Saturday, January 13, 2018

On Pastoral Praying

Hundreds, if not thousands of books have been written on prayer. Countless sermons have been preached on prayer. But the reading of books on prayer makes no one a praying man. The essence of prayer is in the praying. As Nike says, “Just do it!” It doesn’t matter how articulate the prayer is. What does matter is the praying itself.

All Christians must be pray-ers, but the pastor especially must be a man of prayer, and this in two aspects: in private and in public. The private prayer of a pastor also has two aspects. There is first his praying for himself and his family. This prayer is the essential foundation to any other prayer. The man who prays for himself prays out of a sense of need, out a knowledge of his inability and his unworthiness. The man who does not pray for himself, whatever his claims to the contrary, thinks he does not need prayer. But a man must also pray for his family. To do this adequately, he must know his family—their needs, their cares, their concerns, their fears, and their frustrations. Many pastors have sacrificed their families to their ministry, thinking the latter to be more important, but the family must come before the church or the ministry. It is one of the essential qualifications for the office.

The second aspect of a pastor’s private prayer is prayer for his church. These prayers must not be vague and general. There are of course, general concerns and cares that are reflected, for example, in Paul’s prayers for the churches. But it does little good to pray for the growth in grace of John Doe if the pastor is not aware that John Doe’s wife is threatening divorce, or that John Doe fears that he will lose his job. This sort of information the pastor only knows if he is indeed pastoring the flock. In addition to the prayers for the individual congregants, there is prayer for the congregation as a whole, for its growth, for its strength, for its unity.

The pastor’s private prayer is fundamentally a matter of discipline. He must set apart time for the exercise of prayer, and that time should be regular. I make no prescriptions as to when, or where, or how long; only that it must be done, and done regularly.

The pastor’s public prayer is a matter of preparation. In the Puritan period in England, there was a great deal of debate between those who preferred the set prayers of the Book of Common Prayer, and those who argued for extemporaneous prayer. Both sides had a point, but the points got lost in the heat of the debate. Public prayer, the pastoral prayer that forms a part of public worship, should be planned. It need not be written out ahead of time, but the pastor should have carefully thought through the themes and points of the prayer before he prays. Many pastors are particularly weak on this. There are three books, then, that I recommend for pastors as they consider the public prayers of the church. The first is Samuel Miller, Thoughts on Public Prayer. The second is Matthew Henry’s A Method for Prayer. This is available as A Way to Pray, edited by O. Palmer Robertson, and as A Method for Prayer, edited by Ligon Duncan. The third is Hughes Oliphant Old’s Leading in Prayer. All three of these are excellent resources for the pastor who desires to improve in his public praying.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

On Pastoral Reading

I know many pastors. Some of you don’t read much. Perhaps you don’t read well. Perhaps the busyness of ministry and family inhibits your reading. Perhaps you have little interest in reading beyond what is necessary for sermon preparation and the occasional counseling issue. Others of you read a fair amount. I’ve seen your plans on Facebook. You’re going to read Bavinck this year. You’re going to read Calvin’s Institutes again. Perhaps you’re going to dive into the two-volume Banner of Truth reprint of the works of Jonathan Edwards. Or you’re going to read the collected works of John Piper in sixteen volumes that Crossway recently published. At any rate, you have plans for reading this year.

I would encourage those of you who read little to read more. Spend less time on social media. Maybe listen to fewer podcasts, and replace them with reading time. Spend some time thinking about how you spend your time. Surely time to read can be carved out for even the busiest pastor. Even ten pages of reading a day can get you through Calvin’s Institutes in five months. You can get through Bavinck in less than a year.

Whether you realized it or not, pastoral work is, among other things, reading work. You don’t know everything you need to know to be an effective pastor. You barely begin to lay a foundation for that in seminary. You consult the wisdom of the ages by reading. Take C. S. Lewis’s advice and read old books ( Maybe replace the latest Paul Tripp book with some dipping into Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor. (This is not a hit at Paul Tripp. It’s just an example.) At any rate, read. Improve yourself as a pastor by reading.

Especially, however, read the Bible. It’s relatively easy to read theology and church history and not be particularly rebuked about your sins, or, for that matter, even particularly encouraged about your successes. If you read the Bible, you will regularly be rebuked for your sins. You will wade through Jeremiah and be reminded of your sins and the sins of your church (both local and denominational). But you will also be encouraged; you will be reproved; you will be corrected; you will be trained in righteousness. The more you read the Bible, the better you will know it. The better you know it, the more well-trained you will be in righteousness.

I hear men examined for licensure by presbyteries. It is disappointing to me how poorly most men do on the English Bible exam. That poor performance reflects poor preparation—not so much a lack of cramming before the final, but a lack of regular faithful reading of the Scriptures.

With all your reading this year, discipline yourself to read the Bible—prayerfully, attentively, meditatively. You’ll be pleasantly pleased at the end of the year not only with your own progress in righteousness, but with that of your church as well.