SCRIPTURE: 2 Chronicles 6:18-19
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: November 8th, 2013
18“But will God really dwell on earth with humans? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! 19Yet, Lord my God, give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence." (2 Chronicles 6:18-19)
Key to the spiritual health of any minister or ministry worker is prayer. How prayerful are they? How much time do they spend in prayer? How often do they pray? Leonard Ravenhill gives a powerful indictment on people, especially ministers, who do not pray.
“No man is greater than his prayer life. The pastor who is not praying is playing; the people who are not praying are straying. The pulpit can be a shop window to display one's talents; the prayer closet allows no showing off. Poverty- stricken as the church is today in many things, she is most stricken here, in the place of prayer. We have many organizers, but few agonizers; many players and payers, few pray-ers; many singers, few clingers; lots of pastors, few wrestlers; many fears, few tears; much fashion, little passion; many interferers, few intercessors; many writers, but few fighters. Failing here we fail everywhere.” (Leonard Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries, Bloomingdale, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1987, p25)
Sometimes, I get asked: "What do pastors normally do over the week?"
It is a fair question. I rattle off the list of things I do. It ranges from teaching to preaching; from studying to ministering; from visiting to emailing; from administrative work to ministry practices; from meetings to caring; and so on. As far as ministry work is concerned, there is no particular 9-to-5 time frame. Even on Sundays, I find myself at work. Sabbath keeping is particularly hard in ministry work. For example, if someone in Church has a need that happens to coincide with the pastor's rest day, what gives? It requires a judgment call. I know it is a cliche, but I will still say it: There are no easy answers when it comes to ministerial duties and allocated time for work.
Underlying all of these ministry activities, programs and preaching, there is something not many people appreciate: Prayer. Of all of the ministry activities that I feel is most significant, I will put prayer without hesitation. Why? Let me share three reasons.
A) Overwhelming Needs
Which Church does not have problems? You tell me. Every Church has needs. Every Church has their struggles. Every Church, from the largest to the smallest, will be ready to say that the needs outnumber the resources. Name any ministry in any Church, and they are constantly on the lookout for workers, for volunteers, for people who are willing to step up. It is an annual ritual that each Church department will start recruiting new people to address the same 90-10 pareto problem: More than Ninety percent of the work being done by less than ten percent of the people. There are needs everywhere.
Unlike a commercial organization, churches do not always have the financial muscle to hire. Neither do they have the emotional guts to fire people the way that for-profit companies retrench workers. So the leaders plead, cajole, and strongly "encourage" individuals to step up to the plate.
Getting new leaders and workers is just part of the problem. There is also the challenge of encouraging present leaders to stay. People get exhausted after a while. They feel they have given so much that they want to just take a break. Fair request. What about ministries where needs are so critical and if no one steps up, the Church cannot function? What about a Church without any Board of Directors, Elders, or even deacons to begin with? Under such circumstances, it will be very tough for the "last person standing" to keep the ship afloat.
Pastors are often faced with overwhelming needs and challenges. What do you do when the need is there but there are so few, even no workers? In such a situation and the helplessness of it all, pastors fling themselves before God to pray, to seek God's face, and to keep any semblances of hope in God and God alone. Remember Jesus' words?
"The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." (Luke 10:2)It is a call to ask God. It is a call to cast one's request before the Lord of the harvest. It is a call to pray.
One of the most important parts about pastoral ministry is the need to keep confidentiality. People come to me with their personal stories and requests. I need to respect their privacy and confidentiality for obvious reasons. Sometimes, there are things I cannot even share with my wife! I often struggle with the heavy burdens. What do I do? How can I get the wise counsel from others when I cannot even share the intimate details? What if I have no one to share with in the first place? What if no one else is allowed to hear my deepest burdens and the stories of these parishioners?
In such cases, I can only take it to the Lord in prayer. The words of the hymn are very comforting.
From marital problems to financial difficulties, it is a burden that can become very heavy. People trust me enough to share with me. They trust me to keep it confidential. They expect me to care for them without exposing them. I must be stewards of that trust and confidence. What then do I do with these cares?"Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?Precious Savior, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer!In His arms He'll take and shield you; you will find a solace there."
I take it to the Lord. I seek God's face. I ask for help. It is hard to keep it to myself. It is even harder not to share with God. That is why I pray. The more I hear about the burdens people have, the more I realize that there is only one avenue for me to take: Take it to the Lord in prayer. It is a recognition of human weakness as well as an awareness of where true spiritual strength rests in. In prayer, we learn not to be fixated on the mountain of problems, but to shift our eyes upon the Mover of mountains. In prayer, we are not distracted from the woes and worries of the world, but on the warmth and wonder of God. For Jesus said:
28“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
|Pastors who do not pray will fail
to care well for their parishioners
but can also hurt themselves.
C) Acknowledging the True Source of Pastoral Ministry
This final point is most important. We have all heard the popular saying: "The Church belongs to God." It is often said, but our actions betray the words. Many leaders who say that the Church belongs to God behave in a manner as if without them, there is no Church. When such a mentality prevails, existing leaders are unable to let go and let God bring in new leaders. When the leadership insists on some personal preferences, it discourages younger leaders from stepping up the new responsibilities. When Church people use worldly standards as a way to run their churches, God's agenda can be easily pushed aside.
Pastors who pray are constantly asking God to show them the way. They are seeking to be more open hearted to God, and to be ready to cling on to God's every Word, every promise, and every instruction. It is an open-heart spiritual surgery happening each time a pastor prays. When Solomon prayed for the Lord to dwell in the temple, he made an interesting statement: "But will God really dwell on earth with humans? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!"
Pastors are not just expected to pray a lot. Pastors need to expect themselves to pray, and pray, and pray. It is not just a job or a ministry expectation. It is a lifestyle. It is a ministry trait. It is the key to spiritual survival. For pastors often had no one else who can understand them. They have no one else who they can share with. They have no where else to turn to. They only have one Source, one Person, one Listener: God.
THOUGHT: "The two prerequisites for successful Christian living are vision and passion, both of which are born in and maintained by prayer. The ministry of preaching is open to few; the ministry of prayer - the highest ministry of all human offices - is open to all." (Leonard Ravenhill)
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