Having reviewed several people’s annual ministry and personal development plans for this new year, I’ve noted that a number have mentioned wanting to make prayer more of a priority. They’ve put forth various concrete intentions to pray more, or differently, over the coming months.
When most of us consider putting a priority on prayer, we tend to think about how we can better engage in interceding for others, how we can be more faithful and diligent in bringing those that we’re responsible for—ministry partners, staff team, family members—before God’s throne of grace.
Perhaps occasionally we may also consider the importance of our individual conversations with God, the times of prayer that are spent asking Him to reveal things in ourselves, asking Him to speak to us, to guide us, along with the time we spend listening for His voice.
But there is another aspect of prayer that we often miss.
In 2 Corinthians 1:11, Paul makes a very plain statement: “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” In Romans 15:30, he says, “I appeal to you brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf….”
Certainly, the Apostle Paul had a clear sense that his life and ministry were utterly dependent upon the prayers of others. It was not enough for him to pray for himself or for him to pray for others. One of the priorities of prayer in his ministry was being prayed for.
James Lawrence, in Growing Leaders, lists one of the distinctives of Christian leadership as being the fact that it is sustained by prayer. Like Moses being upheld by Aaron and Hur, all leaders need to be supported by the efforts—the prayers—of others.
Although it can feel selfish or even humiliating to express the need, being prayed for is significant enough that two of the three members of the Trinity are said to have a specific ministry of interceding for us: God the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26-27) and God the Son (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25).
First Timothy 2:1-3 commands that prayers be made for those in authority. As leaders, how often do we help facilitate people’s fulfillment of that mandate? How often do we share the needs in our lives with others so that they can indeed be praying for us? When we do share, do we share with a sense of desperation—like Paul, who said “you must help us by prayer” and begged, for the love of God, for others to strive in prayer on his behalf?
A story from the life of missionary William Carey is a great example for us. In conversation with his associate Andrew Fuller, as they were describing the rich ministry field of India, presenting it as if it were a gold mine, Carey had this to say to Fuller: “I will go down”—I will descend into the unknown, I will make the difficult journey, I will confront the darkness—“I will go down, if you will hold the rope.” If Fuller would do the heavy lifting of sustaining prayer, Carey was willing to step forward into the ministry. But not otherwise.
What is the priority of prayer in your own life and ministry? Does it stop with a commitment to pray for your flock and to spend quiet times with the Lord? How often does it branch into a desperate solicitation for the prayers of others on your behalf? When you communicate with your constituents, do you merely send out news letters or do you share the fate of the ministry in heartfelt prayer letters? Do you hold back from pleading for prayer because it feels selfish or irrelevant?
We have got to be a praying people if our efforts are to have any impact in eternity. And we have got to be prayed-for leaders if our personal contribution is to be anything worthwhile.