Like me, you are probably very grateful for the investment people have put into you, the principles they’ve taught you and the impartations they’ve made. I’m grateful for Oral Roberts University, which was the university that trained me for my initial stage of ministry. I’m grateful for pastor Billy Joe Doherty and John Osteen, my two pastors and mentors in ministry. But regardless of where we start in ministry or who speaks into our lives, we realize that what Jesus said is true: Apart from Him we can do nothing!
I remember standing before my congregation, thinking, If God’s going to do something big here, I’m going to need Him in a big way. He’s going to have to do a lot with the little that I have inside right now! I was 29 years old. This caused my prayer life to deepen. I prayed more, not because I was desperate but because I needed His help to be more effective. I needed to pray!
We built our church upon the seven pillars mentioned in the Book of Acts. The first of those is confidence in our ability to make a difference in our community. The early church was with Jesus three years, but they were locked behind closed doors in fear because they didn’t think they could change the world. Jesus spent forty days with them and said, “Peace, guys. I am the Message. I’m with you. You can do more than you think you can.” When that message sunk in, they related to their community differently. Everything changed. And it was this pillar from the Acts church that God used to change the direction of our church in terms of prayer.
I learned that when you catch the spirit of prayer as a pastor, you discover the dissatisfaction in your heart. There’s a dissatisfaction that you wake up with in different seasons of life. The only thing that can fully address that feeling is what God brings to you when you’re in a spirit of prayer.
When I’m in prayer, I feel why things matter to God. I feel Him with me, helping me get my church where it needs to be. Ultimately, you can see where the Holy Spirit was listened to and followed well in a given season. My best usually isn’t 100%, but I get there and am grateful for what God did. Then I’m hungry to do even better next time.
I want you to think about when Jesus visited the disciples in the Upper Room. He said, “Peace be to you.” There are a lot of pastors and missionaries right now who, if they’d be honest, don’t feel peace in their hearts. They feel stress and struggle. Ministry is tough! The word “peace” in Hebrew means so much more than just a feeling of peace, though. It means literally the source of prosperity in your life. Walking in peace is what brings the power to do God’s will.
When Jesus came to the Upper Room, He said things to the disciples like, “Look at My hands.” He was saying to them that this walk of faith is going to require more sacrifice than you think. He said, “Whoever’s sins you forgive are forgiven; those you don’t forgive are not forgiven.” Now, I was raised Catholic, so that scripture can mess with you if you’re not careful. My interpretation today is that there are a lot of people who aren’t going to be forgiven if I don’t care enough about them being forgiven. I need to help them see their need for forgiveness in the eyes of God. Prayer brings all things into perspective.
At one time in our church we were seeing just twenty-five people born again per year. That was back when I was nearly thirty. In fact, the first six weeks of my pastorate, there wasn’t one decision for Christ! That’s when I decided to pray. I got up in front of our church and called the people to pray. They knew it wasn’t just a program or something I was asking them to do; it was what God was calling our church to do. Life-change happened when we spent time in prayer. People started getting saved, and now we see regular decisions for Christ in our service times.
It can be challenging for pastors to keep the perspective we gain in prayer if we’re not praying. We may begin to think it’s our job to build the church. We feel the weight of responsibility that we should prepare sermons and do things like pastoral care. No, my friend. Jesus builds the church. One of the things that saved me was a statement made by Dr. Cho. He said, “Jesus said He’d build the church, and if a pastor will get on his knees and read through the Book of Acts, the Holy Spirit will take over leadership of the church.” I decided at that moment to do just that! It took some time, honestly, because I had a little too much CEO in my blood. I was a little too perfectionistic. A little too managerial. But I began to really pray.
If we believe that Jesus builds the church, prayer must become our top priority. It has to, or we will be involved in a lot of activity but not effective in ministry.
We have to slow down and pray. It can be tough sometimes because as a pastor there are so many things you see that need to be fixed – and you know you can fix them. You may even feel that you need them fixed to move forward. But Jesus said that without prayer we can do nothing. We have to learn to pray. We have to commit to the journey and develop a prayer life that releases the supernatural and creates transformation. There’s nothing you or I can do for our churches or ourselves that the Holy Spirit cannot do better. So let’s commit to giving Him the space and place to do it!