“The story of Christian reformation, revival, and renaissance underscores that the darkest hour is often just before the dawn, so we should always be people of hope and prayer, not gloom and defeatism. God the Holy Spirit can turn the situation around in five minutes.” – Os Guinness
There are thousands of pastors out there who do not pray. Don’t believe me? Here are the stats: It is estimated that there are 600,000 clergy in the United States and of these Ninety-five percent do not regularly pray with their spouses. Eighty percent spend less than fifteen minutes a day in prayer. We know we should pray. We tell people we are praying for them. We may even have a prayer list, but for the majority of us prayer is often nothing more than remembering we said we would do it or just thinking about our problems and the problems of others. I’m not judging; I’m just being honest. I certainly don’t want to add to the list of things you feel like you should be doing but don’t. I, myself, am not one of those great Christian soldiers who wake up at 4 am to spend time on my knees fervently seeking the Lord and interceding for a lost and broken world. For me the discipline of prayer is just that… a discipline. Because of this, I have learned a few things about cultivating a better prayer life.
Who Do You Trust?
As I have gotten older, I realize having prayer partners has made all the difference for me, especially in times when I feel so defeated spiritually that prayer seems like an impossible task. Because I have seen how it improves my own prayer life, I believe that it can improve yours too. Immediately, I know for some of you this presents a problem, because over half of all pastors do not have close relationships with people (sheesh, me and my stats). It takes time to cultivate relationships, and you might get burned. The good news is a lot of you are married, and spouses make great prayer partners! Remember, this is not about accountability for your sins (that’s a different thing); this is about cultivating meaningful prayer life in your walk with God.
Finding someone you trust is important, because prayer is an intimate thing, and it may be difficult for you to be honest in a group. Most of us revert to our prayer vocabulary when we are praying in groups, so it’s important you find people, or at least a person, so you can drop pretense. Don’t know who that could possibly be? Stop right now and pray about it. Ask God to open your eyes to who that person is right now. When He tells you, don’t question it. Just take a deep breath, and go talk to them. You’ll probably know right away if they are the person. Just keep praying till you find them.
Admit That You Have a Problem
If you are going to seek out help, you have to be vulnerable enough to admit you need help staying on top of your prayer life. I know you might feel shame admitting you are a pastor who struggles with praying, but trust me, it’s not just you. Pastors talk a big prayer game, but most of us do little more than randomly mutter things to God as we go throughout our day. If the thought of asking someone to pray with you on a regular basis is overwhelming, again, this is something you should pray about. Confess to the Lord your pride, and ask Him to help you overcome it.
When you finally have a prayer partner, you have to communicate regularly. If this is even going to work at all you have to have a time set aside to actually get together and pray. It can be in person, over the phone, or using other technology: Skype, Facetime, etc. In the 21st century, you really have no legitimate excuse for why you cannot reach out to people and pray with them. The only real reason not to is that you are bad at reaching out to people (which I understand, because I’m the worst at it). This is also something you can pray about and then act on.
If You Want a Friend, Be a Friend
You know what is better than telling someone you will pray for them? Actually praying with them. Get in the habit of praying with people immediately. If you’re sitting there thinking that you don’t do that because you don’t want people to think you are a fanatic, I would like to take this time to remind you that you went into ministry. That ship has already sailed, you Jesus freak! People don’t think it’s weird when a Pastor asks if they can pray for them. Actually, most people find it really comforting.
Have a Plan
I have a prayer list that is categorized: I pray for family daily, church stuff on Sundays, staff on Tuesdays, missions on Thursdays, etc. This works well for me, because I have hundreds of things to be praying for, and I need to organize the ongoing prayer commitments I have. If I try to pray for everything all at once, I get bored and overwhelmed. Yes, I said bored and overwhelmed. No, I don’t feel guilty about that. I am a sinner saved by grace who desires to please God, but I sometime fall short in my own power… just like you.
Instead of just praying for the people on the list, I like to call them, or email them occasionally, and get an update or ask them to lunch, and then I pray with them. It helps me pray, and people often return the favor by lifting me up in prayer.
Prayer is a tough thing to do consistently. Doing the above mentioned things has really helped me be consistent in my prayer life. I’ve learned so much about the incredible peace and joy having an active prayer life can provide.
“What most of all hinders heavenly consolation is that you are too slow in turning yourself to prayer.” – Thomas a Kempis
Stats from Pulpit & Pew, a now-completed interdenominational research project funded by Lilly Endowment to assess the state of the pastorate in the United States. Based at Duke Divinity School, Pulpit & Pew was active from 2001 to 2005 and conducted a nationwide pastor survey, in-depth interviews and conferences and written reports and books. This study was the largest such survey ever conducted of U.S. pastoral leaders. The results of the study served as the basis for numerous books and papers.