One of my favorite places on earth is the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.
The last time we were in Jerusalem our guide took us to the part of the Wailing Wall that is underground and to the left of the well-known Western Wall Plaza.
We stood at Warren’s Gate, a couple stories down, directly in line with where the Holy of Holies stood on the Temple Mount. This underground gate is a precious place to the Jews, and it was very meaningful for me to pray in that important place.
I struggled with leaving His presence as we walked away from the Wailing Wall that afternoon. It felt unfair.
Why is it so powerful to be in this ancient place of God’s presence, and isn’t it unfair that Christians in other parts of the world can’t just head over to the wall in their town to walk into God’s waiting presence?
Oh wait. We can.
God whispered in my spirit that afternoon what our theology affirms. I can know his presence in prayer anywhere through the Holy Spirit.
So let’s pray like we’re standing in God’s presence. Because we are.
I believe every pastor ought to be a prayer warrior. The Apostles modeled this for us in Acts 6 when they turned down administrative duties so they could give their attention to “prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). For most of us activistic pastors, it’s convicting that the Apostles listed “prayer” before “ministry of the word.”
6 Practices of a Pastor who Prays
The first half of being a pastor-prayer-warrior is your personal prayer life. The second half is leading your church to pray. Let me walk you through how it can happen for you, and your church.
1. Warfare Prayer
During New Song’s early years, neither Lori or I could stand up under the spiritual pressure without seeking the shield of God on our church and family. By God’s providence, we stumbled onto an extraordinary prayer composed by Dr. Victor Matthews.
We would both pray Matthews’ prayer out loud three or four times a week. It gave us a spiritual covering and a sound mind, and it broke evil plans that were formed against us. This warfare prayer states Biblical truth and theology in simple and thorough words. It affirms your position in Christ. When you read it, you’ll see what I mean.
Since we have made that prayer available on PastorMentor, over 29,000 pastors and church leaders have downloaded it.
You can get it in Your Best Response to a Spiritual Attack.
Don’t just read it, though. Read it aloud. When you’re feeling oppressed and troubled, read it out loud every day.
2. Family Prayer
We prayed in the car with our kids every time we left the house. We prayed when we heard a siren go by. We prayed when something was lost. Or when someone was hurt or sad. We prayed over homework, and friends, and our meals, of course.
By elementary school, our kids were reminding us to pray when things came up.
It was normal for our kids to see that we turned to Jesus with everything. Church was a place that we went, and where Daddy worked, but Jesus was in our home.
3. Listening Prayer
A few years into our ministry, we were introduced to Listening Prayer.
It was weird for me, at first. Is it okay to think that you can hear Jesus speak to you? Yes, I think so.
Psalm 19 says that God is communicating with us constantly.
Over time, I learned that listening prayer is a spiritual practice for many of my brothers and sisters in Christ. And frankly, I wanted a more intimate relationship with Jesus, so I practice having a dialogue with Jesus, not just a monologue.
Many Christians who pray systematically use the acrostic ACTS. You know it: Adoration. Confession. Thanksgiving. Supplication. I add an L to it: Listen. I say, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:10).
To learn more about listening prayer, check out what Seth Barnes says at artoflisteningprayer.com.
4. Prayer Retreats
Before starting the church, I determined that I would take at least one prayer retreat every six months. I felt so strongly about this that I actually wrote it into my job description.
At first, I didn’t know what to do with a 36 hour block of time alone with God. But Lorne Sanny wrote a little booklet called How to Spend a Day in Prayer that helped me. And Dallas Willard’s book, Hearing God, confirmed my intuitions about how to hear from God on things like vision, conviction, and direction for my life and church. Today, every pastor on my staff has “monthly day of prayer” written into their job expectations.
If you’ve never spent a day in prayer, try it. You’ll find that the first thing you want to do is sleep. That’s okay. Elijah did that before he heard from God. You’ll also find that you’re distracted by all the things you have to do. Alleviate that noise by keeping a notepad next to you. Every time you think of something you need to do as soon as you get home, write it down. Then let it go during this sacred space of time.
After one or two refreshing prayer retreats, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without them.
And don’t worry that your church will think you’re wasting time. I once remarked to a staff member, “I’m not sure I can justify two days away this week.” She said, “Are you kidding? Every time you go away, you come home with things God wants us to do. Those two days will be the most valuable days of your month!”
Spending extended time in Jesus’ presence – away from ministry demands – may change everything for you.
There is probably a nearby camp, or retreat home, that is made available to pastors. I recommend that you schedule two nights with one full day in the middle.
I give some tips for good prayer retreats here: How to be a Strategic Pastor and See your Church Grow.
5. Prayer for the Church
Be sure to pray privately for your church each day about whatever God brings to mind.
In my prayer times, I let God lead my thoughts. Someone or something comes to mind. I pray about it, then I may get up to send an email, or write down an action item. I sit back down in God’s presence, and let him bring the next thing to pray about and then act on.
Those are my most productive times of prayer and leadership.
6. City Prayer
As a pastor, I’m responsible for the salvation of my city. John Knox prayed, “Lord, give me Scotland or I die!” That’s how we should feel about the cities God has called us to. Oceanside is my parish.
While waiting at stoplights, I pray for the spiritual condition of the people in cars around me. Someone may be suffering today and need hope. Someone else may be searching and ready to find Jesus.
While in line at the grocery store, I pray for the people around me. I pray for our city government. I pray for new neighborhoods, apartment complexes, and shopping centers as they are being built. I pray for the other churches in town. I pray for the homeless people.
Lord, give me Oceanside before I die!
6 Prayer Practices for your Church
Now the other half: foster corporate prayer in these simple ways.
7. Prayer for People’s Needs
When someone asks, “Pastor, will you pray for me?” I do it right then. I want them to know that I have prayed, and to hear what I’m praying for them.
A few weeks ago, I was swimming laps at the local YMCA. An infrequent New Songer named Leah was in the next lane. She stopped me and said, “Hal, will you pray for this lady?” She introduced me to her friend, explained the need, and I prayed on the spot.
A few days later Leah came up to me and said, “Hal, when I asked you to pray, I didn’t mean to stop you from what you were doing. I meant, ‘Pray sometime’ for her. But I want you to know what an impression your prayer made on my friend.”
Hopefully we’ll see her in church one day soon, and with Jesus soon thereafter.
I love it when I look around at church and see a leader with his or her hand on a shoulder and heads bowed. They are paying attention to the person sharing their story and taking that need to God right away.
That’s what I call a house of prayer. When prayer is a normal response to our conversations. Just like at home.
8. Staff Prayer
We start our all-staff meetings with thirty minutes of prayer for the church.
We pray for individual needs. We pray about upcoming events. We pray for our city. We pray for whatever the people in that circle bring up.
9. Meetings Prayer
I’ve told my leaders that I want every meeting they are in, including one-on-ones, to begin and end with prayer.
It’s a public acknowledgement that everything we do – every conversation, every plan, every opinion – is bounded on both sides by prayer.
Beyond reminding us Who is in charge, it knits the people in the meeting together in His presence.
10. Intercessors’ Prayer
Some people in your church will gravitate to all the prayer opportunities. They’ll be the first ones praying for someone in the lobby. They tell you regularly that they’re praying for you. They tell you stories about what they’ve seen God do.
Those are your intercessors. Be sure they know that you respect and value their ministry. Bless them and release them to have at it.
11. Prayer Groups
We’ve got young moms meeting to pray for their kids. And older moms praying for prodigal kids. You’ll see men meeting on Saturday morning to pray. There’s the Monday night prayer gathering praying.
And there’s a group that meets sporadically to prayer walk our building. It needs a good spiritual cleaning every now and then.
The more. The better. Bless anyone who wants to gather with others for an hour of prayer.
12. Church-wide Prayer Events
We’ve done 24/7 Prayer Rooms, Prayer Nights, a Prayer Labryinth, and Prayer Walking.
One purpose of these prayer events is to give people an opportunity, and a challenge, to try something new that stretches them in prayer.
Think of it as a little prayer discipleship.
Prayer discipleship happens in any extended prayer time, or new prayer experience, that will help people see that they can pray more than usual. We hope the deeper experience they have with Jesus at that prayer event will translate into their personal prayer lives.
Prayer events take some publicity because they aren’t a regular weekly or monthly gathering. But it’s always good to encourage people to pray.
There’s a sign standing outside the security check for the Wailing Wall. It’s simply Isaiah 56:7a:
“These I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.”
Lance Witt, in his book Replenish, calls it the heartbeat of prayer:
“The heartbeat of a God-centered and healthy ministry is the heartbeat of prayer.”
House of prayer. Heartbeat of prayer. Prayer Warrior. That’s how I want to live.
You, too, my friend?
If you have a prayer practice I didn’t mention, please add to our list in the comments below.
- How to Pray Like Paul for your Church [Free Download]
- 12 Prayers that will Build your Church
- Your Best Response to a Spiritual Attack
Start Here to learn more about the resources available for you at PastorMentor.