For the remainder of 2020, I will be reposting the most viewed posts from this past year. This week, we start with the 5th most viewed post of 2020 on our way to the most viewed post of the year. New posts will return on January 8th, with my book summaries (12/31) and new reading list (1/1) posted on their usual schedules. Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. If you find it helpful, I encourage you to share this site with others.
The following post was first posted on this site October 26th, 2018. Each of these repostings are in their original, unedited form.
In one of the courses I teach, the first part of the class focuses on helping church leaders know more about themselves – that is, the way God made them, gifted them, and how to organize their lives to be more effective as leaders within their respective churches.
One of the aspects in Week 1 is to do a spiritual gift inventory. I realize many are skeptical of these inventories and they do have many weaknesses the greatest of which is trying to objectively measure something that is divinely given. However, these assessments can help people to gain a perspective on their ministry and why some things seem to come easier than others.
One of the common concerns from students is that many have a low score on the gift of intercession. That is, these ministers (or those training to be in ministry) struggle to pray for others. And, to be honest, this is a personal challenge as well. It is not that I do not pray, but God did not grant me this particular giftedness – meaning it takes more effort for me to pray for others. Is that wrong? No. As Ephesians 4 states, the gifts are appointed by the Spirit. Thus, to say it is easier for some to pray than it is for me is as natural as it is for me to prepare a lesson or sermon easier than others might (or write a blog post such as this). So, it is not wrong to find myself requiring more effort. It is wrong if I do not give the effort. Let me explain.
God assigns His children different gifts as apportioned by His Spirit. But just because we do not have a certain gift does not mean that we are not to follow certain commands. For instance, one gift is evangelism. This gift allows some people to seemingly find it easier to present the gospel AND to seemingly have more success in doing so. I do not have this gift. But Jesus commands that I (actually, all of us) make disciples of all nations. Making disciples begins with telling others about Jesus. Thus, just because I do not have the gift of evangelism does not mean that I do not need to share the gospel; rather, it means that it might not be as easy for me as it will be for others. But a command is a command is a command.
The same is true for prayer. Paul says that we should pray continuously (1 Thessalonians 5.17). We should continue steadfastly in prayer (Colossians 4.2) – that is we should not only continue doing so, but we should be committed (i.e. devoted) to the practice of prayer. And the Bible is filled with more commands as well as many examples of people praying – including for other people (e.g. Acts 12.6-17).
So, as students inquired about how to improve their praying (particularly as an intercessor), I gave three ideas which I will share here now. The first two can work with any spiritual discipline (or command of Jesus). The third item below is directly centered on prayer, but the idea of focusing on the important aspects of the command or discipline will translate elsewhere.
Please note that these ideas might be helpful for anyone struggling with prayer, but they are written with the intention of guiding someone who wants to be better at prayer and struggles to fulfill that desire. More items could be added, but as with the second item, this post is not about overwhelming anyone for the task at hand, but simply to get them on the path AND moving in the right direction.
So, three items that I believe can help are:
- Find Accountability. Of course, we would never lie to God, but we do. We make promises or have good intentions all the time on which we do not follow through. The reality is that many Christians have a harder time lying to close friends than they do to God so asking for accountability regarding prayer (or any spiritual discipline) can be very helpful in developing a good habit.
- Don’t overwhelm yourself. When I look at the prayer list for our church, I can be overwhelmed. Our list has 96 names on it this week and many other items as well. Many of the people are unknown to me as they are friends or family members of people within our congregation. It does not mean that I cannot or should not pray for them, but if I take a few per day instead of trying to pray for everyone at once, I am more likely to take the time to pray and more likely to be focused during that time. So, make the time to pray, and do so in chunks. It will make your effort a chance to talk to God throughout the day or week rather than feeling like you are simply performing a task.
- Pray for what is truly important. This item is related to the previous one. The reality is that praying for someone’s aunt Sally who has an issue with her big toe is important to Sally and her nephew or niece, but that issue is less important that the salvation of the person whom you met on the street a couple of days ago (and potentially Sally’s salvation as well).
These three items can be first steps to developing a good pattern for prayer. Of course, prayer is more than a pattern of behavior, but for those of us who have a harder time than others developing a consistency in praying for others, I believe this approach can be helpful.
A Personal Note: The second of the three individuals I mentioned in the post two weeks ago (here) was relocated to his heavenly home this week. I mention this because that gentleman (Ferd) was one who I knew prayed for me each and every day. Some people may say they pray (or will pray) for you, but Ferd did pray for so many, including me – and he often told me so. As I mentioned in the previous post, Ferd was a great encourager, and I have no doubt his prayers sustained me through certain situations and likely kept me from experiencing others. I am the better for having known him. I will miss knowing that he constantly prayed for me. But most importantly I will miss him as a friend.