Equipping Pastors Part 8: The Pastor and His Prayer Life

[Note: this article by professor Steven Wade is the eighth in a semester-long series on Mondays describing various ways we at SEBTS seek to equip pastors for local churches. Dr. Wade serves as Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology and the
Director of the Great Commission Equipping Network and Student Field Ministry]

God gave pastors (and the church) one of the most gracious and awe-inspiring tools of ministry in the gift of prayer.  Prayer is a discipline that must characterize the life and ministry of the pastor if he is to be effective. Martin Luther says, “As it is the business of tailors to make clothes and of cobblers to mend shoes, so it is the business of Christians to pray.” Spurgeon would add, “Of course the preacher is above all others distinguished as a man of prayer. He prays as an ordinary Christian, else he were a hypocrite. He prays more than ordinary Christians, else he were disqualified for the office he has undertaken.”

Prayer is a tool that God has given the church through which he works to act on behalf of his people. Our God has invited us to communicate with him in persistent prayer as we confess our sins, confess our dependence on him, praise him for who he is and what he does, request mercy and grace, request him to act to accomplish his will, intercede for others and much more. And, he has promised to respond to the prayers of his people!

Perhaps this is why the enemy has chosen to attack this discipline in the life of a pastor so adamantly. A 2008 survey of pastors conducted by LifeWay Research found that 57% of pastors spend 6 hours or less per week in prayer.[1] An earlier study by Peter Wagner found that pastors spend an average of 22 minutes per day in prayer. There is no doubt that a pastor is busy, but busy-ness is the death of prayer! C. S. Lewis may capture the enemy’s plan for the pastor as he reports a letter of instruction to the demon Wormwood in Screwtape Letters that states, “Interfere at any price and in any fashion when people start to pray, for real prayer is lethal to our cause.”

In this post I want to admonish you to nurture a vibrant prayer life as you shepherd God’s people! Remind yourself today that the discipline of prayer is the key to your spiritual strength as God’s servant. It is a gift of God to you. It is an invitation to speak with the Author of all creation. It is a command of God! As such make your prayer life a priority in your pastoral task. Remind yourself that there really is nothing more important you can do in any situation than pray. W. A. Criswell’s reminder is helpful: “We go further on our knees than by any other way. There are a thousand mistakes we make that would never be made if we took time to pray. There are hasty decision we follow after, hot and intemperate remarks we make, false goals we pursue, and lost souls that we never win, because we have not prayed. All of this besides the poverty of our preaching.”

If we really believe we go “further on our knees than by any other way,” then we will spend significant parts of our efforts in ministry in prayer. After all, this is what the apostles exemplified for us in Acts 6:4. To that end, let me give you a few biblical and practical instructions to remember as you nurture a vibrant prayer life as a pastor.

Biblical Instructions:

1)   Make it a priority to confess your own sin in prayer (Ps 66:18; Prov 15:29)

2)   Make it a priority to forgive others who have sinned against you as you pray (Mark 11:25-26)

3)   Make sure you honor your wife in your life so that your prayers will not be hindered (1 Pet 3:7)

4)   Pray in faith (Matt 21:22; Mark 11:22-24)

5)   Pray with right motives (James 4:3-4)

6)   Pray in humble recognition of your complete dependence upon God (Luke 18:9-14; James 4:6-10)

7)   Pray boldly (Heb 4:14-16)

8)   Pray in the name of Jesus (John 14:13-14)

9)   Be persistent in your prayers (Luke 11:5-10)

10)   Trust God’s answers to your prayers because you trust God (Luke 11:11-13)

Practical Instructions:

1)   Sanctify time everyday for unhurried prayer.

2)   Remind yourself of your need of the gospel and your complete dependence on God. This will motivate you to pray.

3)   Pray systematically. Structure your prayer time in order to praise God wisely for his person and work, pray specifically for the people you are shepherding and present all the requests you desire to bring before the Lord.

4)   Pray spontaneously. While it is important to pray systematically, it is equally important and helpful to spend unstructured/unplanned time before the Lord delighting in his presence, pouring your heart out to him and meditating on his Word.

5)   Learn how to pray by reading prayers in the Bible, praying with godly mentors and reading prayers of saints who have gone before us.

These lists are not exhaustive, but can certainly provide a helpful toolbox as you establish and/or nurture your prayer life as a pastor. Do you have other things you would add to either list? Comment on the post with more instructions.

[1] As a comparative, the average amount of time spent viewing television by all the pastors surveyed was almost 8 hours per week.

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