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).
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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.
When you pray, do you ever feel like you’re standing at the bottom of a long stairway looking up. The light is off, and even though you knock and call out for a response, nothing happens.
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You are not alone. Many a soul struggles at this very moment with divine silence. You likely know the story by heart. A calamity comes.
We cry out and expect relief, but instead of answers, we hear nothing.
A mate who has been there for years suddenly walks out. The one who is left alone to face what seems to be endless responsibilities turns to God for His intervention—for His comforting reassurance—only to be met with silence. That awful silence!
Ours is a world that wants to squeeze us into its mold. And its architect? Your adversary, the Devil.
We would be wise to bear in mind that the Adversary will stop at nothing to disrupt and, if possible, destroy the church. Always remember that. We know he can’t completely tear it down, for Christ has promised, “the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18). But Satan will take it as far as he possibly can!
He will use officials on the outside for his purposes. He will make use of Christians on the inside as well . . . carnal Christians, ornery Christians, pseudo-Christians. He will use anything to disrupt and destroy a ministry. In his mind, the end justifies the means . . . so he plays by no rules but his own. Hypocrisy. Wrong motives. Mishandling of funds. Sexual scandal. Biblical error. Bullying techniques. Caustic criticism. Unsigned letters. Discouragement. Personality conflicts. Disharmony. Doctrinal erosion. Anything goes. The Adversary will stop at nothing. Remember Peter’s warning:
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
We are engaged in a battle, not for our bodies, but for our minds. Please don’t think of the mind as a brain inside the cranium. Think of the mind as the inner person, with emotions and will and intellect all interconnected. It involves the way we think and how we react in life.
It is in these vulnerable and unseen areas that Satan focuses his attention. He battles through people or without people. He battles in events, in depression, in success, or in failure. He battles in money or in poverty, when numbers increase or decrease, among elders who aren’t qualified to lead and parishioners who aren’t submissive to the Holy Spirit. He is constantly at work, bent on our destruction. Why does he despise God’s people and fight so insidiously against us? The answer must not be overlooked: he has a consuming hatred for the mission of Christ. Knowing that he can’t overthrow it—because the gates of Hades will never do that—Satan plays a wicked game of spiritual chess. He knows he’s doomed, but he’ll get your last man if he can. He knows Christ has already won, but he won’t give up without an ugly, unfair, and continuing fight.
How can we be on the alert with a sober spirit? We can defend ourselves against the Enemy’s schemes by “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Isn’t that a great verse! Since Satan makes our mind his battlefield, our best defense is to surrender our thoughts to Jesus Christ and ask Him to guard and protect us. When we release ourselves to Him, He takes charge—and Satan backs off. Scripture memory also guards our minds.
I make this practical in my own life by regularly telling God, “Lord, I need You right now; take charge of this. I need Your thoughts, I need Your strength, I need Your grace, I need Your wisdom, I need specific truths from Your Word, and I need Your very words. Protect me from fear. Hold me near. Give me resilient courage. Get me through this stormy time.”
He will; He’ll get you through—victoriously.