Prayer 1: for a heart to please God
Even after receiving an M.Div. with languages, a D.Min. in Christian Leadership, and serving as pastor of three Southern Baptist congregations I felt like a prayer slacker most of the time. On the golf course during a MasterLife training session at Ridgecrest Conference Center Dr. Avery Willis taught me to pray Scripture. It was one of those pivotal lessons that shifted my personal prayer life to another level. That day in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains I was given a tutorial in Romans 8:26-27, which read---
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for
as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for
words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit,
because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
The lesson? Praying Scripture strengthened my prayer life. When God's Word became the basic formulation of my personal devotional life, there seemed to be an agreement with the mind of the Spirit that I had not previously known. When I told Harriet about it, she wondered why I had been so slow on the uptake of such an important lesson. She had been praying God's Word since our first MasterLife group. It was confirmed. I had been a prayer slacker up to that point.
Praying for the spiritual leaders in your life is an important discipline. As they say, you need the practice and they need the prayers. So, what do you pray when you pray for them? You know, the pastors, church staff members, elders, deacons, teachers, moms and dads, ministry organization leaders, and others in your personal circle. What prayers should you offer when you place them on the altar of His grace? That's the deal this week, the five Scriptures I asked church people to pray for me, and that I pray for the spiritual leaders in my life today.
The first involves a tendency that challenges and often confuses the ministry of many spiritual leaders. It is simply the approval addiction that weighs so heavily on people with influence. Being a research slacker too I can't support my thesis that loving the limelight is threatening to most spiritual leaders. Still, in small groups and being with so many pastors over the years I know the mesmerizing lure of center stage and the accumulated power of providing spiritual counsel to people who are struggling with life in these complex times. Read the heartbreaking testimonies of fallen spiritual leaders whose place under the lights outshone the light that was supposed to be guiding them. In so many cases sexual misconduct or financial abuse or puzzling decisions or impotent leadership or ineffective churches were the result of spiritual leaders loving the applause of men rather than the approval of God.
Over the last thirty-five years, when people asked how they could pray for me, I would always direct them to Galatians 1:10 as my first prayer need. Paul wrote---
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please
man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
He touched a raw nerve for most people entrusted with the responsibilities of spiritual leadership. Making people happy, keeping peace in the family, avoiding conflict in the group, are all worldly and inappropriate marks of effective leadership. Maybe not effective but popular. Being a popular leader is now a cherished designation.
Galatians 1:10 isn't the only reference either. There are many---
For they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.
But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men.
Not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will
of God from the heart.
But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we
speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts.
1 Thessalonians 2:4
Don't let me dictate a prayer for you. But when you pray for your spiritual leaders, ask God to give them a heart to please Him, rather than the people around them.