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.