The Discipline of Intercessory Prayer
I separate this from devotion, not because they are not related, but because intercessory prayer is so much harder than devotion. Devotion is the oil and wine. Devotion is the joy of communion. The prayer of devotion is praise, adoration, thanksgiving, personal confession and supplication. But intercession is the hard work of a priest. Intercession is more like Gethsemane. It may be our hardest work. It is long. It is tiring. If you love your people, it can be agonising. But if you neglect it, the little foxes will be amongst the vines of your family and church and
begging devouring. Spiritual apathy will grow. We read about Epaphras, who was probably the pastor of Colossians:
Colossians 4:12-13 – Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. 13 For I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you, and those who are in Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis.
My suggestion is to separate them. Make sure your own soul is nourished, and then pray with your boots on. Keep a list. I agree with Kent Hughes to split the various needs up according to different days. So for example, one day 1, you might pray for unsaved persons, the country and government. On day 2, you might pray for missionaries, fellow pastors, and for revival. On day three you might pray for pressing church needs, personal growth, and current problems. On day four, you might pray for church leadership, upcoming events, the corporate services. Each day you might be praying for your family, for church leaders, for the spiritual growth and protection of your church. If your church is larger, it’s not a bad idea to split the names up alphabetically.
It is important that you keep reading on this matter to maintain strength and encouragement. Read of the men of prayer; read their biographies. Study the intercessory prayers of the New Testament to avoid the dryness and vain repetitions that can enter in.
This is probably the discipline we are most likely to skip, because it is so hard. But we must do it. Set time aside. I suggest nourish your own soul in the morning, eat breakfast, come back and give yourself to intercession. Or set a particular time of the day when you will do it. Of course, that is just the structure. If we yield to the Spirit, we will find ourselves interceding well beyond our set times.
I will also urge that you foster this discipline corporately. Do not let the prayer meeting of your church die. Keep them going. Keep preaching on the need for it.
The Discipline of Study
No pastor can be a shepherd without extensive reading, study. I am not here to lecture you on the time and method of sermon preparation except to say, keep yourself glued to that chair or on your knees until you have understood the text grammatically, contextually, historically and doctrinally . Keep yourself glued to that chair until you have considered and worked out the principles applicable to your congregation. Keep yourself glued to that chair until you have worked out helpful illustrations, clear applications, and a gripping introduction.
Go beyond sermon preparation. The kind of knowledge you need as an ambassador of Christ and a teacher of truth goes beyond preparing homiletical outlines and reading commentaries. We must be reading what the church has said. We must be reading the greatest works of devotion. We must be reading church history. We must be reading biography. We must be reading theology. We must be reading practical, topical works. We must be reading on the ministry, and preaching and counselling. We must be reading to understand our culture and its various phenomena. That’s a lot of reading. It can only be done with planning, and organisation.
Shallow preachers are boring preachers. Don’t be boring, because truth is not boring. Being interesting means reading and studying and knowing more than your congregation does. Plan your study time. Protect your study time. Have a time when you don’t take phone calls. Make certain hours inviolable. If you work on your computer, settle it that you will not surf the web or check emails or flit from task to task. List books you want to get through in the next year.
The Discipline of Pastoral Nurture
I think pastors seem to come in two flavours – bookworms and outdoors types. Some like nothing more than to be locked in a study all day. Some like nothing more than to be out and about, mingling, visiting. If you are the second type, then this discipline will seem like second nature to you, and the discipline of study is probably harder. If you are the studious type, the temptation is going to be to be in your study all day and never be out there as a shepherd. Certainly shepherds feed, but shepherds also tend. They inspect the sheep individually. They clean them, bind up wounds, discipline. Pastors must apply the Word of God to the people of God, not only teach it. Making the phone calls, visiting the sick, getting into hospitals, having coffee with the men one on one, having Bible studies in your home, having one-on-one discipleship, having people over for lunch or dinner, spending much time after the services speaking to people and talking with them. If you are not this way, you must set up plans and structures to make this happen more often. Make sure you nurture the strong ones. How often we spend our time chasing down the unfaithful, the struggling the weak, assuming the so-and-so who comes to every service is just fine. Meanwhile, they may be wasting away spiritually. Jesus spent his time with twelve, not chasing down everyone on the periphery. Spend most of your time strengthening those who are committed. They will start shepherding others. Spend some time going after the weak and apathetic.
– David De Bruyn, Professor of Church History, Shepherds’ Seminary Africa