By Chuck Lawless
Several weeks ago, my post on why church leaders don’t pray must have hit a nerve, as the feedback was strong. More than one reader, though, pointed out I gave diagnosis for the problem, but no prescription. I agree, and I’m writing this blog in response.
I know there are other “prescriptions” to consider for these diagnoses, but I hope these ideas get you started in the right direction.
DIAGNOSIS #1: Leaders are “fixers” by nature.
PRESCRIPTION: Take a risk to tackle a task not easy for you. That task might be something like telling a neighbor about Jesus, confronting a problematic church member, addressing a “sacred cow” in your church, or confessing a sin in your life. All of these tasks require wisdom, but the point is this: if you tackle a challenge too big for you to “fix,” you know you must pray.
DIAGNOSIS #2: We never learned how to pray.
PRESCRIPTION: Study about prayer. It’s really that simple. Read books like Paul Miller’s A Praying Life, Tom Elliff’s A Passion for Prayer, or T.W. Hunt’s The Life Changing Power of Prayer. Ask a prayer warrior how he/she prays. Listen to sermons like David Platt’s series, “Why Pray?” Review my suggestions in “Ten Simple Strategies for Prayer.” Make yourself learn, and then pray.
DIAGNOSIS #3: Prayer has become more about ritual than about relationship.
PRESCRIPTION: Think relationship. If you love someone, you want to talk to that person . . . often. Start by praying short prayers throughout the day. Assume you won’t go an hour without taking time to communicate with God. Pray at least briefly at morning, noon, and night. Read about men and women of prayer like Rees Howells, “Praying” Hyde, Corrie Ten Boom, and Amy Carmichael. Learn from their relationships with God.
DIAGNOSIS #4: Prayerlessness can be hidden.
PRESCRIPTION: It’s time to get real. Find someone you respect, and tell him/her the truth. You struggle with prayer. Sometimes prayer feels routine. You teach about prayer but don’t always live in prayer. Seek accountability, and be gut-level honest. If you need to, get someone to pray with you each day. Bring your prayerlessness out of the darkness, and start living in the light again.
DIAGNOSIS #5: We don’t really believe prayer works.
PRESCRIPTION: The answer to this issue is to read the Bible regarding answered prayer. Find stories of answered prayer, including Hannah’s prayer for a child (1 Sam. 1), Hezekiah’s request to live (2 Kgs. 20), Jehoshaphat’s prayer for help (2 Chron. 20), the church’s prayer for Peter’s release (Acts 12). When the early church prayed, even the place where they met was shaken under the power of God (Acts 4:31). Let the Word of God encourage you that prayer really does work.
DIAGNOSIS #6: We have never been broken under God’s hand.
PRESCRIPTION: Nobody wants to be broken by God. We want God to use us, yet without changing us – and most certainly, without breaking us. God uses people, though, who willingly bear a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7), who worship Him even when life is in disarray (Job 1:20-22). To learn how to trust God this way, echo this petition: “Lord, do what you must to make me lean on you in prayer.” It’s scary, but God will teach you to pray.
DIAGNOSIS #7: Leaders read the Word in a one-sided way.
PRESCRIPTION: Learn to pray as you read the Bible. Read Genesis 1-2, and thank Him for creation. Confess your sin as you read Psalm 51. Honor Jesus for who He is as you read Mark 1-5. Ask God to strengthen family relationships as you read Ephesians 5 and 6. Read Revelation 21-22, and praise Him for His fulfilled plan. Let the Word of God drive you to your knees.
DIAGNOSIS #8: Some leaders have simply lost hope.
PRESCRIPTION: God already knows your hopelessness, so go ahead and pray in heart-wrenching candor. Even a prayer like, “God, I don’t know if you’re there, but I’m looking for you” is a start. Pray with someone who can share your burden. Weep if you must, and cry out in desperation (Psa. 88). You won’t surprise God, and He might just surprise you in a powerful way.
DIAGNOSIS#9: We miss the Gospels’ focus on the prayer life of Jesus.
PRESCRIPTION: If you didn’t study Jesus’ prayer life in the Gospel of Luke after the previous blogpost, do it this week. Learn to pray from the Master: Luke 3:21-22; 4:42 (cf. Mark 1:35); 5:15-16; 6:12-13; 6:27-28; 9:16, 18, 28-29; 10:1-2, 21; 11:1-13; 18:1-8, 9-14; 19:45-46; 20:45-47; 21:36; 22:17-19, 31-32, 39-46; 23:33-34, 46; 24:30, 50-51.
What other prescriptions do you recommend? Let’s teach one another to pray.