Pastors: Pray for the Lambs

While preparing a sermon on intercession in prayer, I came across the following quote from the book On Being a Pastor by Alistair Begg and Derek Prime on the importance of pastors praying for their congregation.

The principle part of our pastoral care is unseen by those who benefit from it, since ti is exercised in secret. Called to be shepherds as well as teachers, we must be intercessors for the members of Christ’s flock entrusted to us. Prayer is one way in which we keep watch over the spiritual well-being o the lambs and sheep of the flock. If no one else prays for them, we must. It is significant that the ministry of intercession is the one ministry that our Lord continues in heaven now on our behalf. We are never nearer to His heart than when we bear up in our payers the concerns and well-being of His flock.

“All the saints” (Ephesians 6:18) are to be prayed for, since all Christians in this world are in the battle, without exception. Some require daily prayer because of crisis, and all have a call upon our regular prayers because of the needs all constantly have. We must not pray for people only when they are ill! Spurgeon made this point in a somewhat amusing way when talking to pastors: “When a man is upstairs in bed, and cannot do any hurt, you pray for him. When he is downstairs, and can do no end of mischief, you do not pray for him. Is this wise and prudent?”

I concur. One of the greatest ministries a pastor can perform for his congregation may never been seen by his congregation.

When Our Mind Wanders in Prayer: Advice from Bonhoeffer

It is a common frustration for me and for other Christians to be distracted by wondering thoughts during times of prayer and meditation. Perhaps while seeking wisdom from the Lord in prayer you find your mind wondering off about people you haven’t spoken to for months or about a situation that just took place the night before. It can be tempting to feel guilty at these moments believe that God must be disappointed with our poor prayer lives. However, in his helpful book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer offers different counsel:

It is one of the particular difficulties of meditation that our thoughts are likely to wander and go their own way, toward other persons or to some events in our life. Much as this may distress and shame us again and again, we must not lose heart and become anxious, or even conclude that meditation is really not something for us. When this happens it is often a help not to snatch back our thoughts convulsively, but quite calmly to incorporate into our prayer the people and the events to which our thoughts keep straying and thus in all patience return to the starting point of the meditation. (85)

In other words, when our thoughts begin to focus on a particular person in prayer, intercede on their behalf. When we begin to replay a specific situation, perhaps repentance is in order. Is this not the purpose of prayer and meditation?

Although I still believe we should be focused in prayer and would recommend praying through Scripture (especially the Psalms), in those moments perhaps God is leading us to focus on someone or something for a reason. Don’t waste those opportunities.

Living As a Christian in a Trump Administration

Donald Trump is officially the President of the United States. Typing that still seems unreal and unbelievable. As we explore the early days of his administration let us explore how a Christian ought to approach the Trump administration.

1. Preach the Gospel

The most important work we can be engage in advancing the Kingdom of God by preaching the gospel of Christ. This is our highest calling and all that follows flows from this.

We serve our community and nation best when we love our God the most. Faithful to the gospel is, I believe, the only hope for our great nation. President Trump, like all his predecessors, is a poor savior. He will fail to deliver on all of his campaign promises. Christ, however, is forever faithful and calls on us to walk in the light as he is the Light.

As such let us continue the work of the gospel. Who occupies the nation’s highest office has no effect on the mission of the church as the history of the church and present spread of Christianity even in hostile nations proves. In order to do so we must learn to not confuse the gospel with Republicanism, Trumpism, or Americanism. Let the gospel be saturated with Jesus and Jesus alone. He alone saves.

2. Pray for Our Elected Leaders

Regardless of who our leaders are, we are commanded to pray for them. Scripture is clear to this regard. Both Peter and Paul encourage their Christian audience to make supplication for Caesar even though he was one of the most godless, vile, and violent men of his day. Furthermore, it was this Caesar, Nero, who (according to tradition) had both apostles executed and other Christians tortured and killed on false pretenses. Regardless of what you may judge about President Trump, he is no Nero and Scripture demands we pray for him.

One of the best models I have come across in this regard comes from the pen of Martin Luther. In his book A Simple Way to Pray, he models a prayer by which we pray (1) for the salvation of the lost, (2) the protection of the innocent, and (3) the judgment of the wicked. Such a prayer reminds us of the role the church plays in society and the important role the state plays. God does use the state to protect the innocent and to judge the wicked and thus let us pray that God will grant our elected officials the wisdom necessary to fulfill their office.

One helpful ministry in this regard is pray1tim2.org which allows you to pray for state and national leaders. You can search by your state.
 

3. Promote Gospel Justice

It remains too common for many Christians to presume they can take a break from advancing the gospel and gospel causes while “their candidate” is in office. From my perspective, Donald Trump is no representative of orthodox Christianity. Nevertheless, I fear that many will think we will have to work less in the broader culture because “our guy(s)” is in power. That is not the case.

It is not the responsibility of a politician to promote Christianity and its message but the church. No administration will be able to pull back the depravity of the culture of death or the confusion of our oversexualized culture or increasing darkness. The church must advance regardless of who sits behind the Resolute Desk.

The church must continue to promote a robust pro-life message that encompasses every stage of life from conception to burial. We must continue to model and promote gospel marriages. We must continue to defend and promote religious liberty for all and not just for us. We must continue to articulate our belief that everyone is made in the image of God including our neighbors, our enemies, the unborn, the immigrant, the prisoner, the poor, and the rest.

This work will require speaking prophetically to both the culture and to elected officials including the President. Trump is bombastic and lacks moral character. As such we must speak against any verbal or political abuse of others for our loyalty is with Christ not Republicanism.

4. Prepare For the End

Scripture exhorts believes to pray “Come Lord Jesus quickly!” Such a prayer, first, reminds us that our citizenship is in heaven. Certainly the command to love our neighbor compels us into the culture and the public square (see the previous point), ultimately we must remember that our hope does not lie here but in Christ.

Secondly, preparing for the imminent return of Christ draws us to greater holiness today. Faith that Christ is coming, and coming soon, is a hope with present realities. Let our lives reflect it.

Finally, being heavenly minded makes us earthly good contrary to what others may say. CS Lewis made this point brilliantly when he wrote in Mere Christianity:

A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in:” aim at earth and you will get neither.

So let us look to heaven so we can get earth thrown in.

Conclusion

Though I have made some initial predictions of what a Trump presidency will look like, our hope should never be in princes or presidents. Let our hope rest solely in Christ who reigns from the right hand of God the Father.

"A Simple Way to Pray": Blogging Through Luther – Concluding Thoughts

“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Introduction
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – To Master Peter
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – The Lord’s Prayer
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Pray Like a Barber
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – The Ten Commandments
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Sabbath Day
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Why the Family Matters to the State
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Pray For Your Children
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Apostle’s Creed
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Concluding Thoughts

For a book on prayer that is only 32 pages, Martin Luther manages to pack a lot in it. Every Christian is commanded and expected to pray yet in my experience most are poor at it. For whatever the reasons, Christians do not pray as they ought. Luther offers a great introduction and guide to help such Christians in developing a robust prayer life.

In conclusion to this blog series, I offer a few thoughts.

1. This is a Pastoral Work

Remember the context of this book. Luther is writing to his barber, not to a faculty member at the university. This makes it a rich resource for everyday Christians. This book is not about the theology or theory of prayer, but the practice of prayer.

2. Prayer Must Be Intentional

I am guilty of simply closing my eyes and saying the first thing that comes to mind masking it in religious rhetoric. To speak in King James English only makes it sound more spiritual. Luther does the opposite it. He shows us that prayer should be intentional and purposeful. Get prepared to pray. Be ready to pray. Be free from any distractions when you pray.

3. Don’t Neglect Scripture in Your Prayer Life

Of the three sections, two of them require meditating on Scripture – the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6) and the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). That is no accident. The Bible itself commands we meditate on Scripture (see Joshua 1 for example) and meditation should not be divorced from prayer. How much richer would our prayer life be if we did so with our Bible’s open?

4. Don’t Neglect Sound Theology In Your Prayer Life

As we just said, two of the three sections of Luther’s book focused on Scripture, the other focused on a theological creed. Sound theology produces doxology and prayer is part of worship. To meditate on the truths of God, his Word, and the gospel should bring us to our knees.

5. Prayer is Important

Luther is clear in this work that in any given day, we will have many things demanding our attention. Yet nothing is more important than prayer. To love God first and foremost is to make prayer a priority.

For more:
How to Pray in a World of Terrorism

"A Simple Way to Pray": Blogging Through Luther – Apostle’s Creed

“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Introduction
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – To Master Peter
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – The Lord’s Prayer
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Pray Like a Barber
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – The Ten Commandments
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Sabbath Day
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Why the Family Matters to the State
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Pray For Your Children“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Apostle’s Creed

The final section of Luther’s short book on prayer (entitled A Simple Way to Pray) covers briefly the Apostle’s Creed. Some evangelical traditions will be familiar with this ancient creed, but many likely are not. I will reproduce it below:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;*
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy universal church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

When praying through the Creed, Luther follows a similar pattern as he does with the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments.

First, I read and consider what God is teaching me.
Second, I turn to thanksgiving on account of what God has done.
Third, I confess my sin based upon the text.
Fourth, I use the text to say a prayer for strong faith. (28)

For those new to the Apostle’s Creed (or any creed), I would not begin my prayer life here. But certainly I would work my way here. The Apostle’s Creed reflects the very basics of historic Christianity rooted in the Trinity. Every Christian should be familiar with its content and Luther offers a very brief and helpful guide on praying through it here.

* Traditionally, the creed includes a reference to Jesus’ descension into hell. Some early copies of the creed omit this detail.

For more:
How to Pray in a World of Terrorism

"A Simple Way to Pray": Blogging Through Luther – Pray For Your Children

“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Introduction
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – To Master Peter
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – The Lord’s Prayer
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Pray Like a Barber
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – The Ten Commandments
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Sabbath Day
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Why the Family Matters to the State
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Pray For Your Children

In one of the more practical Ten Commandments section, Martin Luther offers the following advice under the fourth commandment (“honor your parents”):

Here we should also add a prayer for parents and rulers, that God would give them understanding and wisdom so that they may lead and govern us in peace and blessedness. May he protect them from tyranny, madness, an fury, and turn them from such things so that they honor God’s Word and not persecute it or do anything unjust. For such high gifts one must obtain with prayer, as St. Paul teaches, otherwise the devil will rule the palace and everything will go badly and be laid waste.

If you are also a father or mother, here is the time that you not forget yourself or your children and workers, but pray earnestly that the dear Father, who placed you in the honor of His office and in His name, and has willed that you be called father and be honored, grant you grace and blessing to govern and support your wife, child, and workers in a godly and Christian fashion, give you wisdom and strength to train them well and give them a good heart and will to follow your teaching and to be obedient. For both are God’s gifts – children and their prosperity both, that they succeed and remain upstanding. Otherwise a house would be nothing but a pigsty, a school for knaves; as one sees among the godless rabble. (21-22)

Scripture is clear we should pray for state officials. Both the Old and the New Testament models that. We should also, as Luther makes clear here, pray for our children as parents. Consider praying specifically for the following:

  • Your children’s salvation.
  • Their future spouse.
  • Their future spouse’s salvation.
  • Their honesty and integrity
  • Their love for Scripture 
  • Their purity

The best parents are praying parents. This is a key insight we gain from praying the Ten Commandments, especially the fourth commandment.

For more:
How to Pray in a World of Terrorism

"A Simple Way to Pray": Blogging Through Luther – Why the Family Matters to the State

“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Introduction
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – To Master Peter
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – The Lord’s Prayer
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Pray Like a Barber
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – The Ten Commandments
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Sabbath Day
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Why the Family Matters to the State

In his exploration of how to pray the fourth commandment (“honor your parents”), Luther offers words relevant for our day as we witness the deterioration of the nuclear family:

Second, I thank this rich, gracious Creator for myself and for the entire world, that He in this commandment established the increase and preservation of the human race through the home and state. For without these two realms, or governments, the world would not stand for a single year. Without temporal government there is no peace. Where there is no peace, the home cannot exist and children cannot be born and raised. The institution of father and mother would completely cease. This commandment exists to preserve and protect both home and state. It commands obedience from both children and subjects. It commands that this happen, and where it does not happen, disobedience against it will not go unpunished. Otherwise, children would long ago have already torn apart the home through their rebellion and laid it waste, and subjects the state, because they outnumber parents and rulers. Thus, the benefit of this commandment is impossible to express adequately. (20)

The state plays a role in protecting the family. Luther is clear on that and few would question that point. Yet today the state fails to understand that the key to a peaceful society is a strong family where values are taught, parents stay together, and children are raised to be moral and good. Undermine the family and the state will have a mess on its hands. We are witnessing that now in America.

For more:
How to Pray in a World of Terrorism

"A Simple Way to Pray": Blogging Through Luther – Sabbath Day

“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Introduction
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – To Master Peter
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – The Lord’s Prayer
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Pray Like a Barber
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – The Ten Commandments“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Sabbath Day 

In his exploration of the third commandment (sanctify the Sabbath day) in his book A Simply Way to Pray, Luther provides some really helpful and practical insight:

Here I learn first that Sunday is not a day to be lazy, or to indulge the flesh, but instead a day we are to keep holy. But it is not our work or other activities that can keep this day. This happens only through the Word of god, which alone is entirely pure and holy, and thus sanctifies everything it touches, be it a time, or a place, people, work, etc. For through the Word our works are also sanctified, as St. Paul’s says in 1 timothy 4:5. Every creature is sanctified through Word and prayer. Therefore I acknowledge in this commandment that I certainly must hear and contemplate God’s Word. It is in that word that I learn to thank and praise God for all His benefits, and pray for myself and for the entire world. Thus he who holds to Sunday in this way sanctifies it. He who does not, does worse than those who work on Sunday. (18-19)

For those of us, myself include, who think Sunday’s are for football and laziness, doesn’t Luther’s exhortation sting? Those, he says, who do not sanctify the Sabbath are worse than those who work on it.

For more:
How to Pray in a World of Terrorism

"A Simple Way to Pray": Blogging Through Luther – The Ten Commandments

“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Introduction
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – To Master Peter
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – The Lord’s Prayer
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Pray Like a Barber
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – The Ten Commandments

After exploring the Lord’s Prayer, Martin Luther considers praying through the Ten Commandments in his book A Simple Way to Pray. He explains at the very beginning that his approach follows the same patter:

First, instruction: I read each commandment and consider what it is teaching me, as intended by the commandment, and think about what god is so earnestly demanding of me.

Second, thanksgiving: I use the commandment to thank God for something.

Third, confession of sin.

Fourth, I use the commandment to say a prayer using these or similar words. (16)

Before exploring the commandments more explicitly, I few thoughts in general about his treatment on prayer and the Decalogue. First, I find this approach insightful and one I would never have considered. The Lord’s Prayer is established by Jesus as a model prayer intended to be used in a way that Luther suggests. Yet few would consider praying through the Ten Commandments.

Secondly, this section provides helpful insight into Luther’s understanding and theology of the Ten Commandments. However, the reader should note just how brief this section is. Luther does not teach the Ten Commandments here. I would recommend the reader explore and study them before praying through them.

Thirdly, there is a glaring weakness that we cannot ignore. Luther commonly utilizes the Law/gospel distinction in his writings. Here, one can barely find the gospel in his survey of the Ten Commandments. I applaud Luther’s exhortation to use the Ten Commandments as a means to confess one’s sins, but confession should never be isolated from the gospel. Luther fails to make that important point.

With that said, Luther establishes a helpful practice that could greatly benefit our prayer life. If we would be disciplined to put it into practice.

For more:
How to Pray in a World of Terrorism

"A Simple Way to Pray": Blogging Through Luther – Pray Like a Barber

“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Introduction
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – To Master Peter
“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – The Lord’s Prayer“A Simple Way to Pray”: Blogging Through Luther – Pray Like a Barber

Anyone familiar with A Simple Way to Pray will have come across the following passage:

Just as a good diligent barber must keep his thoughts and eyes precisely on the razor and the hair, and not forget where he is while cutting hair, even though he may be chatting a great deal, he will be concentrating carefully, so that eh keeps a close eye on where the razor is so he doesn’t cut somebody’s nose, or mouth, or even slice somebody’s throat.

Therefore, it’s very clear that if a person is going to do something well, it requires him to focus and concentrate, as the old say goes . . . “a person engaged in various pursuits, minds none o them well.” So, if this is true about other things in our life, how much more does prayer require the heart to be completely focused if it is to pray a good prayer? (15)

Here is a great example of how theology meets life. Luther the theologian easily becomes Luther the pastor. Focus is key to prayer, a lesson I, and I suspect many of us, need to learn from Luther’s barber.

For more:
How to Pray in a World of Terrorism