What Happens When You “Pray Without Ceasing”
How one church surrounds its leaders with constant prayer
As a pastor, I’m faced with a constant dilemma. I know that, alone, I can never do enough on my own to cover my ministry in prayer. But, at the same time, I’m well-aware of the importance and need for prayer in the life of the church.
Apparently, I’m not the only minister in history to recognize this struggle. Here’s how Charles Spurgeon taught aspiring preachers the need for prayer in pastoral ministry:
"If there is any man under heaven who is compelled to carry out the precept, 'Pray without ceasing,' surely it is the Christian minister. He has peculiar temptations, special trials, singular difficulties, and remarkable duties; he has to deal with God in awful relationships, and with men in mysterious interests; he therefore needs much more grace than common men, and as he knows this, he is led constantly to cry to the strong for strength, and say, 'I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come?'" (Letters to My Students, p. 42)
Every minister knows this, of course. "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong" (Eccl. 9:11). From beginning to end, our “help comes from the Lord” (Ps. 121:2). Prayer is vital because "from him and through him and to him are all things" (Rom. 11:36).
My question, then, is this: Do you feel confident that your ministry is covered in prayer?
Personally, in the midst of all my good intentions and hectic schedule that inevitably develops as I throw myself into serving God, I’m reminded that I can’t do enough praying by myself to cover my ministry in prayer.
A wise pastor, when confronted with the need for greater prayer, will not simply double down and try harder. God never intended for the pastor to do all the ministry, but to equip the saints for the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12). So, in addition to the first question, I want to add a second: Who, in addition to yourself, is praying for your ministry?
A plan for unceasing prayer
Here's something I wasn't told to expect as a pastor but that I'm delighted to report: my church prays for me extensively. I'd be lost without those prayers. And it's much more impressive than it sounds. Literally every day of every week, every single pastor on our staff is being prayed for by someone in our church.
I know! When I first started pastoring at Creekside, I was blown away that this was our approach to pastoral prayer.
Here's how it works:
- Every pastor has his or her own prayer team leader.
- We meet briefly each week with our own team leader and fill that person in on our own well-being, ministries and specific things for which we are praying.
- The team leader then relays that information to the rest of his or her team of seven.
- When each team member arrives at their scheduled prayer day, he or she spends the entirety of that day praying for us and our ministries.
Each of them asks God to make them mindful of specific moments when they ought to stop and pray. That is when they work their way through our specific prayer requests.
Even as they have other tasks, they remember us in the Lord’s presence all day.
Perhaps that sounds like overkill. I'm not suggesting that every pastor needs to take this approach, but I love it because it has been God's gracious way of compensating for my human and pastoral weakness.
For me, the biggest benefit of this strategy is that I’m no longer alone in my pastoral prayer life. I have a team of faithful saints who partner with me—lifting me and what I, at times, feel are my feeble ministry efforts, up before the Lord at every moment. While it's all confidential and behind-the-scenes, the impact is incalculable.
The impact of unceasing prayer
It’s empowering to face everything in my pastoral ministry with the knowledge that I have a team of people praying for me. Many times when I've faced a particularly challenging counseling situation, I've started with a text or email to my prayer leader and, without sharing any details, asked that person to pray for wisdom for me and grace for the people I'm counseling. I have seen hearts inexplicably softened and felt the Spirit's nudging in many of these situations as God has responded to the prayers of his people.
Just this spring, I asked my prayer team to join me in praying for God to provide 120 men to be blessed by our men's retreat. As the date arrived, I shouldn't have been surprised to see that exactly 120 men showed up.
I’ve asked my team to join me in praying for more leaders to step up and lead small groups in our church. We prayed for most of the year with very little fruit. And then, after months of concerted prayer, God brought a flood of leaders. We’ve added 20 leaders this fall because God responded to the faithful prayers of his people—and not just the prayers of a pastor, but the prayers of a group of people seeking the Lord together.
My prayer team is still praying together for several things that have not yet been answered favorably.
Do you have committed partners who pray for you in your ministry? If you do, do they have a structure and timeline to ensure that they pray regularly and for specific areas? If not, who can you ask to join you in laying a foundation of prayer for everything in your pastoral ministry?
Ask these questions to a pastor you know, compare notes, share ideas, check in regularly. We all need help. Why shouldn't our prayer lives reflect that reality?