Lesson 8 Prayer and the Word
When the apostles instituted the office of deacon, they presented their own job description: But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). That is an apt description of the job of the elder, as well as presenting the two tools by which we are to shepherd our people.
I often hear elders express concern that they do not possess the necessary skill and training to counsel their people facing all manner of troubles. But the truth is that we possess more than we think. We have our personal experience, which is more valuable than we may think; but mostly we have been given two highly effective tools in carrying out our ministry – prayer and the Bible.
First, let’s consider prayer.
A woman asks to speak to you after worship. She shares that she is distressed over the troubles of her adult daughter. She begins to weep as she details the troubles. You have no idea what could be said to help her. You do not know what counsel to give her to help her daughter. But what you do have is the ability to sympathize with her and then to pray for her. So you pray… What do you find happening. Oftentimes you find wisdom while praying. Prayer as a way of focusing our thoughts and giving us discernment. I take seriously the admonition in Philippians 4:6 to “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” I find that if I begin with thanksgiving, I must then focus on what we have to be thankful for – the gospel, that God’s hears, that God is merciful… I often then discern the mercy of God in the midst of the difficult circumstance…
Pray honestly. “Lord, I don’t see an answer…” The honest prayer which avoids platitudes opens yourself and the other person to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. God wants faith, yes, but he wants honesty. The very fact that you are praying is the act of faith that he wants. He doesn’t need you manufacturing feelings of faith. (Note: the father who brings his son to be cleansed of a demon.)
The outcome: Most likely she will be calmer and more able to face the troubles.
Why? 1) You demonstrated you care… she heard your words of care
2) She takes seriously the prayer of an elder…
3) She heard the word she needed in your prayer…word of faith, of trust
4) The Spirit moves through prayer…
Prayer is an excellent tool by which to draw out the concerns of your parishioner. I learned this from my wife. We would visit a couple in their home. As the time winded down, she would ask, “What can we be praying for?” I thought the question to be needless because we would have already been discussing what was going on in their lives. But invariably, the question would draw out a matter that had not been discussed and was pressing to them.
I will often pray when the emotions of the parishioner is rising. Go back to the distressed woman. Pray for peace, for calmness… Then resume the conversation.
An opening prayer can set the proper tone and agenda of a conversation: “Lord, we look to you to guide our time so that you will be glorified, so that we might discern your will, for that is what matters. Give us wisdom, give us discernment… give us the courage to examine our own hearts…”
Don’t use prayer as a form of lecture. “Lord, help ____ to learn not be overprotective of her daughter…”
Let’s turn now to that other great tool – the Bible.
We cannot overestimate the value of having Scripture by which to minister to our parishioners.
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
With the Word we may offer hope to those in despair, comfort to those who are grieving, exhortation to the complacent, warning to the sinner. The advantages of the using Scripture are:
1) You become the messenger…
- the comfort comes from God rather than you
- the exhortation and admonition are his
2) The Word sets the agenda… my use in marital counseling
3) Impresses upon others the value of Scripture
How to use?
1) As a fellow partaker
- Share what God is teaching you
i. Absolute need to read devotionally
2) As a shepherd with food and drink to provide
- Develop a resource of passages to turn to as you determine need
i. Psalm 121
ii. Isaiah 40:27-31
iii. Psalm 139
iv. John 11:25
v. Hebrews 4:14-16
3) For teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness
- Addressing sin –
i. helps keep us from being too free with identifying sin
ii. helps us to dig deeper into what the sin is
i. not to lecture but to share insight from what we have learned
ii. “I am convicted…” “This taught me something I had not thought of…”
Effective Use of Prayer and Scripture
Read Scripture, comment, then pray
Read Scripture, then pray in response to and using the terms of the Scripture
The model of my pastoral prayers
– let the psalm set the topic and the tone
– Ps 23: t Shepherd
– Ps 24: t King of Glory
– confession of sin (responding to the passage)
– in context of the Gospel
Spirit in which to minister through prayer and scripture:
Be honest – in prayer before the Lord and before Scripture
We should live such lives that earn the respect of our flock. They should look up to us and for us being men of prayer who are obedient to the Word. But they will gain further comfort and encouragement to know that we are like them in finding faithfulness to be difficult. We obey Scripture not because it is easy for us, but because it is true and good. We pray to the Lord not to impress him with our faith, but to acknowledge our utter dependency on him. We doubt; we struggle with temptation. All the more then we need prayer and the Word not merely to be tools by which we minister to others, but to be the channels of God’s grace for our own lives.
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