The Prayer Life of the Pastor

While prayer can come in the form of one’s devotional life, it is not limited to as much. Prayer is also a lifelong action for those who are children of God – it is the way of communication between the Creator and his creation. In fact, prayer is not simply a necessity or a command, although it is such things; it is a way of life.[1] Therefore, prayer for the pastors is not only a way to devote himself to God, but it is a way of life for him – it is a portion of his pastoral task. Here are three different aspects in which a pastor can implement prayer into his life.

The Personal Prayer Life of the Pastor

Over and over again, Paul’s command to the churches he planted was to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17) and to continue steadfastly in prayer (Col. 4:2), but he also conveyed to these churches that he was remembering them in his prayers (2 Cor. 1:11), and that praying for his brethren was the source of his joy (Phil. 1:3-4). Paul’s prayer life was never abolished because of his suffering; nor should the pastor’s personal prayer life be absent from his life because of circumstance. Thus, a pastor should prioritize his personal prayer life for the following reasons.

First, the health of his soul depends upon his prayer habits. Prayer is the ultimate responsibility of the Christian life. Rick Reed explains that a failure to pray is a failure of soul care.[2] Jesus gave us the ultimate need for prayer when he told his disciples, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Just as the disciples (and all believers) cannot do anything apart from the Spirit of God living within them, neither can pastors do anything for the Kingdom of God without the power of the Spirit which is accessed through a personal prayer life.

Second, his sermon preparation is dependent on a vibrant prayer life. Prayer regarding the sermon should be a natural outflowing of the pastor’s personal prayers. Because a majority of the pastoral task is preaching, it follows that a pastor must be continually active in praying for the sermon he will preach on the upcoming Sunday. Piper notes, “A cry for help from the heart of a childlike pastor is sweet praise in the ears of God.”[3] Spurgeon also claims that a genuine minister of the gospel will be one that utters a petition as arrows in the sky.[4] In other words, pastors should be people of prayer because a faithful preacher is a rigorous pray-er.[5]

Third, what is in the well is what comes up in the bucket.[6] Preaching and pastoring are only done effectively through prayer. Pastors are not so talented and skilled that their dependence can be self-fulfilled – their dependence must always be on the Lord Jesus. Joel Beeke claims that the Church is in desperate need of preachers whose prayer lives are exemplified and brought to light in the pulpit through their sermons.[7] However, more important than anything else is the posture of the pastor’s heart. The question is not rather or not the pastor prays in the morning before everyone else, but whether or not his heart is prepared to commune with the Creator of the universe who holds all things together.[8]

The personal prayer life of the pastor must take precedence over every other activity with the task of pastoral ministry. The reason for such primacy is because prayer is the most essential element to a pastor’s ministry. However, a pastor’s personal prayer life is not the only way in which he should pray. He should also prioritize his family and their centrality around the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Familial Prayer Life of the Pastor

Not only is the pastor’s personal prayer life an absolute necessity in the preparation to preach, but the pastor’s familial prayer life is second to none. Paul declared that pastors should manage their household well (1 Tim. 3:4) and that they should also have families who are believers in Jesus Christ (Titus 1:6). This can cause a conundrum for some because it brings up the question of wayward children or spouses. However, a majority of these issues could be solved if the pastor would not neglect to shepherd his own household before he shepherds the local congregation under his leadership. Kent Hughes posits that men have the power (influence) within their own respective families to steer their children toward godliness.[9]

Children naturally take their own habits and mannerisms from their parents. So, if the pastor spends his time at home allowing his children (and even his wife!) to see him praying, his family will begin to view prayer as important, says Ajith Fernando.[10] Family prayer should be a priority in every Christian household, but especially in the pastor’s home. It should not be a time where everyone is forced to pray (Eph. 6:4), nor should it be a time when prayer is meaningless (Matt. 6:7). Instead, this should prompt us, as fathers and husbands, to make family prayer a time of joy and purpose for a familial communion with the Lord. The persevering aspect of family devotions and prayer can yield godly fruit in the pastor’s family.

However, the activity of such prayer within the family is no easy completion. It takes determination and boldness with your spouse and children. Family prayer is hard work, but the hardest things in life are the things that often yield the most fruit. Fernando explains that in order for children to be taken care of, the parents must be healthy and strong.[11] The health and strength comes from a heart that is spiritually prepared to do such things. Yet, much like preparing to lead your family, a pastor must also be spiritually healthy to lead the church in which he has been entrusted.

The Pastoral Prayer Life of the Pastor

Charles Bridges writes, “The greatest and hardest preparation is within.”[12] If a pastor is to prepare himself to preach, he is also preparing himself to pastor, for preaching is the most important aspect of pastoring. The prayer life of the pastor begins within himself, but it extends even to the members of those under his leadership and shepherding. As seen earlier, prayer is not a simple task; it takes courage and discipline. Martyn Lloyd-Jones advises that before a pastor prays at all, he must first know himself. For example, if you need a good cup of coffee to really wake up in the mornings, then by all means have a cup of coffee. The problem is not necessarily in the fact that pastors neglect their prayer life in their pastoral calling, but that they are not doing it in a way that yields the best results.[13] Bill Hull notes that the sad reality is many pastors in the West have bred a pushback against discipline, which has resulted in its neglect altogether.[14]

Only behind his personal prayer life and the familial prayer life, the pastor’s pastoral prayer life should be a top priority for his ministry. The pastorate can often become immensely busy with the everyday requirements of the task at hand. However, when we examine the biblical accounts of the apostles, specifically in the book of Acts, we find that they devoted themselves to prayer and the Word (Acts 6:4). Don Carson wisely points out that if you are too busy to pray, you must cut something out of your schedule to make time for prayer.[15] Jesus rebukes Martha for being too busy worrying about the little mundane things in the house rather than the presence of God, the Son, in her living room (Luke 10:41-42). Sadly, this is the reality of many pastors in evangelical Christianity today. Pastors are too busy worrying about methods and structures to get people into their church that they neglect praying to the Lord of the Harvest to bring forth fruit (Matt. 9:35-38).

Therefore, the pastor is not dismissed from the activity of prayer because of the fact that he has been called to the gospel ministry. In fact, Spurgeon argues that a pastor who does not pray regularly is not qualified for the ministry in the first place; he also notes that biblical texts will often be meaningless until they are opened by the keys of prayer.[16] Carson agrees with Spurgeon and asserts, “From God’s perspective, such Christians are ‘adulterous people’ (Ja. 4:4), because while nominally maintaining an intimate relationship with God, they are trying to foster an intimate relationship with the world.”[17] Therefore, pastors are to be men whose lives are devoted to the ministry of personal, familial, and pastoral prayer.

[1] Donald S. Whitney. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014), 83.

[2] Rick Reed. The Heart of the Preacher: Preparing Your Soul to Proclaim the Word (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 135.

[3] John Piper. Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (Nashville: B&H, 2013), 70.

[4] C.H. Spurgeon. Lectures to My Students (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), 42. (hereafter, Lectures)

[5] Reed, The Heart of the Preacher, 135.

[6] H.B. Charles. On Pastoring: A Short Guide to Living, Leading, and Ministering As A Pastor (Chicago: Moody, 2016), 153.

[7] Joel R. Beeke. Reformed Preaching: Proclaiming God’s Word from the Heart of the Preacher to the Heart of His People (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 81.

[8] R. Kent Hughes. Disciplines of a Godly Man (Wheaton: Crossway, 1991), 104.

[9] Ibid., 47.

[10] Ajith Fernando. The Family Life of a Christian Leader (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 28.

[11] Fernando, The Family Life of a Christian Leader, 106.

[12] Charles Bridges. The Christian Ministry (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1952), 62.

[13] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Preaching and Preachers, 40th Anniversary Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 181.

[14] Robert W. Hull. Conversion and Discipleship: You Can’t Have One Without The Other (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 134.

[15] D.A. Carson. A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 114. (hereafter, Spiritual Reformation)

[16] Spurgeon, Lectures, 42-43.

[17] Carson, Spiritual Reformation, 121.

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