T.M. Moore is the editor of the Worldview Church and serves both as a writer and a theological consultant for the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.
And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. Acts 20:36
Faithfulness in life and Word
We’re considering what is necessary for a pastor to be assured, that, as Paul puts it, his ministry and labors are not in vain in the Lord. God requires His servants to be faithful in their charge, and He promises to bring fruit through their labors when they are.
We’ve seen that faithfulness in ministry requires, first of all, faithfulness in the life of faith. We cannot be faithful in shepherding and discipling others if we are not living the life of faith before those entrusted to our care. We must be able to say, as Paul did, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things…” (Phil. 4:9). The pastor’s “tool kit” for ministry begins in a walk with the Lord that evidences growth in grace and the kind of character and skills that reflect the righteousness and ministry of Jesus Christ. This is what God expects in those who shepherd His flocks (1 Cor. 11:1).
We next saw that faithfulness in ministry requires the faithful use of the Word of God – all the counsel of God, to all the needs of God’s people, in a variety of venues, and by every available means. Pastors who are faithful in life and Word can come confidently before the Lord in prayer to seek the fruit of disciples and a healthy, growing church which the Lord promises those who serve Him well.
It’s in prayer that the pastor applies himself to his most important and most reliable resource for ministry (Acts 6:4). Prayer is the third “tool” in the pastor’s kit by which he may hope to be found faithful in his ministry, and his work on behalf of the Lord will be fruitful and not in vain.
I want to say three things especially about the work of prayer, again, looking to the example of the Apostle Paul, who was confident that his own labors would not be in vain. We’ll begin by considering ways of becoming more constant in our prayers.
More than pious rhetoric
The first thing to note from the example of the Apostle Paul with respect to the pastor’s use of prayer in the work of ministry is that he seems to have been somehow always engaged in it. He wrote to the Ephesians that he “did not cease” praying for them (Eph. 1:16). He thanked God in all his “remembrance” of the Philippians – every time he thought about them, “always in every prayer of mine for you all, making my prayer with joy” (Phil. 1:3, 4). He thanked God “always” for the Colossians (Col. 1:3), “constantly” mentioned the Thessalonians in prayer (1 Thess. 1:2), and explained to Timothy that he remembered him “constantly” before the Lord, “night and day” (2 Tim. 1:3).
So when Paul commanded the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing”, we can be sure he intended something more than mere pious rhetoric in that instruction (1 Thess. 5:17). If being constant in prayer is the duty of all believers, how much more must it be the practice of those who watch over them as shepherds?
We should not suppose that, by this example or instruction, Paul meant that prayer is all we should ever do in life or ministry. Rather, I think he means that in all we do in life or ministry, we should strive to be constant in prayer, to have prayer available and in use as a constant resource for whatever God leads us to do. We can realize this goal – becoming constant in prayer – in at least three ways.
Becoming constant in prayer
First, make sure that you maintain a daily time of waiting on the Lord in prayer, a time that allows you to bring all the components of prayer – praise, thanksgiving, confession, seeking, listening, pleading, and so forth – before the Lord in an extended season of prayer. This should be a time devoted to prayer, and not a kind of “prayer attachment” to other disciplines or activities. Jesus is the example of this, of course, Who frequently slipped away for long periods of being with His Father in prayer. We should make this a daily practice, at least, and, perhaps, include an even more extended time of prayer as a half-day or day-long retreat from time to time.
Second, like the saints of old, we can make appointments throughout the day to meet with the Lord for brief seasons of prayer. Keeping something like the “hours of prayer” appears to have been a practice of believers in both Testaments, and it has continued to be a discipline engaged by many Christians throughout the ages. By scheduling brief seasons – or retreats or oases – for prayer throughout the day, we gain the opportunity of extending our morning prayer time, refocusing our work, and renewing our dependence on the Lord, and of making our prayers a more constant feature of our day. We might protest that we’re just too busy for such leisure in prayer, but we’re no busier than Daniel or the Apostles were, and they seem to have managed this quite well.
Finally, we can work at becoming more constant in prayer if we learn how to include prayer in all the normal activities of our everyday lives and work. The Spirit of God can prompt us to prayer by means of a wide range of cues: people with whom we’re meeting, things or needs that come into our minds throughout the day, examples of kindness or love or beauty from the people or environment around us, songs of praise inscribed on the grooves of our mind, and much more. What we need to do is develop the sense of prayer as a priority, a delight, and an ongoing conversation with the Lord, which we may “pick up” afresh at any moment.
Prayer must become the set of our minds, hearts, and consciences. We must learn to think in prayer, to long for God’s presence at all times, and to value the work of prayer so that it runs like a deep current through our souls, and is always read for us to “tap” in whatever situation we may find ourselves.
Faithfulness in ministry comes from faithfulness in prayer. And faithfulness in prayer begins with learning to be more constant in it.
Next steps: Based on what you’ve seen here, how would you assess the constancy of your own prayers? Can you see room for improving on being constant in prayer? Share your thoughts with a soul friend, and take steps toward greater constancy in prayer, beginning today.
For a good overview of the work of pastoral ministry, order a copy of "The Christian Ministry", by Charles Bridges, a classic in the field of pastoral studies. You can order it from our online by clicking here. You might also read the article, “Watch Yourself: The Discipline of the Self-watch,” by T. M. Moore.