by Anne Graham Lotz, international Bible teacher, bestselling author of Jesus in Me and Jesus Followers. (annegrahamlotz.org)
“Apart from Me you can do nothing …” (John 15:5)
Moses is considered one of the greatest leaders of all time. He is used of God to lead God’s people out of bondage in Egypt and then lead them through the wilderness. At the very center of the Israelite encampment, Moses builds a tabernacle that is like a portable temple which allows God to dwell in the midst of His people. (Ex. 25:8-9) It is called the meeting place because it is the central place of prayer. (Ex. 33:7) As Moses seeks to lead God’s people through the wilderness, he goes into the tent. Then the glory of God comes down, fills the place, and God speaks with Moses face to face, “as a man speaks with his friend.” (Ex. 33:11) Note that the Scripture says that God speaks with Moses, not the other way around. Prayer is not just speaking to God, but it also requires listening to His voice. And prayer is central to Moses’ successful leadership.
Because of the example Moses set, Joshua spends essentially all of his time in the meeting place. (Ex. 33:11) As a result, Joshua’s strong faith in God that is rooted in prayer prepares him for what is an enormous, intimidating responsibility of succeeding Moses, as he leads the people out of the wilderness to take possession of the land God had promised.
As Christian ministry leaders, our primary goal is twofold. First, we are to be like Moses and lead people out of their bondage to sin. This means we are to present the gospel in such a way that people place their faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord so that they are set free spiritually. Secondly, we are to be like Joshua as we help them grow in their faith as genuine followers of Jesus to the extent they take possession of the fullness of His blessings. (Matt. 28:18-20)
As we seek to equip Christian leaders for this twofold task, prayer is not an option. It’s not something we tack onto our ministry training. Prayer is not just saying words, singing worship songs or reciting a spiritual shopping list. It is the very core of our personal relationship with God that may include silence, listening, reading, speaking or even singing. Effective prayer pulsates from a life that is abiding in Christ with a heart of love for God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit which then translates into intercessory prayer for those whom He has placed under our leadership. And it’s powerful.
One of the greatest leaders in the Old Testament is Elijah. After three years of being set aside with God, he emerges with a thunderous challenge for God’s people to return to God and follow Him. His preaching brings down fire to defeat the pagan priests of Baal; then his prayers bring down the rain to end Israel’s drought. (1 Kings 17:2-4; 18:21-46)
As astounding as Elijah was, we are reminded in James that Elijah was just like us. “He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” Because the prayer of one righteous person “is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16-18)
It’s difficult to answer the rhetorical question posed by the assigned title to this blog: What Role Does Prayer Have in Christian Ministry Training? If you are assigning a role to prayer, you’ve missed the entire point. Prayer is not a role. It’s not something you check off on your list of to-dos. Prayer is the overflow of your life centered in Christ. Could the role you have assigned prayer be one reason you are burning out in ministry? Prayer should be Spirit-led, Spirit-filled. Could it be that prayer has become mechanical and perfunctory because the sap of the Spirit is not flowing freely into you from the vine to which you should be attached? (John 15:5)
Years ago, while active in ministry leadership, the Lord rebuked me for my lack of earnest, sincere, heartfelt prayer. This is exactly what He said: “I know your deeds (I was very busy in service); you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent.” (Rev. 3:1-3)
His words actually frightened me. I knew He was telling me specifically, literally, to wake up and spend time with Him in the morning. Because I was such a sleepy head, my tendency had been to sleep to the last possible moment, then pray as I tackled my day. But when He spoke to me through the letter to the church at Sardis, I went straight to the mall, bought a clock that had an alarm that was so loud there was no chance I would go back to sleep, and I started waking up and spending time with Him. Every morning. Looking back, I honestly don’t know how I could have managed to go so long without that early morning time in His word, in prayer, just being in His presence. I can’t help but wonder how much of my time in ministry was wasted because of my prayerlessness.
As a fellow ministry leader and as a Christian sister, I challenge you. Heed the warning that comes from my own example. Don’t risk standing before your Lord and leader only to find that all of your ministry busyness has had very little eternal value because it was not bathed in prayer and therefore was not Spirit-led. Stop treating prayer like a role. Instead, establish a tabernacle — a meeting place — at the very center of your life.
Don’t put yourself in danger of standing before Jesus in heaven and hearing Him say to you what He said to the church in Sardis, and to me. So let me ask you. Do you have a reputation for being alive? Do others look up to you and consider you to be spiritual, a Christian leader who is training others? But as God sees you, are you like I was? Dead on the inside because of a lack of meaningful communion with Him? Then wake up! Repent! Return to the Lord, on your knees.
If that is your decision, you are now ready to pray by name for those under your leadership as you set the example of a leader who knows that without Jesus you can do nothing.
“For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:14-19)