Don’t Worry… Yeah Right!

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

(Philippians 4:4-7 ESV)

No_worries_spare

Over the past several weeks, I have been meditating on Philippians 4:4-7. Several things have been landing on my plate and I have struggled with worry and anxiety. My mom has always said that I have an “old soul.” By this she means that I struggled to live in the moment and enjoy the day before me. Paul’s words in Philippians have been balm for my soul over the last few weeks. What I want to do is walk through this passage phrase by phrase and offer a few personalized thoughts that might be helpful if you struggle with worry and anxiety:

“Rejoice in the Lord always”

Be happy in the Lord…ALWAYS. Even when things are crashing in around me I need to rejoice. There are so many difficulties in life yet, I can rejoice. I can rejoice at who God is in my difficulties. I can rejoice that he walks with me daily. I rejoice because he sustains me and works in me through various trials and troubles. He never changes even though my circumstances change – that is why I can rejoice in Him always.

“Again I will say rejoice”

Just in case you did not get it the first time, Mr. Hardhead, REJOICE. Be joyful; give thanks for who God is and his goodness in your life. If you woke up this morning and took a breath, you should rejoice – His mercies are new every morning!

“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand”

It is easy to get along with others when I am rejoicing…always. This takes on even more intensity when I consider that Jesus could return at any moment. Would I want him to find me fussing and fighting with others or rejoicing?

“Do not be anxious about anything”

Anything? Yes – any single thing. Don’t fret. Don’t worry. Yeah right! There are so many things I need to worry about. What do I do with all the things that land on my plate – things I have to take care of right now? If I can’t worry what am I suppose to do?

“But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God”

I need to lay every single thing I am anxious about before the Lord. I need to do this with thanksgiving. Why? He can handle all of my requests. He can deal with those things that seem insurmountable. He is God! After all, his burden is easy and his yoke is light.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”

God’s peace (the complete opposite of anxiety) is given to me when I lay my cares and concerns at his feet. This is not just any old peace but peace that is unexplainable and uncontainable. Peace that permeates every aspect of my being. It guards my heart, the seat of my emotions. It guards my mind, the seat of my thoughts. It overflows from within.

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Pastors… We Must Pray!

The discipline of prayer is a much overlooked and underdeveloped discipline in the Christian life.  This is cause for serious concern especially in light of Jesus’ words, “When you pray.”[1]  He spoke as if prayer is something that should be characteristic of every believer’s life.  Well, what impact does this have for the pastor?  Surely if every believer is expected to pray, the prayer life of the pastor should be exceptional.  Spurgeon said, “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.”[2]  While this may be the expectation, many pastors rarely find the time to pray.  With the demands of the pastoral office, prayer has taken a backseat to other “more important” matters. This is not a new development; it was experienced by the early church.  When the pastoral duties grew as the church grew, the apostles realized they were unable to attend to every matter.  They declared, “Brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”[3]  They understood that the proclamation of the Word of God was dependent on prayer and they must devote themselves wholeheartedly to this task.

Pastors are expected to juggle many activities today.  These can range from preaching, teaching, visitation, counseling, budgeting, and even administrative duties.  However, the early church realized that in order to effectively feed the sheep, pastors must be primarily concerned with prayer and ministering the word.  E.M. Bounds states,

“Oh, the need there is for present-day preachers to have their lips touched with a live coal from the altar of God!  This fire is brought to the mouths of those prophets who are of a prayerful spirit, and who wait in the secret place for the appointed angel to bring the living flame. Preachers of the same temper of Isaiah received visits from the angel who brings live coals to touch their lips.  Prayer always brings the living flame to unloose tongues, to open doors of utterance, and to open great and effectual doors of doing good.  This above all else, is the great need of the prophets of God.”[4]

The recovery of prayer in the pulpit ministry will bring great power from the Holy Spirit.  In his book What’s Wrong With Preaching, A.N. Martin states, “Preaching has fallen upon bad times, not only because of the failure of the minister in the personal application of the Word of God to his own heart, but also in the matter of secret prayer.”[5]  He goes on to declare that this secret prayer is essential in bringing power to ones preaching.  This power comes in the form of the Holy Spirit.  Piper writes, “The goal of preaching is utterly dependent upon the mercy of God for its fulfillment.  Therefore, the preacher must labor to put his preaching under divine influence by prayer.”[6]  The goal of every preacher is to have the Holy Spirit manifest himself during the time of preaching and this is impossible unless prayer serves as the foundation upon which the sermon is prepared.

While this is the end goal, the presence of the Holy Spirit is needed during every step of the process of preaching.  Heisler states, “We cannot wait until we are in a jam to pray as preachers.  We cannot see prayer as an add-on accessory to preaching that we do if we happen to have time.  Preaching by definition means we listen to God before we speak to men.”[7]  In order to hear from God, we must be in constant communication with him and allow the Holy Spirit to illumine the text, apply the text to our hearts, and prick the hearts of the hearers.  This can only be accomplished by a preacher who constantly prays.  This is most clearly seen in Begg’s statement, “There is no chance of fire in the pews if there is an iceberg in the pulpit; and without personal prayer and communion with God during the preparation stages, the pulpit will be cold.”[8]  Preaching does not begin in the pulpit; it begins in the closet of prayer where the preacher submits himself to the God of the Word.

Prayer is not the spare tire of the preaching ministry; it must be the steering wheel.  The pastor who is constantly on his knees will carry out his mission in the direction God would have him go.  In analyzing the prayer of most preachers Spurgeon states,

“I am afraid that, more or less, most of us need self-examination as to this matter.  If any man here should venture to say that he prays as much as he ought, as a student, I should gravely question his statement; and if there be a minister, deacon, or elder present who can say that he believes he is occupied with God in prayer to the full extent to which he might be, I should be pleased to know him.  I can only say, that if he can claim this excellence, he leaves me far behind, for I can make no such claim: I wish I could; and I make the confession with no small degree of shame-facedness and confusion, but I am obliged to make it.”[9]

Spurgeon goes on to relate a story of a man who rose every morning before four to pray.  This man stated that he was shamed if he ever heard a craftsman at work before he began praying because his Master deserved more than theirs.  We, as ministers of the gospel, should be able to make this same claim.  Our Master deserves the best and our fervency in prayer gives evidence to whether or not we believe this statement.  Prayer must be our business and when we fail to pray we fail in the task God has called us to accomplish.


            [1] Matthew 6:5

            [2] Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), 42.

            [3] Acts 6:3-4

            [4] E.M. Bounds, The Weapon of Prayer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975), 91.

            [5] Albert N. Martin, What’s Wrong With Preaching Today? (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1997), 11.

            [6] John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 98.

            [7] Greg Heisler, Spirit-Led Preaching (Nashville: Broadman &Holman, 2007), 145.

            [8] Alistair Begg, Preaching For God’s Glory (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1999), 43.

            [9] Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), 48.

We Need Praying Pastors

praying

I mentioned yesterday that I was reading Eugene Peterson’s book The Contemplative Pastor. To say he is rocking my world would be an understatement. Here is some more gold from this book specifically focusing on pastors and prayer…

“But prayer is not a work that pastors are often asked to do except in ceremonial ways. Most pastoral work actually erodes prayer. The reason is obvious: people are not comfortable with God in their lives. They prefer something less awesome and more informal. Something, in fact, like the pastor. Reassuring, accessible, easygoing. People would rather talk to the pastor than to God. And so it happens that without anyone actually intending it, prayer is pushed to the sidelines.

And so pastors, instead of practicing prayer, which brings people into the presence of God, enter into the practice of messiah: we will do the work of God for God, fix people up, tell them what to do, conspire in finding the shortcuts by which the long journey to the Cross can be bypassed since we all have such crowded schedules right now People love us when we do this. It is flattering to be put in the place of God. It feels wonderful to be treated in this godlike way. And it is work that we are generally quite good at.”

Brothers – may we never settle for being our people’s messiah!

The Problem Of Busy Pastors

busy

This morning I spent some time with a fellow pastor in our community. We have a great friendship and meet periodically to discuss our lives and ministries. As we were finishing our conversation this morning, our discussion touched on our schedules. We lamented how “busy” we were and whether or not this reflected well on our primary calling – to minister the Word of God and pray (Acts 6:4).

Interestingly enough, I picked up Euguene Peterson’s book The Contemplative Pastor this morning and began reading his chapter on “The Unbusy Pastor.” If you are a pastor or know a pastor send them this blog post and encourage them to pick up Peterson’s book!

Peterson writes…

“The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront.”

He continues…

“I (and most pastors, I believe) become busy for two reasons; both are ignoble.

1. I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. Significant. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands on my time are proof to myself – and to all who will notice – that I am important.

2. I am busy because I am lazy. I indolently let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself. I let people who do not understand the work of the pastor write the agenda for my day’s work because I am too slipshod to write it myself. The pastor is a shadow figure in these people’s minds, a marginal person vaguely connected with matters of God and good will. Anything remotely religious or somehow well-intentioned can be properly assigned to the pastor.

He concludes…

But if I vainly crowd my day with conspicuous activity or let others fill my day with imperious demands, I don’t have time to do my proper work, the work to which I have been called. How can I lead people into the quiet place beside the still waters if I am in perpetual motion? How can I persuade a person to live by faith and not by works if I have to juggle my schedule constantly to make everything fit into place?

If I am not busy making my mark in the world or doing what everyone expects me to do, what do I do? What is my proper work? What does it mean to be a pastor? If no one asked me to do anything, what would I do?

Three things.

1. I can be a pastor who prays.

2. I can be a pastor who preaches.

3. I can be a pastor who listens.

This is good stuff and I’m only 3 pages into the first chapter!