneath the deck and I watched John grab ahold of the wagon and try to pull it out from under the deck. John is not quite two years old so I knew he was going to have a hard time moving the wagon and it did not take me long to figure out what would happen next. Past experiences told me that John likes to be pulled around in the wagon and so I said to myself, it is only a matter of time before he would soon be trotting over, asking me to pull the wagon out, put him in, and start dragging him all over the place. Sure enough, that’s exactly what transpired. It was fascinating for this happy parent to witness these events and I enjoyed every minute of my time with my son.

This experience made me think of the words of Jesus. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8). What follows is the passage on the Lord’s prayer. But isn’t it amazing that God knows what we need before we ask Him? Isn’t it remarkable that when we pray, we are not bringing new information to God? Of course, we all know that God is omniscient – He’s all knowing – and He knows us better than we know ourselves, but how much does that knowledge affect our prayer? If God already knows our needs before we ask them, then it follows that prayer is more about admitting our need and then going to the One who is all-sufficent to meet that need. You see, one of God’s great purposes in prayer is to build our faith and trust in Him. As we go to God again and again in prayer and see how He answers our prayers in the most amazing ways, our faith grows. Like a son that is inclined to go to his father when he has a need, we too as followers of Jesus begin to naturally look to him for our needs. My hope for you and me is that this humble, child-like dependance upon our Heavenly Father would only grow and multiply in the coming weeks and months.

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11)

Finding that “open door for the word.”

“Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison.” (Colossians 4:3)

Every Christian is surrounded by non-Christians.  Whether it is next-door neighbors, co-workers, relatives, or friends, there are people in your life who are not following Jesus.  Unfortunately, there are many professing Christians who are unconcerned about this reality.  They are not burdened that people around them live without hope and have not embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We would do well to look at the evangelistic example of Paul and his heart for the lost.

As you will note from the verse quoted above, evangelism starts with prayer.  The apostle, as much as anyone, knew the power of prayer in converting the lost.  As skilled as he was in apologetics (check out Acts 17), Paul’s evangelism strategy was not limited to persuasion and strength of argument.  Above all, he relied on the power of prayer.  We too must pray for the lost souls around us.  If you don’t see results immediately, please don’t give up.  I have been praying for a friend of mine for over a decade and I believe that one day God will save him.  But we MUST persist in prayer.

When we are consistently praying for the lost souls around us, it goes without saying that we will also be looking for opportunities to “share” the gospel.  Part of our prayer will be that God would give us the opportunity to share the gospel.  That is exactly what Paul requested from the Colossian believers – an open door to declare Christ.  Friend, don’t be afraid to pray that prayer, just make sure you’re ready when God brings the opportunity your way (1 Peter 3:15).

I do understand that evangelism is not easy.  If it was easy, Paul would not have ended up in prison.  But we must realize that temporary suffering is well worth the price.  Remember that we not only have the greatest, most glorious news in the world (the gospel of Jesus Christ), but also the most powerful vehicle on earth (the Holy Spirit of God) to spread that news.  I want to encourage you to keep praying for your lost friends and then watch how God works and uses you in the process.

John Stumbo: New President of the C&MA

I would like to congratulate John Stumbo on being elected as the new president of the U.S. Christian & Missionary Alliance. John has filled many roles within the C&MA over the past 30 years, including pastor, administrator, and most recently a District Superintendent. Other than watching a few videos that featured him, I don’t know much about John. He seems to be very well thought of within Alliance circles and considered to be a proven leader. No doubt he will need our prayers (1 Timothy 2:1-2) as he embarks on this monumental challenge. My prayer is that Stumbo would show himself to be a leader like Ezra who, “set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules” (Ezra 7:10).