In spite of a growing church and urgent needs, the apostles continued to maintain their priorities. How? By devotion “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).
May I point out something obvious? Notice which one came first. Prayer is to be top priority. “First of all, then,” the apostle Paul wrote to young pastor Timothy, “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men” (1 Timothy 2:1, emphasis added). I picture Paul’s stylus pressing hard into the parchment as he penned those words: “First of all, then, I urge . . .” Prayer should occupy the place of priority among the leadership of our churches. In yours as well as mine.
I have the privilege of pastoring a church whose elders and other church leaders are people of prayer. Our meetings are punctuated by prayer. Before one agenda item gets discussed, we pray. As the meeting proceeds and issues arise that are too difficult for us or that require special wisdom, we pause right then and lift them up to the Father. When we look over the financial report and witness how God has provided, we deliberately stop and give Him our praise in prayer. We never conclude a meeting before giving thanks for the congregation, the staff, and all in leadership. We spend valuable time in prayer . . . minutes that a “corporate model” for ministry would consider a huge waste of time.
I love the writings of the Civil War chaplain, E. M. Bounds. His insightful words, written over one hundred years ago, still read today as if the ink were wet on the page. Read them slowly. Read them thoughtfully:
We are continually striving to create new methods, plans, and organizations to advance the church. We are ever working to provide and stimulate growth and efficiency for the gospel.
This trend of the day has a tendency to lose sight of the man. Or else he is lost in the workings of the plan or organization. God’s plan is to make much of the man, far more of him than of anything else. Men are God’s method.
The church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men. . . .
What the church needs today is not more or better machinery, not new organizations or more novel methods. She needs men whom the Holy Spirit can use—men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Spirit does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men—men of prayer![ref]E. M. Bounds, Power through Prayer (New Kensington, Pa.: Whitaker House, 1982), 9–11.[/ref]
But in addition to prayer itself, let me quickly add that it matters greatly what we pray. Only the Scriptures tell us what to pray, when to pray, why to pray, how to pray, who to pray for, who to pray to, and what to pray through! A prayer by any means other than submission to the objective, historical, body of truth revealed in the Scriptures is a heretical prayer. A “wrong opinion” is just that—it’s wrong. And as such, it will never be the right path to pursue for those who call themselves part of the body of Christ.
Unity was never to be sought after at the exclusion of truth. In fact, Jesus saw no contradiction between the two pursuits (John 17:17–23). Rather, they are part of the same Christian walk.