Fresh for Monday? Here's an excerpt from Jonathan Griffith's PT book, The Ministry Medical which takes Paul's Apostolic example and injunctions from 2 Timothy and relates them to ministry. You can buy the full book here.
I thank God...as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.... (2 Tim 1:3)
It is often said that the quickest way to embarrass a Christian is to ask him about his prayer life, and many of us in ministry will feel that sense of embarrassment particularly acutely. We know that the work to which we must devote ourselves is ‘prayer and the ministry of the word’ (Acts 6:4), but because our study of the Word is such labour-intensive work (and because it is so obvious when we fail to give time to it), prayer often loses out. Well, here is a gentle encouragement from the example of the apostle Paul to put praying back at the top of our agenda. Paul was a great pray-er, and his prayer life overflows into his letters time and time again. Prayer was the great secret behind the effectiveness of his discipleship of young leaders like Timothy. Paul loved Timothy as a son and made no secret of it: ‘I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy’ (1:4). But this was no idle sentimentality; Paul’s heartfelt affection and concern for Timothy and his ministry was channelled, not only into teaching him and corresponding with him, but into daily prayer.
This prayer was full of thanksgiving for the evidence of God’s gracious work in Timothy’s life and ministry (‘I thank God....’). We can be quite sure that each of the admonitions and instructions contained in this letter had first been the subject of much intercessory prayer for Timothy that God would strengthen and equip him for the work before him. Paul’s personal model provides a threefold challenge for us in our prayer life. First, are we praying for our people regularly – ‘constantly’, ‘night and day’? We all have our own systems and patterns for praying and we will all do this (or, at least aim to do this!) in different ways. But to be faithful in ‘constant’ prayer for our people will require two types of habit in the life of the minister. It will almost certainly require us to follow some sort of list or plan for praying for each of our people by name. In my last church, we had a prayer directory that simply took the membership list and divided it into 29 parts, and so I aimed to pray for a handful of people each day and for the whole church family over the course of every month.
That works if you have a church of 50 or 100 or even 200. It is less easy, and eventually impossible, if you are ministering to a much larger congregation. Perhaps you can only pray for your people by name every few months. If that is the case, it would be worth identifying a core group to whom you minister more intensively – your elders and their families, your staff team, or your home group – and pray for them more regularly. Alongside planned praying for our people, the habit of ‘constant’ prayer will also mean praying spontaneously and as a matter of reflex for people as we minister to them day by day. When people appear on our doorstep in crisis, praying with them and for them should be our first response. When we prepare to teach the Bible to our people, we must be praying for God to do his mighty work in their hearts as they listen to his Word. When we head off to the hospital to visit a dying saint, the visit should be preceded by prayer, filled with prayer, and followed by prayer. It all sounds very obvious, but how easily prayer is squeezed out in the busyness of ministry. Are we those who pray ‘constantly’, ‘night and day’ for our people?
Second, are we giving thanks for God’s work in our people? It is so easy in the work of ministry to see the problems and disappointments. People seem to lack hunger for God’s Word; they appear to be unconcerned about their own godliness; they lack motivation for evangelism; they seem unwilling to serve – and then there is the matter of our own half-heartedness! But if the Spirit of God is at work by his Word in our church family, there will be life and progress and growth. There will always be encouragements mixed in with the discouragements. And those signs of life and progress are wonderful evidences of the gracious work of God in our midst. We plead for God to bring a person to new life, to turn him from sin, to equip her for service – but how often we fail to give him thanks when He graciously answers our prayers. Where has God been at work recently in the lives of your people? Are you giving thanks to him?
Third, are we praying for our people before we teach and admonish them? It is telling how frequently Paul precedes his instruction by prayer (Rom. 1:8-10; 1 Cor. 1:4-7; Eph. 1:15-23; Phil. 1:3-5; Col. 1:3, 9-14; 1 Thess. 1:2-3; Philem. 4-6). Paul knew that if any spiritual work was to be accomplished in the people under his care, God himself would have to do it by the power of his Spirit. At a church where my wife and I were members some years ago, the senior minister used to remind us of the vital importance of the prayer meeting each month by recounting this basic truism: ‘When we work, we work; when we pray, God works.’ We can work and teach all we want – with all ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat’, to borrow a Churchillian phrase – but if we are not prayerfully waiting upon the Lord to work, we should expect no fruit. Is our preparation for sermons and Bible studies and personal work and hospital visiting covered in humble and dependent prayer? Or have we become proud and self-sufficient, imagining that the power to change people rests with us? If, like me, you sense the inadequacy of your own prayer life, take Paul’s model of prayer-filled ministry as a prompt and encouragement to make more of the privilege of prayer. Even Paul the great apostle knew that he needed prayerfully to rely on God’s power for all he undertook to do, and he knew that he needed to give God the praise for any fruit he saw.