7 Thoughts from a Stressed Out Leader for a More Effective Prayer Life

By | Church, Leadership, Prayer | 7 Comments

Hezekiah ruled over Judah and was a good and faithful king.

Hezekiah often became the target of warring nations. The king of Assyria, which was a much more powerful nation, made plans to overthrow Hezekiah’s kingdom. Throughout the stressful time in leadership, Hezekiah consistently used the same battle plan.

He went before the Lord in prayer — and — he followed the Lord’s commands.

Hezekiah relied on prayer to rule his life. This king knew how to pray and he prayed in a way that got results.

At one point, the Assyrian king launched a huge smear campaign against Hezekiah with his own people. It scared Hezekiah’s people.

Hezekiah heard about the threat and went before the Lord. God assured Hezekiah everything would be okay, but the Assyrians wouldn’t let up their verbal assaults. They kept taunting the kingdom of Hezekiah, throwing threats towards Hezekiah. Finally, they sent a letter by messenger to Hezekiah, which basically said, “The Assyrians are tough and they are coming for you next.”

It was a credible, realistic threat. In a practical sense, Hezekiah had reason to be afraid.

What do you do when you are backed into a corner as a leader and you’re about to face something bigger than your ability to handle?

Well, Hezekiah received the letter with all the threats and began to pray.

We find this account in 2 Kings 19:14-19

What can we learn from listening in as Hezekiah prayed?

Here are 7 Thoughts for More Effective Prayer from a Stressed Out Leader Named Hezekiah:

Hezekiah got alone with God. There is corporate prayer like we do at church, and there is prayer where a few are gathered, but probably some of the most effective prayer time of your life will be the time you invest alone with God.

Hezekiah’s prayer was immediate. His prayer wasn’t an after thought. It was prior to making his plans. We are so geared to react as leaders that it’s hard for us to go first to God. He may be second or third or when we are backed into a corner and have no choice, but we need to develop a discipline and habit to make God the first place we turn in our lives. Like Hezekiah.

Hezekiah’s prayer was open and honest. Hezekiah was transparent before the Lord. I love the imagery here in this prayer story of Hezekiah. He took the letter, went to the house of the Lord, and spread it out before Him. I get this visual image of Hezekiah, and this letter — laying it there on the table, and saying, “Okay, God, what now? What do I do next? What’s my first move?”

Are you in a tough spot right now? You may just need to get you some note cards — write down all the things you are struggling with — lay them out on a table and say, “Okay God, here are my struggles. I can’t do anything about them. What now?”

Writing your prayer requests before God is a great idea for 2 reasons.

a. It helps you remember to pray for them.

b. It helps you to watch as God answers. We get more answers than we realize if we only ask.

Hezekiah’s prayer was honoring, humble and respectful of who God is. Hezekiah knew his place as king — and he knew God’s place in the Kingdom. Hezekiah was king of a nation and that is an important job, yet Hezekiah willingly humbled himself in prayer, because he knew his place before the King of kings.

Hezekiah’s prayer was bold. He said, “Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD…” Hezekiah had the kind of relationship with God where it wasn’t a surprise when Hezekiah showed up to pray. They talked frequently; probably throughout the day. Because of that relationship, Hezekiah didn’t wonder if God would be there when he came before Him. He knew he could ask God to act on his behalf.

The more you grow in your relationship with God, the bolder your prayers can become, because the more your heart will begin to line up with God’s heart.

Hezekiah’s prayer was dependent. In verses 17-18 he prays, “It is true, O LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands.” Hezekiah knew he was out of his league facing the Assyrians. From the way I see that Hezekiah responded to life, however, I don’t think it mattered the size of the battle. Hezekiah was going to depend on God. Every time. In every situation.

Hezekiah’s prayer was certain. Because it was based on his personal faith and trust in God. In verse 19, Hezekiah prayed, “Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.”

Hezekiah had a faith in God that allowed him to pray with confidence. You need to understand that faith is always based on the promises of God. Some things God has promised to do — and some He hasn’t. God has promised to always get glory for Himself and always work things for an ultimate good. He hasn’t promised to rid everyone of cancer or to heal every bad relationship. Or settle every leadership issue we face.

(That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray for everything. We don’t know His will, but we can’t guarantee God to do that which He hasn’t promised to do.) Sometimes we get upset because God doesn’t do something we asked or wanted Him to do but the fact is He had never promised to do it.

Hezekiah knew God had promised to save His people. He knew God had placed him in the position of authority over them. He had confidence that God would do what He had promised to do. Hezekiah trusted God to be faithful to His word so he was willing to act in faith.

What situations are you dealing with today that you know you are helpless to do on your own and you desperately desire God’s answer?

Are you a stressed out leader?

Get alone with God, spread your problems out before Him honestly, humbly, and boldly; then, allow His will to be done, as you wait for His response.

2 Simple Prayers That Greatly Changed My Life

By | Encouragement, God, Prayer | 6 Comments

Over 25 years ago, I took a month to read through the book of Jeremiah. Two verses stood out to me then that have continued to produce spiritual growth in my life.

The two verses are:

Jeremiah 24:7

I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.

I realized that God had promised the people they could have a heart to know Him. Therefore, the God who never changes has also promised me I can have a heart to know Him, not just know about Him, but really get to know Him personally. I began praying that God would give me that kind of heart.

A few days later, I read this verse:

Jeremiah 32:39

I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them.

God also promised His people that not only could they know Him intimately, but also He would help them carry out that heart in the things they did. They wouldn’t simply believe a truth; they would actually begin to live truth. Again, I realized God would do the same for me. I began praying that God would give me “singleness of heart and action.”

Praying the truths of these two verses became a pattern for my life over the next year. Looking back, I can see how God did just as He promised. I continue to make mistakes (lots of them) and I consistently need to go back to these principles, but God truly has given me a heart that desires to know him and more and more I am beginning to see myself live out the truth I believe.

What verses have worked that way in your heart? Do you need to pray God would work these verses for truth in your life?

How My Personal Prayer Team Is Structured

By | Christians, Church, Prayer | No Comments

I once tweeted, “Meeting with my personal prayer team. I’m confident I’ve underestimated their influence in my ministry. Every pastor should have one.”

Following that tweet, I received numerous replies asking me questions about the specifics of who this group is, what they do, how often we meet. I didn’t realize how unusual this was, but have since shared this concept on podcasts, at conferences, and with other pastors.

The idea really started many years ago when I was a layperson. A group of my prayer partners formed our own pastoral prayer team. We would pray during the church services and make appointments with church staff members to pray for them. It was a great marker in my spiritual growth and it seemed to be valued by the ministers.

When I became a pastor myself, knowing the importance of prayer, I decided to be intentional in soliciting people to pray for the church and my ministry. I have done this various ways. I’ve emailed individuals and groups with specific prayer requests. I’ve had Sunday morning meetings before church and recruited a few people to pray during each service. I’ve had a few men that I met with in accountability/prayer groups.

In the past decade or so I started something new. It’s become my preferred model, simply because it’s intentional, it’s highly functional with my schedule, and I’ve seen the results of prayer working in my ministry.

Here is my current prayer team approach:

I personally recruit people in the church who meet with me regularly. The size of the group has varied. My goal would be for this group to never be larger than 10 or so, simply so we can function well as a group when we meet. Much larger and we would lose the intimacy of the group we have now. I have never had fewer than three people.

We don’t really meet in person a lot. The most would be a few times a year and then only as my schedule allows. My assistant sets these meetings up for me at my request.

My part of the meetings last less than 1 hour. I think it’s important I not make this a burden in my schedule. That sounds harsh, and like I don’t value prayer, but it’s really a matter of purpose for this group. This group prays. They don’t “meet”. They only meet so they can better pray. I think that’s critical to the process.

Most of the time we correspond by email. I try to email them every 6 weeks to 2 months, just updating them on things for which they can be praying.

  • Issues we are dealing with as a church
  • Staff issues (Sometimes I share names and specifics. Sometimes generalities)
  • Personal issues, especially those which directly impact the church.

In regards to the church, some items are general and some specific, but I rarely use names when talking about church matters. As confidential as this group is I still think that would be unfair. This group is not as much about individual prayer needs within the church. We have a separate prayer teams in the church for those needs. This group is my personal prayer support group, so items within the church are more centered towards things I personally lead, opportunities or initiatives I feel God is guiding us towards, or personal issues of concern I have within the church, my family or with me.

I try to give them enough detail with each item on the list and I always allow them to ask me questions about anything. I want them to have the tools to pray.

You may be wondering who is on my prayer team.

  • People I have personally recruited. This is huge. This team can’t be one necessarily voted on by the church. These are people I have selected.
  • People I can trust to hold a confidence. This is of utmost importance. (I’ve never had a “leak” from this process.)
  • People I believe are fervent in prayer, and they would be doing so whether I asked them to or not.
  • People who are humble, not looking for any spotlight or attention. I may introduce them to people as a part of my prayer team, but I never announce who is on the team publicly.
  • People I would go to personally to request prayer aside from this group (You probably could name those people in your church now)

I have found that often these people are not on any other team or committee in the church. They may or may not be eloquent of speech. Some are. Some are not. They are simply people of prayer – and that is what I am looking for in this group.

This is not a committee or team where members rotate on or off after a term of service. These are prayer warriors. As long as they are willing to serve, and are functioning within the request of confidentiality they remain in the group.

What’s the benefit?

Do you have to ask?

There have been so many times I put out a prayer request to this group and within a matter of time I see the fruit of their prayers.

One example:

Months before God began stirring my heart towards a change in ministry assignment, I had asked my group to pray for our staff. I knew several were receiving requests to consider other positions. I asked them to pray for our staff to be wise and discerning of God’s direction in our lives. I didn’t know at the time that I would be the one God would deal with next. It was out of my realm of possibilities to take another church at that time, but this group was already praying for the possibility. I’m convinced their prayers aided in making my transition process so incredibly smooth. We may not have been as successful as we have been without these prayers.

I’m reminded God still answers the prayers of His people.

You don’t have to do it my way, but if you’re a pastor you need people you can trust praying for you in every area of your life. Yes, you need your entire church praying for you. I’m for more corporate prayer. I believe, however, you need a smaller group around you to share more personal requests. When we look at the model of Jesus, He seemed to have a prayer support structure within the disciples, even calling a few of them frequently away from the 12 to meet with him in more private settings.

5 Tips for Amateur Prayers

By | Christians, God, Prayer | 3 Comments

Lord, teach us to pray… (Luke 11:1)

I don’t know about you, but I often feel like the disciples. I am still learning to pray. The fact is I have more knowledge of prayer than I have substance and practice of prayer.

Just being honest. But, I do have some suggestions.

Here are 5 suggestions for amateur prayers – like me:

Be respectful

You’re talking to the Creator, God. He is worthy of all our praise. He’s the Holy Father. He puts stars in the sky. At the same time, He paints the belly of a Lady Bug. Never take for granted the privilege of prayer.

Be yourself

Along with being respectful, it is important to be who you are. Don’t attempt to make your words pretty as much as you attempt to make your heart pure. Just as you want your children to be respectful, yet still be themselves, I am convinced God wants that for His children. We are told to call Him “Daddy” (Abba). He wants us to fall in the comfy chair of home in His presence.

Be honest

God knows already, yet He loves to hear His children talk – just like we do as parents. He wants to know what’s on our mind. We can tell Him if we are angry and still be respectful. Speak truthful when talking to God.

Be open to His voice

Spend intentional time listening – with your Bible open. God most often speaks through the already written Word. But He also speaks through the still small voice like the gentle breeze. Over time, and with lots of practice, you’ll begin to know and hear His voice.

Be consistent

Pray as much as you want and need God’s involvement in your life. How much is that? For me, it’s fairly constant. I pray far less than the need I have for Him. Have a daily routine. Start a prayer list. Do it daily – but mostly, do it as a part of lifestyle more than a part of routine. Prayer is part of a relationship.

And He’s always with you, so take advantage of the closeness you can have through Christ. If you’re sitting at a stop light – pray. If you think of a friend – pray. If you begin to worry – pray. It can be a paragraph, sentence or a couple words. (I’ve prayed “Help me God!” many times.)

Don’t overcomplicate it. Just pray. Talk to God. What a privilege I can encourage you in this way. (Hebrews 4:16)

Of course, all this begins with a belief in Christ as your Savior. This is what makes you His child – a family member. Prayer is ultimately part of a relationship. If you’ve never believed in the One whom lived, died and rose again three days later – begin there. He loves you – just as you are now – and wants you to know Him!

3 Suggestions for When God Tries to Speak to You

By | Christians, God, Prayer | 21 Comments

So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if He calls you, say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 1 Samuel 3:9

Has God been trying to get your attention lately? Is God trying to tell you something? Are you having a hard time hearing?

Samuel was in training to be a prophet. He was set apart from birth to be God’s anointed one. God had something to tell Samuel, but Samuel couldn’t recognize the voice of God.

Eli told Samuel to lie down and simply say, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

You and I live in an often crowded and busy world. There are lots of “voices”. I can’t remember the last time I had a day with nothing to do. My home is quieter than it once was when two boys kept the hallway filled with the sounds of football, basketball, and any other sport Mom would let them get away with in the house, but there’s still plenty of noise and activity. My calendar is fuller than ever.

Often, I find myself surrounded by the “stuff” of life. The idea of hearing from God in the midst of all this clutter seems nearly impossible. Yet, I know my very existence hangs on my God relationship. I need a word from my Father!

How about you?

Perhaps you too would love to hear from God, but your life is too thick for His word to filter through.

I love the advice of Samuel’s mentor – Eli. I believe his instructions could be helpful for us.

Here are 3 ways Eli encouraged Samuel to hear from God:

He told Samuel to be still.

Samuel laid down, in the stillness of the night, and waited for God to speak. Many times we can’t hear from God because we are – frankly – too busy. God tends to speak with a quiet whisper to listening, trusting ears. “Let them who have ears hear” – Jesus might say.

Consider your past week – when would you have had time to hear from God had He tries to speak in a whisper?

He encouraged Samuel to listen expectantly.

Samuel left Eli knowing he was waiting – and he knew Whom he was waiting for. He wasn’t surprised when God spoke, because he was anxiously awaiting His voice. I think many times we would be surprised should God choose to speak. We almost don’t expect Him to anymore.

Ask yourself – have you given up your belief God can, should He choose, answer your request? Are you praying in faith?

Perhaps most important, Eli mentored Samuel to obey God’s word.

It is one thing to hear from God, and quite another to do something about it. When God speaks to you – this is a monumental event! It is important to obey. I often wonder if God speaks most to those He knows will do as He asks.

Be honest, are you living in obedience to God today – as much as you know how? Should God ask you to do something contrary to what you want to do – are you in a season where you would obey?

God may be trying to speak to you at this point in your life. In fact, if you are a believer, I’d be surprised if He’s not. My question for you – are you in a position to hear?

Stop, wait, listen – and obey the word of God today!

10 Prayers for Great Parenting

By | Children, Christians, Family, Parenting, Prayer | 4 Comments

Dear Lord, 

Help me not to overwhelm my children with unrealistic expectations. 

Remind me discipline is for their good – and to always administer it in love – not in anger or purely emotion.

Keep me from dumping my adult problems on them, while helping me be transparent enough for them to learn from my mistakes. 

Help me to remember my children’s current age – and respond to them accordingly.

Grant me teachable moments and prompt me to use them to impart uncompromising truth into their life. 

Allow me to see my children as the individuals you created them to be and help me encourage them to thrive in your purpose for their life.

Let them see our home as a safe, fun, welcoming environment. 

Continually remind me time paces quickly and to embrace and enjoy each season. 

Keep building my character so my children have a model to follow. 

Above all – let my children know and experience unconditional love.

In Jesus name,

Amen