You’re one of God’s shepherds and you pray for the sheep He has put under your care.
But why? What exactly is it that you’re hoping to accomplish by praying for your parishioners?
Certainly you’ve been taught to believe this is oh so important to do. But if you’re going to keep progressing in your own walk with God, it’s time to stop and think critically about what role prayer should have in your life.
Let’s sit you down at a table with God. He asks, “Why do you keep praying to Me about the souls I’ve brought into your congregation?”
What is your answer going to be? “Because I think You _________.”
How do you complete this sentence in a way that doesn’t insult God? You can’t. The real reason you pray to God about your parishioners is because you think He needs your guidance. And the reason you think He needs your guidance is because you don’t believe He’s doing the best He could do with all of His God powers. If you did, why would you advise Him? Why would you try to stick your oar into the water and give Him some helpful instruction?
Do you want to grow closer to God? If you do, then it’s time to make some changes to how you talk to Him. Your prayer life has an enormous impact on your theology. When you pray, you are constantly rehearsing certain beliefs about God. If those beliefs are true, your confidence in God becomes stronger. If those beliefs are false, your confidence in God is eroded.
Consider how often you are expected to pray as a shepherd of God’s flock. In any group setting, you’re the one they call on to lead the prayer time. At the start and end of your counseling sessions, at Bible studies, at staff meetings, at the beginning and end of your sermons. You are a praying machine. You do way more public praying than the average Christian, and that means you are constantly hearing yourself rehearse the same beliefs about God over and over and over again. All of that rehearsing is having a major impact on your own walk as well as on the walks of those around you, because all of the little lambs are taking their cue from you. If you teach them that God is some halfwit who depends on the wisdom of mere mortals to guide Him in life, then that’s what they are going to believe. They are going to pattern their prayers after yours—especially the spiritual infants. They are going to do what you do. This puts you in a prime position to lead them down the right road, but first you’ve got to get on that road yourself, and that means taking a hard look at why you pray the way you pray.
Behind every request you make of God, there are core beliefs that make you feel that request is valid. For example:
God please help Mary come to know You.
God loves Mary a whole lot more than you do. He is far more eager for Mary to be saved than you are. If you really believed this, you would realize that it’s utterly unnecessary for you to ask God to help Mary come to know Him. God is already doing everything possible to draw Mary closer to Him, short of taking away her freedom of choice. God has already told you that He wants souls to have the option of rejecting Him. So what are you really asking God to do here? Violate His own preferences by forcing Mary to get saved? That’s not very respectful, is it? We know that the Holy Spirit is the One who convicts people of sin and illuminates them with truth. So are you saying He’s doing a slack job? Is this your way of telling Him to get off the couch and get it in gear? Is it your place to tell God Almighty to pick up the pace in the spiritual illumination department? Not hardly. When you really stop to think about it, this is a pretty insulting prayer request. We humans don’t ask God to do something that we believe He’s already doing, and we don’t ask Him to give us stuff that we believe He’s already given us. So whenever you ask God for something, you’re telling both yourself and Him that He hasn’t given you that thing yet. Whenever you ask Him to do something, you’re telling yourself and Him that He isn’t already doing whatever that thing is.
God please guide this counseling session.
What do you think God is doing if He isn’t guiding you? Do you think He’s having lunch in another universe? God says He guides all of our steps. He says that He controls the future. He says that He is holding every molecule in place. He says He is intimately involved in our lives. Then you ask Him to please guide you. Are you hearing the insult in this?
God please be with us in our travels.
So now you don’t even think God is with you? What, do you think He abandons you the minute you get in the car? God takes offense at this. How can you preach sermons about the Holy Spirit indwelling every believer and then tell those believers that it’s theologically correct to ask God to be with them. God is either with them or He isn’t. God is not only with us, He is an extremely attentive, involved, loving, caring Creator. God is guiding, helping and providing for us 24/7 and most of His efforts go completely unnoticed. Then we pray prayers like this, in which we not only fail to thank God for what He’s already doing, but we blatantly deny that He’s doing any of it. This is no good. We really need to improve the way that we talk to God.
In the Church, it is drilled into you from every side that the purpose of prayer is to bombard God with insulting requests, blatantly deny His constant care of us, take on the role of His arrogant supervisors, and publicly declare our absolute lack of faith in Him. And then we’re told that the more often we do these things, the more God is pleased with us. Well, no, He’s not pleased at all.
God tires of our lack of faith, our bossy attitudes, and our REFUSAL to believe the things that He says. God says that He is ALREADY taking the BEST POSSIBLE CARE of every soul on this planet. He says He loves us more than our finite minds can imagine. He says that His wisdom is infinitely higher than our own. He says that everything He does is GOOD, and for our long-term spiritual best. He says that He is ALWAYS with us, that He NEVER abandons us, and that He wants us to trust Him with all that we are. As a shepherd, God wants you to model for the flock how to treat Him with HONOR. It doesn’t honor God when we publicly disown the things that He has taught us every time we open our mouths to pray. Some major changes need to be made.
The true purpose of prayer is to practice submission and alignment with God. Prayer should be about communing with God, not about directing Him. When we pray, we want to be inviting God to lead us, instead of attempting to lead Him. Let’s look at some examples.
WRONG: God please help Mary come to know You.
RIGHT: God, thank You that You love us all so much and that You reach out to each and every one of us with the illumination we need to get into a right relationship with You. We want Mary to come to know You, and we know that You want this as well. But we also know that You have given people the option of rejecting You, and that’s often very hard for us to accept. Help us to stay in alignment with You with regards to salvation and everything else. We want to continue to mature in our own walks with You and to keep improving our treatment of You as we go through life.
When you prayed the wrong way, you just taught everyone to doubt and worry and fear that God might let Mary slip through the cracks. But when you prayed the right way you guided them through a mental review of several essential core truths and you showed them how to practice an attitude of reverential submission. The wrong prayer did damage. The right prayer shined a bright light on the path that leads to intimacy with God.
WRONG: God please guide this counseling session.
RIGHT: God, we know our own wisdom is useless, so it’s Your wisdom that we seek. Help us to be receptive to everything You want to teach us tonight. Show us where we are holding back in our walks with You. Reveal to us any false beliefs that we’re hanging on to and fill us with a desire to want to mature into all that You want us to be.
When you prayed the wrong way, you made the Holy Spirit sound like a fickle Counselor who is in a habit of letting things run amuck. When you prayed the right way, you acknowledged that God is always teaching us and you modeled submission to Him. The wrong way teaches your client that God won’t guide us unless we ask Him to. The right way helps everyone in the room—including yourself—get into a receptive mindset towards God.
WRONG: God please be with us in our travels.
RIGHT: God, we know that You are always with us and most of the time we take Your Presence for granted. Help us to grow in our awareness and appreciation of Your constant involvement in our lives. We want You to have Your total way in this trip, and we want to be fluid instruments in Your hands—ready to serve You in any way that You want. Help us to grow in our submission to You and in our love for You.
When you prayed the wrong way, you taught everyone to believe that God will forget about us if we don’t keep reminding Him that we’re down here doing our lives. When you prayed the right way, you left room for God to make your trip a complete disaster. Instead of trying to control His agenda for you in your travels, you modeled submission to His program and a desire to honor Him no matter what. The wrong prayer insults God. The right one thrills Him.
Prayer is powerful. Not only does it play an enormous role in your own spiritual development, but it is a powerful teaching tool for the flock. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how you can improve the way that you pray.
Praying for the Sick