The Priority of Prayer
Written by Pastor Jim Law
Some years back, I had a friend who was serving on the pastor search committee of her church. She shared with me her discouragement with the whole search process as she bemoaned the fact that the team commissioned by the church for this very important assignment seemed devoid of any commitment to pray. When she expressed her burden that the committee spend a season in prayer, one member said, “We don’t really need to pray, one pastor is just as good as another.” Her heart sunk, and needless to say, the search process did not go well, and the church was hindered by poor leadership.
In reading I Timothy, we find a crucial blueprint for establishing pastoral ministry in a local church. The apostle Paul had placed Timothy, his young protégé in Gospel work, in the city of Ephesus. Ephesus was a spiritual war zone (Ephesians 6:10-20), and Timothy was commissioned to establish sound doctrine with this goal in mind, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (I Timothy 1:5)
With Gospel centrality and biblical authority as the foundation for church life, Paul establishes the priority of prayer in I Timothy 2 as a matter of first importance. Notice the language, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.” (I Timothy 2:1)
Timothy received seasoned counsel that would be essential to fulfilling his ministry. Namely, he was to make prayer the priority of his life and lead the congregation to embrace a commitment to prayer—-about everything and for everyone.
The terms Paul uses in v. 1 range from general prayer to specific petitions. Paul was describing the type of prayer that becomes the aroma for every gathering of God’s people. Prayer that is specific as a local church prays for every subdivision, apartment complex, trailer park, law enforcement personnel, elected official, local school, and business. Prayer that manifests concern for others and for their struggles and needs that we see every day. Prayer that seeks Christ for the global triumph of the Gospel in an Acts 1:8 concentric all the way to the unreached people groups of this world.
In essence, Paul was calling Timothy to make prayer a top priority of the church because it is fundamental to success in ministry. This exhortation to prayer written over twenty centuries ago comes like a ballistic missile and serves as a fresh word to pastors and churches who sense their ministry edge has become dull.
I was helped years ago by a story R. Kent Hughes shared in his book, Delivering Ministry from the Success Syndrome. Hughes writes,
Some years ago a young man approached the foreman of logging crew and asked for a job. “That depends,” replied the foreman. “Let’s see you fell this tree.” The young man stepped forward and skillfully felled a great tree. Impressed, the foreman exclaimed, “Start Monday!”
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday rolled by, and Thursday afternoon the foreman approached the young man and said, “You can pick up your paycheck on the way out today.”
Startled, he replied, “I thought you paid on Friday.” Normally we do,” answered the foreman, “but we’re letting you go today because you’ve fallen behind. Our daily felling charts show that you’ve dropped from first place on Monday to last on Wednesday.”
“But I’m a hard worker,” the young man objected. “I arrive first, leave last, and even have worked through my coffee breaks!”
The foreman, sensing the boy’s integrity, thought for a minute and then asked, “Have you been sharpening your ax?”
The young man replied, “I’ve been working too hard to take the time.”
What an obvious mistake. How could anyone make such an unthinkable error? Yet the fact is that many of God’s servants fail in their work because they do not take time to sharpen their lives in prayer.
Is it any wonder that the Church is in such poor condition? Should we be surprised that many pastors throw in the towel? Is it really a mystery that so many churches instead of looking like the glorious bride of Christ look more like a tattered Cinderella for whom the clock has struck midnight?
Sometimes we forget the simple things in ministry, and it is extremely helpful to return to the principles and practices that do not change and carry with them the promise of God’s blessing. There are times when we must fight the urge to do and learn the discipline of being still in the presence of God. One only needs to follow Jesus around in the Gospels to see this was the pattern and rhythm of his life and work.
A prayerless church indicates a profound spiritual weakness, and the answer to church lethargy is not subscribing to the latest “dog and pony shows” that promise church revitalization. Pastors and churches should return to simple questions from time to time. Questions like, “Am I entering into the presence of God to seek him who is able?” “Am I a praying pastor?” “Are we a praying church?” “Am I growing in my communion with God through prayer?”
Pastors, we are to lead our congregations to be people of prayer. It is to be a priority for the gathering of God’s people and the mark of the Christian life. Before I close out, I want to mention several quotes that have encouraged me in this pursuit:
“What a man is, he is alone on his knees before God, and no more.” ~Robert Murray McCheyne
“The one concern of the Devil is to keep Christians from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, and prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.” ~Samuel Chadwick
“Never undertake more Christian service than you can cover by believing prayer.” ~ Alan Redpath
“Satan will do anything to get you off of your knees even if it is to adjust a window shade.” ~ D. L. Moody