Dear friends, I hope you are doing the hard slog of intercessory prayer. I find it so moving that in his letter to the Colossians Paul tells them that he is struggling or wrestling for them: agōn, and I assume that wrestling includes writing his letter. At the same time, Epaphras is struggling, wrestling for them in prayer: agōnizomai. [Col 2:1, 4:12]. Wrestling in ministry is backed by wrestling in prayer!
Peter Adam | July 2021 | stjudes.org.au/peteradam
I hope God has provided prayer warriors in your church, that you have asked some people to pray regularly for you, and send them a regular prayer letter, and that you yourself are learning to be a prayer warrior, to wrestle or struggle in prayer.
I often think about our relative prayerlessness in the church in the Western world at present. [Golden Rule for Ministry: Offer food and they will come: offer a time of prayer and they will stay away!] Then I reflect on the situation of humanity in Genesis 1. We were created utterly dependent on God and his work in the world: but also with real work to do, and real responsibility for that work to God. We Western Christians often focus on the responsibility, and forget our constant dependence. This is why we find it easier to plan, worry, and work, than we do to pray. We regard work as evidence of energy, competence, strength and ability, and prayer as evidence of weakness and lack of ability. We even sometimes say, ‘I couldn’t do anything useful, I could only pray’!!!
I hope you are wresting in prayer! But the hard work of intercessory prayer needs to be leavened with praise, thanks and trust, or else it can descend into merely articulating our worries. I remember that I used to do most of my praying last thing at night, but then I would often stay awake for a few hours worrying about the things I had prayed about! And prayer which is a form of worrying just leads us to work harder to solve the problem, with less energy!
Do you remember Martin Luther’s words to his wife Katie? ‘Pray, and let God worry’.
So we should follow the Bible’s lead, and pepper our prayers with praise, thanks, and trust.
Look at Psalm 31, for example.
Prayers for deliverance: vv. 1,2,4,6,9,10, 11,12,13,15,16,17,18.
Praise: vv. 1,3,7 8,19-22.
Thanks: vv. 19-22.
Trust: vv. 1,3,5,14,15,23,24.
The more we praise God, thank God, and tell God that we trust him, the less we will worry. It is so important to tell God we trust him. We honour him when we do this, and we are also more likely to trust if we tell him we trust him. Pray peppered prayers!
I have also picked up from Paul his habit of thanking God for people before he prays for them [Ephes 1:15-23, Phil 1:3-11, Col 1:3-14, 1 Thess 1:2,3, 2 Thess 1:3,4, 2 Tim 1:3-5]. When we thank God for people, we are reminded of the great things that God has already done in them and through them, and this encourages us to pray big prayers for them.
As you will see in these two diagrams the less praise-filled, thanks-filled, trust-filled praying the more likely we are to take on too much responsibility: and the more we do the more we are likely to remember that we are God’s fellow-workers.
As you see in these two diagrams, the less praise-filled, thanks-filled, trust-filled praying we do, the more stressed we will be: the more we do the more the less stressed we will be.
[I am grateful to Vera de Vere at St Jude’s for the diagrams! You are welcome to make use of them.]
I remember the old saying: ‘Work as if it all depends on you; and pray as if it all depends on God’.
This is not quite right! How about ‘Work as if you have real responsibility, but remember that ultimately God is responsible, and that God will also give you strength to work for him; and pray that God will use your wrestling in prayer for his good purposes, trusting him to do so.’
However, I also know that there are times when things are so dire, that all we can manage is to pour out our hearts to God in pain, suffering, frustration, impatience, hurt, anger and fury because of our own suffering, or the suffering of others.
God hears these prayers too. I remember in my deepest depression being immensely comforted by Psalm 88, which is unrelenting gloom from beginning to end. No happy ending there! Truly there is a Psalm for every season. But, of course, the wonderful thing about Psalm 88 is that the Psalmist is pouring out the lament to God, not bottling it up, or speaking angry words against God to others without also speaking to God.
However, the bigger Bible picture is that we should praise, thank and trust God. We may not feel like doing so, but we should do so because of who God is, not how we feel. Even on our worst days, we should thank those who help us and care for us. So too, we should learn to praise, thank and tell God that we trust him, even as we take up the burden of long-term intercessory prayer.
If you would like to read a good book on ministry, here are three recommendations.
Derek Tidball, Skilful Shepherds, IVP.
Allan Chapple, Ministry Under The Microscope, Latimer.
Jonathan Griffiths, The Ministry Medical, Proclamation Trust.
NB. And you might like to have some copies on your shelf, so that you can lend them to people who are thinking about the possibility of going into full time trained gospel ministry, or who should be thinking about this option. There is an Australia-wide and world-wide shortage of people in full-time trained gospel ministry.
With warmest good wishes.
May you grow daily in godliness and good ministry, and in praise-filled, thanks-filled, and trust-filled praying.