Posts Tagged ‘prayer’


Pray for Hobby Lobby

Tomorrow is a consequential day in the history of religious liberty. The United States Supreme Court is taking up a case involving two Christian-owned businesses: Hobby Lobby Stores and Conastoga Woods. Hobby Lobby, of course, is the most prominent of these two companies. The conflict is this: can the government compel a business to endorse things against conscience? Hobby Lobby is being compelled by the government to pay for abortion-causing drugs that violate the deeply held beliefs of its owners.

The the center of this argument is a long-cherished virtue: that the government should not trample on the conscience. We should support Christian businesses, not only because they often help fund Christian mission, but also because they are living out the gospel in the marketplace. So I’m hoping you’ll the ERLC and other followers of Christ to pray specifically for Hobby Lobby tomorrow. If you do, use the hashtag: #prayforhobbylobby. Here’s a sample prayer guide you might use;


  1. God wants people to be free to seek him and to serve him (Acts 17:24-28). Pray for a favorable outcome. The cherished principle of religious freedom should receive the strongest constitutional protection it deserves.
  2. God is Lord of the conscience, not government (Acts 5:29). Pray that the justices of the Supreme Court will understand the importance of the separation of the state from the church.
  3. God can give understanding to make sound decisions (Prov. 2:6-8). Pray for those who disagree with us, that God would help them understand and respect the consciences of people of faith.
  4. God can turn the hearts and minds of the justices to do his will (Prov. 21:1). Pray for the Supreme Court justices, that they would be receptive to the arguments being made passionately before them.
  5. God can guide the mind and speech (Exod. 4:11-12). Pray for lead attorney, Paul Clement, who will be arguing on behalf of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood. Ask God to give him clarity and wisdom, for his arguments to be persuasive, and for God to give him favor before the justices.  

Here are some more excellent resources:



The God (little “g”) in Your Pocket

I was talking to my mother last week about the readily available technology we have in our smart phones. She was telling me, half-joking, “I can always Google something. So if I’m in a conversation and I don’t know what they are talking about, I can quietly Google it and sound smart.” We laughed, because we have all been there. And perhaps with Google glasses we won’t even have to figure out ways to inconspicuously look down and type it in our phones.

It’s sure nice to have Google with us. In the middle of the night when my kid is sick and exhibiting symptoms I’m not familiar with, I can quickly google, “Coughing and fever, plus a rash” and get results. If I’m on a trip to Denver for business, I can google, “weather in Denver tomorrow.” Or if we are wandering about and looking for a McDonald’s with a Playplace, I can Google (not while driving, of course!), “McDonald’s with a Playplace near me.” I can actually speak it into Google and it comes up with info. The same goes for hours for my favorite barber shop, the closest Starbucks, or how to change the headlight in a Chevy Blazer (my brother did that and it saved my parents lots of money on repairs).

But as much as I like all of this technology and as much as I really don’t want to back to the 1950’s where you actually had to know stuff and read maps and be satisfied with looking dumb in conversations, I wonder if we are tempted to replace God with Google. I’m not trying to #JesusJuke you here. I’m speaking honestly about a very real temptation I face, particularly when I’m in trouble.

See, my inclination, when something bad comes up, when I’m uncertain, is not to get on my knees in prayer. It’s to grab my phone and type or speak and expect an answer. Sometimes this is helpful. But sometimes it’s a dangerous crutch, a rabbit trail for answers that Google can’t produce. Worse yet, the little god in my pocket gives me the illusion of being in control. I can solve this. I’m smart. I have tools that can give me answers. 

This is why the words, Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10) should hit our hearts with a thud. Be still means to stop thinking, processing, figuring out, wondering, scheming, and yes, Googling (that’s the Greek translation) for answers. Be still means to stop phoning friends, stop texting, stop panicking and to just be quiet and listen to God. Oh if we could learn this in our generation. I fear that we are so dependent, so given to the illusion of being our own little gods that we have forgotten the art of silence, solitude and worship. I struggle with this mightily.

Why must we be still to know God? Because the act of silence, of prayer, of not creating our own answers is in and of itself an act of humble, subservient, worship. We’re saying, “Yep, I’m really not in charge here. I’m not God. He is.” And in that moment of despair, of weakness, we find God. We know Him. That’s why Paul says that when we are weak, we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Imagine the folly of God’s own people, redeemed by His grace in Christ, running around with their smart phones acting as if they can run their own lives. From a theological and logical standpoint, it’s pretty silly. And yet that’s the life we subscribe to. That’s the life I often live.

So we must pray, Lord, help me to be still. Help me to resist the idolatry of technology, to stop, listen, and learn. Help me to query you first for answers, not Google. 


The Lord’s Prayer and the Self-Made Man

In America, we pride ourselves on our rugged independence. We’re a self-made people. There is much good in this kind of pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps way of life. Hard work and ingenuity are hard-wired into the Creation mandate by a God who gave man the gift of work in the garden and who commanded him to “subdue” the earth. When man works hard with his hands and his mind, when he takes the raw materials God has given him and makes something, he images God. God creates. And God created special creatures to create.

But man is not self-made in any way. Man begins with the earth’s substance that God provides. Man is born into a world not of his choosing, a time and place ordained by a sovereign God. The social structures, educational opportunities, parentage, even the obstacles you overcome on your rags-to-riches journey–these were all ordered by a God. You did not conceive yourself nor build the world into which you were created.

This reality–acknowledging our dependence on God even as we work hard and advance–seems important to Jesus. When offering the disciples a theological template for prayer, he used the words, “Give us this day our daily bread.” That phrase, so oft-repeated in the 2,000 years since they first came off Jesus’ lips, are at the heart of what it means to live by faith.

Yes, we work hard. We toil. We demonstrate integrity. We move against obstacles. But in all of our activity, we are not our own providers. We are not our own creators. We are not our own gods. We need daily bread to be given to us.

We are dependent on God. This is why prayer, while simple, is such a revolutionary act. To bow the knee and request something from God, something as simple as bread, acknowledges that He is God and that you are not. It reminds that there is a King, a Sovereign, a Lord of all. It reminds us of our humanity, our dependence, our gratitude for the Giver of all things.

We pray before our meals, not because if we don’t, we’ll choke on the steak or that somehow the calories in the casserole will magically disappear. We don’t pray for protection from poisoning or out of fear that if we forget, God will strike us.

We pray before meals as a simple act of faith and a bold declaration that there is a King who provides for His people. We pray before meals as an act of humility, recognizing that for all of our effort, the food only got to the table, primarily, because God in His Fatherly goodness, willed it to be there.

So Americans who work hard and pay their bills and put food on the table are best served by recognizing that there is really no such thing as a self-made man or woman. We’re all under the mercy and care of the only One who can make something out of nothing.


5 People We Should Pray For Even Though We Don’t Want To

Let’s be honest. There are certain types of people we are conditioned, by our culture, to not like. These are the people that nobody is going to give us credit for liking, the people we tend to distance ourselves from. For good reason. And yet, these are the sinners Christ most likely would have sought out to save, the people we should, at the very least, pray for. So here is a list of 5 People We Should Pray For Even Though We Don’t Want To:

1) Politicians (and really anyone in a position of power). Have politicians ever held a lower standing the eyes of the American public than they do now? There are whole cottage industries (talk show hosts, pundits, some columnists) who generate millions of dollars essentially mocking and criticizing politicians. Nobody will think you are cool for praying for a politician. Everybody will laugh if you criticize one and/or post some hilarious meme about one on Facebook. And yet there is this sneaky little prayer in the Bible that says this:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2, ESV)

Yeah, that’s a tough verse. Praying for politicians (and not just in the snarky Psalm 19:8 way) is counter-cultural. But here’s a reason we can and should pray for our government leaders, local and national: we believe that authority is granted by God. Psalm 75:6 says that power doesn’t come from east or west, but from God. Romans 13 reminds us that the “powers that be” are ordained of God. So we can pray for our leaders, not only out of obedience to the Scripture, but out of a deep and abiding trust in Christ as the ultimate sovereign authority. And here’s a tip. Let’s pray for these politicians, not always for the policies we’d like to see implemented, but in a personal way. Let’s pray for their families. Let’s pray for their spiritual lives. Let’s pray for their blessing (yes, you heard me right).

2) People who we think poorly represent the Christian faith. There is a tendency among evangelicals to distance ourselves from Christians we think poorly represent the Christian faith. I do this. I could give you a list of people whose public displays of Christianity make me want to stand and shout, “But most Christians aren’t like that. We’re different. Don’t look at them.” You have a list like this, don’t you? Isn’t this pride? Do we ever consider that perhaps its me–yes me–who might be the poor display of Christian witness?

I’m humbled by Jesus’ words to Peter in Luke 22:32, where he essentially said, “I’m praying for you, that your faith doesn’t fail. Satan wants to sift you as wheat” (my paraphrase). Peter was the Christ-follower who embarrassed everyone by his public displays. He’s the guy who panicked and fell beneath the waves on the Sea of Galilee He’s the guy who blurted out about the tabernacles during the miracle of transfiguration. He’s the guy who cut off the soldier’s ear in the garden. He’s the guy who denied Jesus three times. Yeah, I’m guessing pre-Pentecost Peter is probably the guy who exemplifies, “Christian I don’t want to be like.”

And yet Jesus said to Peter, patiently, “I’m praying for you.” I’m deeply convicted by this. Rather than mocking those Christians who I don’t think “do it right” so I can make myself look better, I ought to . . . pray for them. Here’s what happens when we do this: suddenly we see the humanity in people we’re ashamed of. Suddenly we see our own clumsy attempts to represent Christ. Suddenly we accept them as brothers and sisters rather than enemies. This is a hard discipline, but like Jesus, we should pray for the Peters in our life.

3) People who openly mock the Christian faith. When I think of people who openly mock the faith, I think of the secularists, I think the late-night comedians who make sport of the gospel. I think of the pop culture icons who detest Jesus. Bill Mahr, Jon Stewart, Richard Dawkins. The knee-jerk reaction to mockers is to mock back. To come up with an equally witty response. To create a Facebook page with a bold Christian statement and have 10,000 people like it to make us feel better. But maybe, maybe, we should simply pray for them. I think of Jesus’ attitude on the cross toward the mockers. He said “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). What should we pray for them? For the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts to find salvation in Christ. Think of Saul of Tarsus. He had heard the sermons and mocked them. He held the coats of those stoning Stephen, the first martyr. He actively pursued Christians to put them in jail and even to their deaths. And yet God radically pursued Paul on the road to Damascus and he became the Apostle Paul. Maybe today’s mocker is tomorrow’s evangelist. Have we considered that? So let’s pray for those who mock the Christian faith. By doing so, we not only avoid the sin of bitterness in our own hearts, but we demonstrate that God’s sovereignty and power is not weakened by the open hostility of those who oppose Him.

4) Highly critical bloggers and commentors. If you want to get a glimpse of the depravity of our fallen world, scroll down on a news article and read through the comments. Even many Christian blogs and news sites attract vile responses, some even by professing followers of Jesus. The Internet has opened the floodgates for trolls and for angry, self-justified people. But have you considered that perhaps those who communicate ungracefully may be doing it from a place of insecurity, of brokeness, of a deep hunger for what only God can provide? I don’t know what motivates the hostility all the time, but I do know that these are people God wants to rescue from themselves. If God could cause revival among the ruthless Ninevites, God could do a work among those who use the Internet for vile purposes. We should pray that God enraptures their soul with the good news of the gospel. We should pray that we don’t fall into their trap of bitterness and vulgarity.

5) That person who has deeply wounded you. Jesus said to pray for those who “mistreat you.” I don’t think forgiveness means you have to endure injustice or abuse. I don’t think being a Christian means being a doormat over which evil people can walk all over you. But I do believe that, at the most basic level, we should pray for those who deeply wound us. Reconciliation is not always possible, but forgiveness–the letting go of the bitterness from our hearts–is possible as we immerse ourselves in the forgiveness Christ offers to us in his atoning death and resurrection. We can find peace and joy, we don’t have to nurse our deep grudges. I think we begin this process in prayer, on our knees, in honesty before God. We pour out the hurts and wounds we’ve endured and ask the Lord to help us forgive and to work in the hearts of those who did the wounding. The person who committed the injustice against you was created by God in His image. His soul matters to God as much as your soul. And so we pray for those who hurt us.



My Prayer Before the Illinois General Assembly

I had the honor of delivering the convocation on Monday afternoon before the Illinois General Assembly in Springfield. I was graciously invited by the state representative whose district includes Gages Lake, Rep. Sam Yingling. I brought my eight-year old daughter, Grace. We are kindly hosted down in Springfield by my friends, Dan and Linda Anderson and their seven children. Dan is the director of Brazil Gospel Fellowship Mission. I also had a terrific time of fellowship with Shaun Lewis, who ministers with Capitol Commission  Shaun reaches out to the representatives, senators, supreme court justices, and staffers with Bible studies, prayer and any counseling they need. I also had the chance to catch up with some good friends: Rep David McSweeney, Rep. Tom Morrison, and others. Grace and I also got to tour the fabulous Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum. If you are ever in Springfield, you must stop there.

The prayer itself was a little nerve-wracking. I’ve done quite a bit of public speaking and preaching and praying–so I’m not usually that nervous with this stuff. But when the presiding speaker spoke my name and I stepped up to the giant lecturn to pray, I did get a few butterflies. I prepped last week by looking at the prayers of several who have prayed before the assembly. Then I wrote it out to the approximate length of what the prayers are.

I wanted to accomplish three things: a) sincerely pray on behalf of the families of the representatives. Politicians are so despised these days, I wanted to be the one person who prays for their well-being and strength. b) represent Christ well in this public forum. I was determined to pray a Christian prayer to our Lord, Jesus Christ. I didn’t worry about any retribution and, to the credit of those who invited me, I had no warnings on that. And the previous convocations included Christ. c) I wanted to offer a prayer asking for wisdom and guidance for our state in the many issues that face us.

At the end of the day, I hope I was a service to the men and women who serve Illinois in the general assembly. I hope I represented my Lord well. And I hope even this prayer might cause some, even one, to ask questions that might lead them to come to Jesus in faith.

Below is my prayer:

Prayer of Convocation

Illinois General Assembly

Monday, May 20th, 2013

2:00 PM

 Dear Heavenly Father. We offer our humble gratitude for the gift of freedom as Americans, forged over 200 years of messy democracy and protected by the blood of our fighting men and women. Let us be ever mindful of the many peoples around the world who are not as free, as prosperous, as blessed as we are.

 We are grateful to live in the beautiful and diverse state of Illinois. For the leaders who have risen from this hallowed chamber. For the movements birthed here on our rich soil.

 We ask humbly for your blessing on our great land. We offer prayer for the leaders today who serve you, here, in this town. As you have commanded us, we pray for them. For their families while they are away. For their safety while they serve here. For their integrity and wisdom in shaping the laws that will shape our future.

We are thankful for each representative who has stepped out of his ordinary life to serve in leadership here. They have spent countless hours campaigning and now serving. They have given up precious time and resources. They have sacrificed their privacy, putting their lives and their families’ lives on public display. Care for each representative, each senator, each staffer and all of the family members in a special way.

I pray that you’re Spirit visits this place in a powerful way. I pray these men and women find the fortitude to lead well. Give each leader rest, refreshment, and a clear mind. We ask you to move our leaders to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before their God.

Help each lawmaker to consider your command to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves, mindful of the dignity and worth of each human life, created in the image of God. Help them not to forget the poor, the immigrant, the marginalized, and the unborn. Help them create laws that support the institutions that make our communities flourish, that encourage and sustain healthy families, that give hope to those struggling to find their way.

We ask your forgiveness for yielding, too often, to the temptation to forget you in our national and political life. For the times we reject your gracious providence. For confusing courage with incivility. For confusing liberty with license. For substituting our own agendas for yours. For putting our own interests above those we serve. For the tendency to abdicate our responsibility to deal with the tough problems.

Lord, we ask for your grace this day as these men and women endeavor to govern the people of this great state. May they realize that their power is limited, granted to them by your gracious decree. Help them wield this power with caution and humility.

We long for the city to come whose builder and maker is God. We’re thankful for the gift of your Son, who has offered entrance into this kingdom by his sacrificial death and miraculous resurrection.

Grant each of these legislators fresh grace today.

In the name of your son, Jesus Christ, we pray, Amen.



Prayer That Starts With God

On Sunday I started a brand-new series on the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) entitled, “Teach Us to Pray.” Let’s remember that this is not a prayer Jesus prays, but that a prayer He offers for his disciples to pray. One of the things that really strikes me about Jesus’ model prayer is just how God-centered this prayer is. The Lord’s Prayer contains six humble requests, the first three are God-directed and the last three involve human needs. This is very similar to the structure of the Ten Commandments, which first begin with our vertical relationship to God and then end with our horizontal relationship with our fellow man. It’s similar to the way Paul constructed his letters to the churches: he often began with who we are in Christ before fleshing out how that affects the way we live.

A.W. Tozer said this (and I paraphrase), “The first thing that comes to your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you.” I hear a lot of Christian says things like, “I don’t worry about theology.” Well, yes you do. Everybody has a theology, whether flawed or otherwise. Sadly, most of our theology begins with me. We start our prayers with what we think we need and then, if we have time, throw in a few God cliques. But the most healthy theology begins where the Bible begins: with God. You will notice that the first words of the very first book of the Bible begin like this, “In the beginning, God.”

It’s easy to subtly devalue God by our prayers and our life. We say things like, “I don’t imagine God is like this.” Or “The God I worship doesn’t do this.” But if God is truly God–that is to say if God is sovereign, powerful, holy, compassionate, just–then it behooves us not to define God on our terms, but to bow before the God who is already there.

How does this affect our prayer life? Why did Jesus say to start our supplications with God? Because the way we view God affects the way we live. How much we reverence God informs the respect we have for our fellow man. And beginning with God in our prayers filters out the frivolous. It considers prayer as an act of worship, an acknowledgment that we are, in deed, not God. That God is God.

It means our prayers are in God’s will. It keeps us from destructive theology. It prevents us from saying foolish things like, “God told me to (fill in the blank)” when really it was our own fleshly desires that spoke. I once had a person tell me, with a straight and somber face, that God was telling her to divorce her husband of 15 years and go marry a convicted felon. Um, God won’t tell you to do something against His sovereign will.

Praying God-centered prayers takes some discipline and practice. I’ll admit that this is a struggle for me. I often want to begin what I think are my own needs rather than letting my Father in Heaven shape my them. But there is something refreshing about beginning with God. It reminds us of the awesome miracle of access to the throne room of Heaven, purchased at great price by Christ on the cross. It reminds me that God takes great delight in hearing my prayers and meeting my needs, needs he knows well before I know them. It comforts me to realize that I do, indeed, have a Father in Heaven with a hallowed name.


Friday Five: Andrew Wheeler

Today I’m delighted to talk about prayer with my good friend, Andrew R. Wheeler. Andrew organizes the prayer ministry of the elders and Sunday service teams for Willow Creek Community Church–McHenry County. A member of the Church Prayer Leaders Network, he maintains the website Together in Prayer as a resource for churches growing in prayer ministry. He is the author of the excellent book, Together in Prayer

How important is it for Christians to pray together?

The early church set the pace and the importance of praying together.  In Acts 1:14 we see how the disciples joined together in prayer as they waited for the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49).  This prayer formed the backdrop of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2.  Again, we see in Acts 2:42 that praying together was one of the four pillars of the early church, along with the apostles’ teaching, the breaking of bread, and fellowship.  All through the book of Acts we see a church at prayer – interceding for Peter’s release from prison (Acts 12:12); commissioning Paul and Barnabas as the first missionaries (Acts 13:1-3); Paul and Silas praying together while in prison in Philippi (Acts 16:25).

The epistles continue this emphasis on praying together.  We tend to read the epistles with Western eyes – individualizing the commands and teachings.  But the original audiences for most of the epistles were churches – communities.  Generally, the commands and teachings have their primary application to bodies of believers, and secondary application to individuals. So, for example, when Paul exhorts the Colossians to devote themselves to prayer, and to pray for him (Colossians 4), he’s not referring primarily to the prayer closet.  We apply these commands to the prayer closet, and that’s not a bad application, but that’s not the original focus.

In many churches today, the best place to really pray together in a meaningful way is in the small group setting.  This is the setting where we are at our most vulnerable and accountable.  I really think that the strength of the prayer movement within a church’s small groups will help determine the ceiling on the church’s effectiveness.

Why do people have trouble praying in a group setting?

Many people have difficulty with prayer in a group setting because of the difference in the relational dynamic from a private prayer setting.  Private prayer is basically a one-dimensional activity, with the only relationship in play being the one between the pray-er and God.  Community prayer – praying in a group setting – adds a horizontal dimension.  I like to think of community prayer as “praying to God, with people”.  Each of those aspects has implications for how we pray together, and balancing those two dimensions is the key to praying effectively.

When we pray alone to God, we pray to One who sees our hearts and is able to move past the words to the thoughts behind them.  God tracks with our prayers because, ideally, He is the One leading us to pray in the first place.  But when we gather to pray, we pray with others who cannot see into our hearts and who cannot necessarily track with us.  When we take the “anything goes” mentality from our prayer closets to the group prayer setting, it doesn’t translate well.

Paul recognized a similar problem when it came to the worship service.  He gave specific instructions to the Corinthian church in the second half of 1 Corinthians 14 as to how they were to worship together – in an orderly way that glorifies God.  The theme of those instructions was that individuals needed to rein in their own participation in the worship service to make room for everyone to participate and allow God to move through multiple people.  This same theme applies to our group prayer times today.

What are your “top tips” to help groups pray together more effectively?

I like to think in terms of the “ABCs” of community prayer – Agreement, Brevity, and Christ-centeredness.

Agreement means that we’re praying together in one accord and it’s really the main ingredient that distinguishes community prayer from private prayer.  It means that we come together seeking God’s agenda rather than each person bringing his own agenda, that we listen to each other as we’re praying rather than focusing our thoughts on what we’ll pray when our “turn” comes, and that we’re praying alongside each other, picking up the theme rather than skipping around with each person praying a different topic.

Brevity may be the single biggest hurdle for most groups to overcome in praying together effectively.  We tend to take our somewhat long-winded closet prayer patterns and bring them to the group setting.  This is where the idea of submitting to each other and valuing the contributions of others in the group – as in 1 Corinthians 14 – comes in.  When I pray briefly, I make it easier for other group members to track with me and to pray alongside me in agreement.  When I limit my own prayer time, I communicate to the group that I value their contributions to the prayer time and foster the environment of really being together in prayer.

Christ-centeredness is the key to honoring God with our prayers and seeking His will.  Matthew 6:33 tells us to seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and God will take care of our physical needs.  Focusing on kingdom prayers is a way of seeking God’s kingdom first.  This isn’t to say that we don’t bring material needs before God, but they should not dominate our prayers.

Christ-centeredness also means that we’re addressing God in our prayers rather than addressing group members.  We’re asking for His intervention rather than putting pressure on group members to change.

Can you expand a bit more on the idea of praying to God rather than praying to people?

Perhaps the biggest subtlety to community prayer is keeping straight the vertical and horizontal dimensions.  Going back to the idea of “praying to God, with people,” we often skew this a bit and end up praying more for people to hear than for God to hear.  Usually, this isn’t a heart problem with pride the way it was for the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable (Luke 18:9-14) but it still shifts the focus away from God and onto people and circumstances.

Here’s an example.  Suppose John, a member of our small group, is struggling financially and has been out of work for some time.  A typical prayer for John might sound something like this: “Father, may John have the faith to trust in your provision in his time of need.  May he be diligent in his search for a job and may he grow spiritually through this time of trial.”

Did you notice how this entire prayer was about what John needed to do?  Have faith, be diligent, grow spiritually – these are all things that the prayer directs at John.  John, if he’s present, is going to feel more burdened after this prayer than before it; more importantly, this prayer asks nothing of God and leaves no room for His work.

Consider a different frame of reference.  “Father, please strengthen John’s faith and encourage him as he goes through this difficult time.  Provide for his needs and guide him to the job that you have for him.  Open doors for witness to others in need and bear much fruit in this chapter of John’s life.”

This prayer asks nothing of John, but everything of God.  Strengthen faith, encourage, provide, open doors, bear fruit – these are all things that God is being asked to do.  A prayer like this will encourage John as he senses God on his side.  Further, such a prayer anticipates God’s work in John’s life and gives Him the glory.

How important is praying briefly?  How do you encourage it?

As I mentioned earlier, for most small groups, getting in the habit of praying briefly will make the single biggest difference in their effectiveness in prayer.  Prayer is conversation with God, and group prayer is the group’s conversation with God.  Any conversation dominated by one or two people is far less engaging and less interesting than a conversation in which multiple people are participating.  And in a prayer setting, praying briefly encourages others to participate and values the work of the Holy Spirit in the entire group rather than just in one individual.

Most small groups can benefit from a brief period of instruction or “rules of the road” prior to praying together.  I encourage brief prayer by emphasizing the need to value the prayers of others in the group.  I invite people to pray multiple times on a single topic if they feel so led, limiting each individual prayer to allows others to participate.  And I stress the need to stay on one topic at a time, allowing others to come alongside that prayer in agreement.

For example, suppose a group member is in the hospital.  A typical prayer for this situation would cover the group member’s health and healing, the doctors and nurses, peace for the family, financial provision, etc.  Covering the topic so completely leaves little room for others to come alongside the prayer in agreement – they’re left with either repeating what was already said (which God does not need) or moving on to another topic.

But suppose a group member opened the prayer time by praying for God’s healing, then another added prayer for the doctors and nurses, another prayed for the family and someone else prayed for financial provision.  Such a prayer gets the whole group involved and enables a level of agreement that you don’t see when one person dominates the prayer.

In a small group setting where we’re praying for each other, I like to break up the time and focus on one person at a time.  Rather than have everyone read a litany of prayer requests (which tends to take most of the prayer time and causes everyone to forget the things that were mentioned early on), I divide the time up by person.  So if we have 6 people and 30 minutes to pray, each person gets 5 minutes.  I have them share what’s on their heart for the first half of that time (or less) and then the group prays for that person for the remainder of the time.  That way, each person is covered in prayer and the time really moves, keeping the group engaged.


5 Ways to Pray for Your Church

A couple weeks ago I wrote a blog, How to Help Your Church. It was one of the most popular posts of this year so far, perhaps because it struck a chord with pastors and church leaders working hard to serve God’s people. Interestingly, I wrote a similar post a few years ago.

However it occurred to me that neither of those posts mentioned perhaps the best way to help your church: prayer. Perhaps this speaks to my woefully inconsistent prayer life or the tendency among leaders in my generation to rely on our own strength to do God’s work.

But I’m realizing ever more the need, my need, for God’s help in serving the church. I’m realizing the need for us to fall on our faces before the Lord. Only God can grow the church. So, as you consider how to make your church better, here are five ways to help your church:

1) Pray for your pastor. I know this is clique. I know people pray for me. But I really, really need prayer. And your pastor does too. He may not ask you for it. He may seem strong and courageous and “with it” all the time. But underneath that is a fragile, desperate soul often squeezed by the pressures of serving God’s people. So pray for faithfulness, refreshment, wisdom, creativity, humility, people skills. I never fully realized the need to pray for pastors until I actually became one.

2) Pray for the pastor’s wife. This is a tough role. There is really no template for the pastor’s wife. She’s thrust into a role that often asks more of her than she can handle. She’s the one keeping the home life somewhat normal and consistent. She’s the one holding things together when the pastor is at the bedside or meeting with someone in crisis. And sometimes the pastor’s family has their own crises that need prayer. Pray for your pastor’s wife.

3) Pray for God’s spirit to move in the hearts of people in the community. In our community, something like 85% of people are unchurched, likely unconverted. That’s a huge mission field. And it seems that with every passing day the church is becoming less of a factor in people’s lives. Pray that your church would be a lighthouse, a place where people discover the eternal truths of the gospel, where the Word would shine and the Spirit would convict hearts to repentance. Sometimes we get so program-oriented that we forget to pray for a mighty moving of the Spirit.

4) Pray for unity among God’s people. The devil loves to divide and conquer. He loves to sow seeds of strife in a church. He loves to prey on the natural, human, sinful tendencies of God’s good people. Unity has to be intentional. It’s not natural. It must be a spirit-connected thing. It’s fragile. And here’s a secret. If you are praying for church unity, you will be spending less time focusing on the hurts and faults of others that moves to destroy that unity.

5) Pray for the church staff and leadership. Don’t just pray for the pastor, as if he’s the only one who is on the frontlines, as if he’s the only important, exalted member serving your local body. He isn’t. Pray also and earnestly for the paid and volunteer staff, for the leadership team–elders, deacons, team leaders. Pray for their families, their spirituality, their faithfulness. Pray for God to enrich and refresh them and give them strength for His work.