Last Father’s Day I received a gift from my wife and children more precious than I can describe. Without my knowledge, they had repurposed some wood from my late father’s workshop and built a kneeling bench, or prie-dieu, for my study at home. As one of my church members remarked, now I can pray the Our Father while kneeling on the wood which my earthly father had labored over.
Every morning, that kneeling bench is there, waiting for me. And I need that. Like you, I get too wrapped up in doing, organizing, planning and controlling. When that happens, I am called back to prayer, and reminded that the quality of my service will never rise above the quality of my connection to the Divine One.
As I reflect on it, my entire pastoral ministry was born in prayer. Years ago, I preached a revival meeting in a tiny church outside of Warrensburg, Mo., where my late grandmother had been active. To my astonishment, I was told by members of her Sunday school class that she had kept my name in front of them and I had been prayed for regularly throughout the years.
Perhaps that rich prayer heritage is why I have carried out a ministry of prayer for church members through the years. It’s a simple, rolling alphabetical prayer schedule. For example, during this month of November, I am praying for members whose last names begin with C. In late October, these people received an email notice that this was “their month.” If they had special prayer concerns, they were invited to contact me. Over 12 months, I am able to cover my entire congregation in prayer, A to Z. In January, I start over. I actually hit upon this idea many years ago, when a non-active member grumbled that the only time he ever heard from his church was when they wanted money. I decided to change that. I want every member to hear from their pastor — at least once per year — “How may I pray for you?”
Because of this alphabet membership prayer, many private and meaningful requests have come to me. It’s one way for me to stay connected to a large membership. And this vital, scriptural ministry has zero budget impact. I like to think of this as one of the primary ways I carry out my priestly calling to care for the flock. I love the image created in Exodus 28:29: “So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel … on his heart when he goes into the holy place ….” As I kneel to pray for my people, I bear their names in my heart. Pastoring doesn’t get more personal — or any better — than this.
Since All Saints Day was just a few days ago, I’ve been thinking. Throughout my lifetime, I’ve certainly been influenced mightily by Baptist prayer warriors. But one of my favorite prayer heroes is Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu. When I read his biography by John Allen, I was stunned to learn how disciplined Tutu is in his prayer life, and how many hours he devotes each day to this spiritual practice. In fact, when his daughter was asked to name the one thing about Tutu which she most admired, she replied that it was his prayer life. I’m sure everyone expected her to point to his courageous social justice work or his prophetic witness. But she was wise enough to know that tall trees have deep roots.
Our local interfaith alliance once met with local Muslims to learn more about their faith. As they explained their five times of daily prayer, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What would happen if Christians stopped what we were doing and prayed five times a day?” How might our world be different if we were as intentional about prayer as we are about some of our hobbies? Of course, prayer is not a “clergy only” operation. We are all priests. We are all called to ministries of intercession.
I have never forgotten a pearl of wisdom I picked up from an evangelist. He said the one question we should always ask one another is, “Have you prayed about it?” Humorously, he reported the “deer in the headlights” look he gets from embarrassed believers who are asked this question. They have done everything except pray. We plan. We fret. We wring our hands. We argue. We shout. We fear. We hate. We offer pieces of our mind. But have we prayed about it?
My kneeling bench keeps beckoning.