James is an Anglican minister in Sydney. He has been in full-time ministry for 15 years and is currently a Senior Assistant Minister at Christ Church Anglican, St Ives.
There comes a day in each parent’s life when the little hand that has instinctually sought yours no longer arrives in your outstretched palm. It’s a sad but vital moment, when a growing child no longer needs your immediate guidance, protection and presence to make their way in the world. It’s a vital moment, because our kids need to grow independent if they are to mature into adulthood. It’s also sad, because the intimate path you made together, hand in hand, now becomes a series of byways with occasional common intersections. In many ways, the maturing of a Christian into whole-hearted discipleship moves in the opposite direction. Having come from outright rebellion and alienation from God in our sin, we now, by grace, journey into ever-deepening dependence on Christ. We need his guidance, protection and presence more and more. We learn to put our hand up and into the Father’s hand each day, becoming increasingly child-like as he conforms us to the image of his Son. (Rom 8:29)
As we consider the minister or any Christian at prayer, I find this image helpful. Clasped hands could equate to so much in the Christian life, but the particular intimacy and common motion equates beautifully with prayer—as does the tension between independence and dependence at the heart of our experience as adult believers. The world trains us to make our own way and sin fools us into thinking we are at the centre of that world. The gospel shatters that lie and the Spirit drives us to God our Father—but the journey into prayerful dependence is uneven and often slow. In my experience, what should be an ‘intimate path’ is too often a series of ‘byways’ with occasional meetings with the Lord! This is not just unfortunate, it’s dangerous—especially if we are charged with discipling God’s people and seeking the lost.
The assumption that all followers of Christ can and should pray is threaded throughout Scripture. “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence”. (Eph 3:12) Jesus and subsequent early church leaders are all marked as prayerful people who exhort others to pray (e.g. Matt 6:5- 15; John 17; Eph 3:14-19; Eph 6:18-20). The assumption that those in ministry will follow suit is built into the Anglican ordination service. Each candidate is charged to “continually pray to God the Father, by the mediation of our Saviour Jesus Christ, for the assistance of the Holy Spirit.” The reason for this charge is that the office is of “such excellence and difficulty”, such gravity and scale, that it cannot be done without the explicit equipping of the Holy Spirit. Paul knows this and is constantly thankful and pleading for others’ prayers (Phil 1:18,19; 2 Cor 1:10, 11).
When the gentle, familial image of clasped hands is married to the rigours of an ‘excellent, difficult’ ministry, we can describe a minister’s prayers as an ‘intimate discipline’—a deepening relationship with God that is pursued in a decisive, rhythmic manner. It is not a rigid duty, but an honest, healthy pattern of prayer that is woven into the fabric of one’s life with God at home, church and beyond. At its best, it is a discipline that becomes a delight—a godly ritual that becomes a reflex action in all weathers. Below are some of the ways I have sought to develop an intimate discipline of prayer.
WORD, CONFESSION AND IDENTITY
If we would approach the Lord with ‘freedom and confidence’, then our hearts and minds need to be saturated in his word. In Zechariah 7.13, the Lord Almighty states, “When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen”. Are we speaking as those who have been listening and applying God’s word? Are we finding out what pleases him before we seek what we want? (Eph 5:10) The Anglican ordination service rightly weds prayerfulness with daily meditation on the scriptures. We ask for the Spirit’s help, even as we handle the ‘sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.’ (Eph 6:17)
To help me listen and apply God’s word, I have found it immensely helpful to write short prayers based on what I am reading. I would not do this daily, and these are not the sum total of what I pray, but over the years I have developed a significant personal liturgy that has helped shape my faith and ministry. Having written prayers— including those of others—has been a particular blessing on those days when I am weary or distracted. Just as the psalmist in Ps 91:2 states the truth of God out loud in the face of hardship, stating these prayers has helped drive the words back into an otherwise dull heart.
Praying God’s word back to him has proved most helpful in terms of personal confession. If we are to be gospel ministers, we must be men and women who regularly clear the decks by repenting of our sin and walking on, forgiven. This ensures that we are regularly gripped and motivated by grace, not guilt. Here is a confession I wrote when reading through Matthew 10.
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt 10:28)
Heavenly Father, awesome God, test my fears today.
Forgive me for fearing people more than you.
Forgive me for failing my neighbour and friend
by remaining silent when I should speak.
Teach me a right fear of your Majesty
and give me courage in this wicked world.
Then I will love others in truth
and stand for Christ without fear. Amen.
The other area that has been helped by written prayers is my identity as a minister. So much is asked and expected of us, and it can be hard to know what matters most. As I have considered this and helped prepare student ministers for ministry I have found the different roles described in the ordination vows helpful: Shepherd, Watchman, Steward, Messenger and so on. A number of years ago I began weaving different passages of scripture into a set of ministers’ prayers that have grown beyond the formal categories to include my roles as a husband, dad and various other biblical roles. I have included one at the close of this article: “One Who Waits”. These prayers help me remember my public promises and grow in deepening dependence on the Lord is all facets of my ministry.
READY TO WRESTLE—AND BE WRESTLED
In Colossians 4:12, Paul writes:
“Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.”
I love this glimpse of a man prayerfully wrestling for his church and their maturity. It’s a wrestle we should earnestly desire to see in all Christians, but it should certainly be true of those in ministry. We have a unique vantage point and a responsibility to bring what we see and know to God in prayer. We can teach, equip and counsel, but it is in the realm of prayer that the deepest wrestles often occur. Will I pray for those people who have hurt me or damaged the church? Do I believe God can save those so dead to Christ? Will I despair of those who keep drifting in doubt and fear, or will I pray that God will make them firm, assured and brave? Will I bring my deepest fears and ingrained sins and lay them before the Lord? Will I obediently, honestly, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’? Each of these is matter of will. I am free in Christ to pray all of these. Will I? Here is the ‘threshing floor’ of prayer – the place of exposure, testing and accounting mapped in Hebrews 4:12-13 Our readiness to wrestle for others and be wrestled by God through his Spirit sharpened word is surely a key marker of our maturity as Christians and as ministers. If we are going to follow Jesus’ teaching in Luke 11:1-13, we will need a muscular faith marked by truth, humility, perseverance and will. I am convinced such wrestling is basic to truly prophetic preaching and teaching that brings God’s eternal word to bear on our particular place, time and people. When we rush these tasks or drift in preparation, what we say may be true, but it will usually be anaemic and dull. When we allow a passage to do its surgical best on our hearts, waiting patiently on the Lord as we write and prepare, then we are far more likely to stand and speak a word that strikes deep and transforms those gathered with us. P. T. Forsyth, writing in 1916, warns against intercession that never pushes into large, difficult areas in our lives and the lives of others.
“Lose the importunity in prayer…lose the real conflict of will and will, lose the habit of wrestling and the hope of prevailing with God, make it mere walking with God in friendly talk; and precious as that is, yet you tend to lose the reality of prayer at last. In principle you make it mere conversation instead of the soul’s great action. You lose the food of character, the renewal of will …
“Resist God, in the sense of rejecting God, and you will not be able to resist any evil. But resist God in the sense of closing with God, cling to him with your strength, not your weakness only, with your active and not only your passive faith, and he will give you strength.”
(Prayer, P. T. Forsyth, Independent Press, 4th ed., 1954; pp. 91, 92)
Are we ready to wrestle like Epaphras as we develop the intimate discipline of prayer?
SHEPHERDING AND DISCIPLING
A basic task of ministry is to breed in others an active, deepening faith in Christ. Leading them in prayer both feeds them and equips them. Wrestling might be a private art, but our public prayers underpin our pastoral and equipping work. The call to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Eph 6:18) encourages us to punctuate virtually all exchanges with prayer. Every time we pray with someone, we are ushering them towards the peace of God (Phil 4:7). Instead of great, good and grievous matters being left on our shoulders, prayer with another ensures these things are ultimately left with the Lord. When we ask the suffering person to pray for us, or another, we are reminding them that even at their lowest they have a liberty before God to minister to others.
Determine to be a leader who is known for prayer and breeds leaders who are the same. Make it rare for someone to finish a conversation with you without the subject matter being committed to the Lord. I think it’s particularly powerful to pray on the spot with people we speak to on Sunday, as this overtly includes the Lord in the matter at hand. It is here that the intimate discipline of prayer, developed in private with the Lord, spills over into our public ministry. May those who hear us speaking to the Lord catch an echo of a deep, daily prayer life that loves approaching him with freedom and confidence.
I mentioned above a series of minister’s prayers that I have been writing over the years. I will leave you with one that is germane to this COVID season, inspired by my reading in Isaiah.
O N E W H O W A I T S
They that wait upon the Lord
shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings as eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
Heavenly Father, Lord Almighty,
so often this ministry finds me weak and weary,
earthbound and impatient.
Teach me to wait upon you.
Help me by your Holy Spirit
to draw near in humility, need and faith,
so that my love for Jesus is refreshed
and my strength renewed.
Teach me to sit still in your presence,
and sink deep into your Word,
so that I might rise with heavenly purpose,
run to your enduring glory
and walk with unfailing faith in your Son.
Heavenly Father, teach me to wait upon you. Amen
If any reader would like a copy of James’Minister’s Prayers, contact him at