Private Prayer

It’s happened. I’ve caught myself praying in public, and realized that most of my recent prayers have been in public. It’s the very thing that Jesus warned about:

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (Matthew 6:5)

When most of my prayers are public, it’s a sign that I’m putting on a performance before people rather than talking to my heavenly Father. This is deadly in ministry, and it’s deadly for the soul.

I’ve seen the opposite happen too. I’ve prayed with others, and had the sense that I’m listening to a conversation between intimate friends. You can’t fake that. There’s an honesty, a tenderness, and a fluency that can only come from a rich, private experience of personal prayer.

That’s why I love what Jesus said:

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:6)

The applause of other people is a poor substitute for the intimacy of a relationship with the Father who cares, and who promises to reward. I’m praying that I will increasingly learn to pray in such a way that my public prayers are nothing but the smallest of glimpses into the ongoing intimacy that is my life’s greatest joy. God make me a man of that kind of prayer.

Saturday Links

Links for your weekend reading:

Church Planter, Act Your Age

Take a long range perspective of your church’s journey, and fight for the joy of this particular season in the life of your church.

Five Types of Change Resistant Churches

If you are a leader in a church, you must discern where your church is on the change-resistance scale.

Four Keys for Avoiding the Anger Trap

I see at least four ways pastors and leaders can avoid the anger trap.

How to Guard Against Mission Drift

Mission drift happens even in organizations with clear goals and objectives. Consider the following points to help guard against this tendency.

Six Wrong Reasons to Check Your Phone in the Morning

Before you go to bed tonight, make some choices and some plans to free yourself from the candy addictions and the habits of avoidance that have been ruining the strengthening potential of your mornings.

Remarkable for Being Unremarkable

An editorial I read this week quipped that nobody reports on the planes that land safely every day. Point taken. In the same way, nobody ever reports on the pastors who labor in obscurity, quietly fulfilling their ministries. They will never be known by the world, but they are known by God.

I visited with a pastor this month who took on a small church that couldn’t afford to pay him much. The church has grown, and so has the budget. Instead of taking more money, he encouraged the church to increase their givings to other ministries, including our church plant. He is not a famous pastor or a well-paid pastor, but he’s a generous and faithful pastor. That counts.

I had lunch with another pastor this month who’s had an effective ministry. He’s one of the best leaders I know, and a faithful man of God. He should be well-known, but he’s not. He told me that he chose long ago to reject the invitations to build a name for himself. Instead, he’s kept his head down and made that local church his main work. He could have travelled the conference circuit, but instead he’s been content to be a local church pastor. That counts in God’s eyes.

I keep meeting people who are remarkable for being unremarkable. They have chosen to serve rather than to make names for themselves, and have chosen to give rather than to keep what could have been theirs.

An interviewer once asked Edith Schaeffer, “Who is the greatest Christian woman alive today?” She replied, “We don’t know her name. She is dying of cancer somewhere in a hospital in India.” Who is the greatest pastor alive today? We probably don’t know. It’s possible that this pastor is unappreciated and feels like a failure. But God knows. This pastor will never be known by the world, but is known and loved by God.

Fourteen Quotes from A Praying Life

Some books are forgettable. A Praying Life by Paul Miller isn’t one of those books. It’s the best book I’ve read on how to pray in the mess of daily life. I highly recommend it.

Here are fourteen quotes from A Praying Life that stood out to me:

Oddly enough, many people struggle to learn how to pray because they are focusing on praying, not on God. Making prayer the center is like making conversation the center of a family mealtime. In prayer, focusing on the conversation is like trying to drive while looking at the windshield instead of through it. It freezes us, making us unsure of where to go. Conversation is only the vehicle through which we experience one another. Consequently, prayer is not the center of this book. Getting to know a person, God, is the center. (Kindle Locations 378-382) 

Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life; it offers us a less busy heart. (Kindle Locations 425-426) 

A needy heart is a praying heart. Dependency is the heartbeat of prayer. (Kindle Location 437) 

The criteria for coming to Jesus is weariness. Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come messy. (Kindle Locations 503-504)

Become like a little child—ask, believe, and, yes, even play. When you stop trying to be an adult and get it right, prayer will just flow because God has done something remarkable. He’s given you a new voice. It is his own. God has replaced your badly damaged prayer antenna with a new one—the Spirit. (Kindle Locations 624-627)

You don’t create intimacy; you make room for it. This is true whether you are talking about your spouse, your friend, or God. You need space to be together. Efficiency, multitasking, and busyness all kill intimacy. In short, you can’t get to know God on the fly. (Kindle Locations 694-696) 

If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money, and talent are all you need in life. You’ll always be a little too tired, a little too busy. But if, like Jesus, you realize you can’t do life on your own, then no matter how busy, no matter how tired you are, you will find the time to pray. (Kindle Locations 729-732) 

You don’t need self-discipline to pray continuously; you just need to be poor in spirit. (Kindle Location 916) 

A praying life isn’t simply a morning prayer time; it is about slipping into prayer at odd hours of the day, not because we are disciplined but because we are in touch with our own poverty of spirit, realizing that we can’t even walk through a mall or our neighborhood without the help of the Spirit of Jesus. (Kindle Locations 969-971) 

Learned desperation is at the heart of a praying life. (Kindle Locations 1555-1556) 

Suffering is God’s gift to make us aware of our contingent existence. It creates an environment where we see the true nature of our existence—dependent on the living God. (Kindle Locations 1676-1677) 

Often when you think everything has gone wrong, it’s just that you’re in the middle of a story. (Kindle Locations 2627-2628)

If Satan’s basic game plan is pride, seeking to draw us into his life of arrogance, then God’s basic game plan is humility, drawing us into the life of his Son. (Kindle Locations 3017-3018) 

Prayer is where I do my best work as a husband, dad, worker, and friend. I’m aware of the weeds of unbelief in me and the struggles in others’ lives. The Holy Spirit puts his finger on issues that only he can solve. I’m actually managing my life through my daily prayer time. I’m shaping my heart, my work, my family—in fact, everything that is dear to me—through prayer in fellowship with my heavenly Father. I’m doing that because I don’t have control over my heart and life or the hearts and lives of those around me. But God does. (Kindle Locations 3269-3273)

Saturday Links

Links for your weekend reading:

The Fields Are White for Harvest, Even When You See Few Conversions

When you see few, if any, conversions in your place of ministry, it can be hard to believe that what Jesus said in John 4:35 is true.

What Kind of Men Does God Use?

Horatius Bonar, writing the preface to John Gillies’ Accounts of Revival, proposed that men useful to the Holy Spirit for revival stand out in these nine ways.

30 Lessons from 30 Years

For what they are worth, here are 30 lessons from the past 30 years.

The Importance of the Pastoral "I Don't Know"

One of the most valuable sentences in a pastor's arsenal is "I don't know."

Six Ways to Build Your Confidence as a Leader

Here are six considerations that can help increase your confidence as a leader.

The State of Evangelicalism in Canada

Australia is further along the secularization process, but Canada is coming on strong, and evangelicals need to be aware of the shifts and be ready for the new reality.

Stage Two Exile: Are You Ready for It?

The Western church is about to enter stage two of its exile from the mainstream culture and the public square. And it will not be an easy time.

A Pastor’s Response to the Death of a Childhood Abuser

I want to make public my frustration at crimes she never paid for. At the same time I want to be magnanimous in my forgiveness as Christ has been in his for my sin.

Instead I feel conflicted.

Why You Should Take Notes by Hand

If you want to learn something from a class or lecture — or, from that matter, a meeting, conference, or any other situation where you're basically sitting and listening — you're best off taking notes with pen and paper.