Our faithfulness to prayer is essential for the growth of the kingdom. But have we as believers become complacent in using this powerful tool?
Faithfulness in Prayer
When we meet for prayer it’s not just a formality for opening and closing a meeting, it should be an essential part of the meeting
“The church, the ministry, and the ministers are primary targets of the evil one. The minister along with the church must therefore watch with prayer. When the Lord Jesus Christ was addressing three of the ministers he would be sending into the world in Matthew 26:41 he said to them, “Watch and pray lest you fall into temptation.”
Topics & Timestamps
00:00 – Faithfulness in the ministry
05:29 – All christians must be involved in the gospel ministry
08:53 – The apostles devotion to prayer
13:28 – The reasons for prayer
20:00 – What devotion to prayer in ministry looks like
27:50 – Pray in private
34:12 – Responsibility of prayer amongst church elders
39:37 – Praying with the people of God
43:04 – Encouragement for ministers of the gospel
Top Quotes: Faithfulness in Prayer
“As ministers of the gospel we must believe in fidelity. For us it must be faithfulness to the wide ranging work that God has commanded us to do.”
“When we meet for prayer is not just a formality for opening and closing a meeting, it should be an essential part of the meeting.”
“Sometimes prayer must be the only thing on the agenda.”
Other Content On This Topic
Text: Acts 6:1-7
Date preached: 6 January 2021
Location: Grace Ministers Conference, Johannesburg, South Africa
Faithfulness In The Ministry
I would like to begin by thanking the grace ministers conference committee for inviting me to speak at this conference again. I recall that the first time I did so was way back in 2001 and I have since spoken again and attended the conference a few more times. And I count it an honour and a privilege that I should once again stand on this pulpit. And the subject that has been assigned to me this time around is faithfulness in the ministry. When we hear the word ‘faithfulness’ we often do so in connection with marital fidelity. For sure that is an accurate understanding of the biblical word usage but it does in fact have a broader application and we will be looking at it in the context of the ministry. Let us first read from Acts chapter 6 and then we will carry on in our reflection on this important subject. The first seven verses of our text this evening and particularly verse 4. “Now in those days when the number of the disciples was multiplying there arose a complaint against the hebrews by the hellenists because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said it is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables therefore brethren seek out from among you seven men of good reputation full of the holy spirit and wisdom whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word and the saying pleased the whole multitude and they chose Stephen a man full of faith and the holy spirit and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicholas a proselyte from Antioch whom they set before the apostles. And when they had prayed they laid hands on them. Then the word of God spread and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem and the great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.”
Let us pray. Father as we reflect on this important subject and on these scriptures and many others, we ask that your grace would be upon us to bless both preacher and listener to the glory of our saviour the Lord Jesus in whose name we pray. Amen.
The word faithful we find it used in 1 Corinthians 4:2 where the apostle says that God’s stewards must be found to be faithful stems from the greek word pistos. It means in the passive use of the verb, trusted or reliable. And in the active use it means steadfast or unwavering. I believe it was Robert Muller the man who was appointed to be the special counsel charged with the responsibility of looking into whether President Trump had colluded with Russia in the 2016 American presidential elections who said when highlighting his credentials and those of his team, and I quote, “For most of us fidelity is faithfulness to an obligation, trust or duty. for the men and women of the FBI fidelity also means fidelity to country. It means fidelity to justice and the law. Fidelity to the constitution. Fidelity to equality and liberty.” End of quote.
All Christians Must Be Involved In Gospel Ministry
Well, taking something of our cue from him, as ministers of the gospel we must believe in fidelity. And for us it must be fidelity, it must be faithfulness to the wide ranging work that God has commanded us to do. In this series of sermons on being faithful in the ministry or if you like, fidelity to the ministry, I wish to begin by pointing out that broadly speaking all believers, all christians must be involved in the gospel ministry. All christians are called to give of their gifts of their talents of their time of all their resources to advancing the cause of the gospel. In this sense all christians are ministers. But narrowly and technically speaking the gospel is the work of a gospel minister. And in these sermons I’ll be treating the gospel ministry in this narrower sense as it applies to those who are specially called to serve in the preaching and teaching ministry of the church.
It is therefore about ministerial faithfulness, the ministerial faithfulness of such men that we will be thinking over the next couple of days. Now in the bible and I know you know your bible you will have discovered that there are several examples of faithful ministers in 1 Timothy 1:12 we read about the Apostle Paul who was counted to be faithful. Timothy is also said to have been a faithful minister in 2 Timothy 2. Epaphras in Colossians 1:7. Onesimus in Colossians 4:9. And indeed Moses in hebrews 3:2. They were all faithful men. It wasn’t just these men who were expected to be faithful according to Paul. In 2 corinthians 4:2 Paul writes it is required in stewards that, one, be found faithful. Stewards and all ministers of the gospel are stewards and it is required of them to be faithful. To be faithful in general but for purposes of this conference we will explore that faithfulness in only three areas. Namely prayer, preaching, and caring.
The Apostles’ Devotion To Prayer
In this first session of course we will turn our attention to the theme ‘faithfulness in prayer’. And we will deal with it in the context of Acts 6:4. You will notice that the apostles there held out the high place and importance of prayer and the ministry of the word. And the context in which they do so must be clear to all. The church had just been formally inaugurated. It was early days for the church the number of disciples was growing through their ministry. In those days the apostles who were the only leaders of the church took care of both the mundane as well as the spiritual side of the ministry. This was obviously too much for them to cope with particularly in a growing work. Consequently some of the work began to suffer. More specifically a section of the church namely the Grecian Jews began to complain that their widows were being neglected in the daily ministration. There might have been other ways in which the apostles were falling short. Wisdom dictated that in order for them not to continue neglecting this part of the ministry in favour of the priority tasks such as prayer and the ministry of the word, that they should institute another office to which they could set apart another order of men. And so it was that they asked the church to look for seven men. These men were duly chosen brought to the apostles and set apart to the first diaconal office.
“As ministers of the gospel we must believe in fidelity. For us it must be faithfulness to the wide ranging work that God has commanded us to do.
They could then as apostles commit themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. And their devotion to prayer is our concern in this session. And as we reflect on this important activity I’d like us to answer a number of questions about it. What is prayer what is this to which they committed themselves continually? Well, the word translated ‘prayer’ could perhaps be more literally translated ‘prayers’ for it means worship. It more specifically refers to that aspect or those aspects of worship that call us to address God in a respectful manner. We do that when we pray in private, we do that in public prayer, we do that in various aspects of our worship engagement. The apostles wanted to commit themselves to that.
Secondly why was prayer such a necessary part of the ministry that they were willing to create another office so they could free themselves to doing this, to praying, and to engaging in the ministry of the word? Well, as we open up this point perhaps I should begin by quoting the words of our Lord in John 15:5 where he reminded his disciples that they were to abide in him. And then he goes on to say, “For without me you can do nothing. Without me you can do nothing.”
The Reasons For Prayer
This being the case the reason for prayer should be because of the following reasons. First the apostles could achieve nothing in the ministry in their own power. Ministers of the gospel today can achieve absolutely nothing in their own power. John Piper captures this reality in his book ‘Brothers We Are Not Professionals’ where he writes that the essence of the christian ministry is that its success is not within our reach. And if the success of the ministry is not within our reach ministers are therefore required to connect with a source of power. A source that would enable them to succeed. And this source, this source of power for the ministry is accessed through prayer. John piper refers to prayer and I quote, as the coupling of primary and secondary causes. The primary cause being God in whom lies an infinite store of grace and the secondary source being the minister who is dependent on that grace and through whom God works. Prayer connects the minister of the gospel to god.
Another reason is that the church, the ministry, and the ministers are primary targets of the evil one. The minister along with the church must therefore watch with prayer. When the Lord Jesus Christ was addressing three of the ministers he would be sending into the world in Matthew 26:44 he said to them, “Watch and pray lest you fall into temptation.” Paul warns the church and her leaders with her in Ephesians 6 that our fight is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers and forces in the dark places. We ought therefore to take our stand against the evil one. We ought to take our stand in the evil day. And the day of evil comes from time to time for both the minister of the gospel and the church. It may come in the form of wolves who are always ready to devour the flock according to Acts 20:29. Or it may come in the form of pathological antagonists who are always ready to devour the minister. Being watchful therefore is a crucial part of the christian’s experience. It is particularly important for ministers of the gospel.
The apostle peter wrote, and this is to all believers and especially for ministers, be sober, be vigilant because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. 1 Peter 5:8. The apostle Paul would give the same exhortation to the Colossians, “Continue steadfastly in prayer,” he says. “Be vigilant in it with thanksgiving.” The apostles would therefore seem to be teaching that the primary way to overcome Satan is on our knees. The simple weapon of prayer can demolish satan’s strongholds. Paul teaches in Ephesians 6 that when the day of evil comes there is nothing more important than putting on the whole armour of god. And not just the whole armour of God but doing it with prayer, with prayer, with all prayer. So if you would see the dangers around you as a minister which dangers you are often unaware of and if you would fend off the devil’s attacks, you must be much in prayer.
Another reason we must pray as ministers of the gospel is that it’s a command of God to all christians and especially to ministers of the gospel. In Luke 18:1 the Lord teaches the people of God to pray always and not to lose heart. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17 he urges the people of God to pray continuously, to pray always. It’s a command and not an option or extra.
What Devotion To Prayer In Ministry Looks Like
Which brings us to our third question what does devotion to prayer in the ministry look like? What does it look like? What does that faithfulness to prayer look like? Well, it takes several complexions. Let me speak about four in particular. Faithfulness in prayer calls us to commit ourselves to praying in private, to praying in private. The apostles no doubt engaged in the habit of secret prayer. Peter in Acts 10:9 is seen to have engaged in secret prayer. He went up on a rooftop and there he prayed and there God visited him and revealed something of his purpose for the church. Paul reveals in his letter how often he spent time in prayer, Ephesians 1:16. Even our Lord Jesus Christ spent a lot of time alone with god. The bible recalls that Jesus prayed at times throughout the day. In the morning, Mark 1:35. At noon and in the evening, mark 6:46. And all night Luke 6:12 alone with god. Even so ministers of all types, ministers today, you my dear friend if you are a minister of the gospel must spend time in secret prayer. In Matthew 6:5-6 the Lord Jesus Christ expected christians to pray not like the pharisees who were ostentatious about it but like those who had a personal relationship with their god. He says they must go into their room close the door and pray to the Father who sees what they do in secret. The Lord suggests that this is something we must do easily, eagerly, regularly and unostentatiously. Ministers must particularly do this.
David Murray who until recently was a professor at the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and I think he’s now gone into the pastoral ministry, he says there is no secret behind powerful preaching apart from secret prayer. The biggest mistakes preachers can make is to think that they can learn to pray powerfully from books, from seminars, from lectures on preaching. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was anyone attending this conference albeit virtually who thinks that through this conference they would be turned into prayer warriors. Murray says, “No.” Preaching to be powerful must be preceded by, accompanied with and followed by prayer.
So you must pray before you preach. Pray while you are preaching and pray after you have preached. Concerning praying before preaching Murray says the preacher must spend at least 30 minutes in prayer with his completed sermon. He should go over each section applying it to himself. If teaching a virtue he should pray for that virtue in his soul. If preaching on sin he should confess his own sin in that area. If teaching about the person of christ he should spend time praising christ directly for this aspect of his character or personality. He should pray for the right spirit and mana for each section of the sermon. Before preaching you must pray in private. Do you do that? During preaching you must pray that God will help you. That he would reveal to you even the things you didn’t see while you were preaching and that he would take those spears that you are intending to throw at people and make them effective, effectual to the hearts of your hearers. That you should also pray after preaching. Murray says the first thing a preacher should do when arriving home after preaching is to go apart and pray. Perhaps it will be a prayer of thanksgiving or confession. Maybe he will pray for humility or encouragement. He will certainly want to pray that the seed sown would be protected and watered and bring forth fruit. You must pray.
When we meet for prayer it’s not just a formality for opening and closing a meeting, it should be an essential part of the meeting.
Sometimes what we hope for when we are done with preaching is the applause of men, the praise of men. “That was a good sermon, that was a good sermon.” And that makes us feel great. When we are tempted to feel that perhaps what you should be praying for is humility. Or maybe you might have been preaching and while preaching it felt like you were a plane that could not take off and when you were done you felt that your sermon was a failure, you didn’t achieve what you had hoped to achieve. In times like that perhaps you need to pray for encouragement and faith that God would nonetheless use even an imperfect sermon such as yours. Pray in private.
Pray In Private
Sometimes praying in private may mean giving yourself to a protracted season of prayer, sometimes along with fasting. When did you last pray with fasting? And why must you pray in private sometimes with fasting over protracted periods of time?
Al Martin writes and I quote, to the habit and discipline of secret prayer as a discipline has multifaceted benefits, several benefits. What are they? One’s pardon and acceptance before God are sealed afresh to the heart when you pray. Your own sins are seen in their true light when you pray. You are provided with an opportunity to confess your own sins perhaps the sin of prayerlessness when you pray. Vital personal communion with christ is renewed and increased when you pray. Your own perspective on reality is kept in focus. And like the psalmist in psalm 73 who thought although he was a righteous man he was really wasting his time, that perhaps he should rather be like the wicked people who don’t know God who don’t care about God but who nonetheless appear like they were prospering and who continued feeling that way until he went into the temple, into the sanctuary to be precise and prayed. Then he began to see clearly he began to see the end of the unrighteous and he began to see how much he stood to gain to have God as his portion and to be in God’s presence. And how that forever, forever the tabernacle of God will become his, even him. We receive grace to overcome indwelling sin and we receive grace for the work at hand. Prayer makes our sermons real. Prayer makes God real, and sin real, and judgment real, and heaven real, and hell real, and eternity not just a distant intellectual prospect but a real one that we can live for and work for. You must therefore pray.
Unfortunately some of you don’t pray at all. There’s so much that stands in the way. Indwelling sin of course. When I would do good sin is right there with me, evil is right there with me. When I would pray, evil is pulling me in the other direction. So many of us lack discipline which comes often at a time when we have to compete to attend to other good things. Rather than pray you read. There are the demands of the ministry and instead of disciplining yourself to pray you rather do these other easier good things. Forgetfulness is another problem. You want to pray, you love to pray, you wish to pray, but so often you forget to do it. Not so you can go and do sin but so you can go and do other good things. You forget to pray. And then one of the major problems of our time, social media. Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, they receive our attention early in the morning when we just wake up we are on those media. They are calling for our attention and we always oblige in the meantime we are neglecting the most important means of success, victory in the ministry
Why are we being called to be faithful? Well, so that even when these temptations come we would overcome, we would not allow them to stand in the way. We would commit ourselves to overcoming these impediments and to adhere closely to prayer. We must pray in private.
Responsibility Of Prayer Amongst Church Elders
I need to hurry on and also mention that faithfulness in prayer also means praying in the context of the eldership, that’s what it looks like. This first eldership so to say in acts 6:4 stated its priorities in magnificently succinct terms. Verse 4, but we, note that word, we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. Note that first person plural pronoun, we. Prayer is not just for individual ministers they are for the group, the corporate body of elders. And when they meet prayer is not just a formality for opening and closing a meeting, it should be an essential part of the meeting. SatanIt should be on the agenda, it should be the special calling for all who are called to be leaders of God’s people. And during that time what is known as The Lord’s Prayer should inspire how that corporate body of God’s people, leaders among God’s people, must pray. The elders should worship the Lord together. The elders should pray for kingdom issues, that the kingdom of God would come. That the will of God would be done on earth as it is in heaven. The elders should petition God for the needs of the church both spiritual and physical. The elders should pray for the specific needs of the souls they are shepherding. The elders should seek the lord’s forgiveness for the sins of the church and for the sins of specific individuals in the church. The elders should pray for the lord’s protection against Satan and against sin. The elders should acknowledge the lordship of christ, the kingdom, the power, and the glory as belonging to him. The elders should do this. The elders must resist the temptation not to meet regularly for prayer or when they meet to spend time discussing trivial matters such as politics or sport. The elders must resist the temptation to allow the meeting to deteriorate into a debating club or a quarrelling club. They must discuss important kingdom issues at that meeting but they must also pray. Sometimes prayer must be the only thing on the agenda.
Sometimes prayer must be the only thing on the agenda.
What does faithfulness to prayer look like? Praying in private, praying in the elder’s court. But it must also be about praying for the church in the public gathering in a manner similar to the way the Lord Jesus Christ prays in john:17. Like a priest he prays for his disciples and his would-be disciples in a manner similar to the way a priest would pray for the tribes of israel whose names were all inscribed on his church. Even so the minister must pray for the church every Sunday. Every Sunday morning, every Sunday evening pray, pray for the church. Samuel Miller in his book on “Thoughts On Public Prayer” suggests that such prayer must abound in the bible, in the language of the bible. It must be seasonable and appropriate for the occasion. It must be dignified and general in its plan, comprehensive in its requests without descending into too much detail. It must be done with a humble filial affectionate and yet reverent spirit. It must have a desirable degree of variety. It must express hope, it must express faith, it must express the gospel, and it must be rich in doxology.
Praying With The People Of God
What must faithfulness in prayer look like? It must also consist in praying with the people of god, praying with the people of god. And in this regard we must note two things – praying with the people of God means praying with them in the prayer meeting. In my first pastorate 32 years ago in the North of Zambia small mining town called Mufulira I knew of a church and pastor where the pastor was never at the prayer meeting. Attending the prayer meeting was beneath his status and beneath his dignity and the members complained about it. Do members of your church perhaps complain about the fact that although you are the leader, you are never at the prayer meeting. Pray with them in the prayer meeting. In acts chapter 1:14 the apostles prayed along with some prominent women and along with a host of other disciples, 120 of them. The apostles were not ashamed to pray with the people. In acts:4 after pentecost they prayed with the people. Do you pray with the people? Pray with them in their homes.
In acts chapter 20 when Paul describes the ministry he had conducted among the people in Ephesus, how he didn’t just preach in the public squares but also went in their homes in their houses. He ministered to them in the word of God and in prayer. Prayed for them, he prayed for their needs. He prayed for fathers, he prayed for mothers, he prayed for children. For the difficulties they might have been going through, he prayed for them. And to be able to pray in their homes you must be in the habit of being in the homes of people among your flock. And when you are there don’t allow yourself to engage in frivolous talk. I’m not saying there’s no room for talking rugby and talking cricket and talking soccer, there’s a place for that. But when you have gone for pastoral reasons speak about their souls, how they are doing or how they are not doing, how they ought to be doing, and pray for them. Do you do that? You must do that.
Encouragement For Ministers Of The gospel
And this brings me to the conclusion, just a few points. The first being that we must therefore be faithful in prayer. If this is important you must give yourself to it and allow nothing to keep you from it. And faithfulness needs to be cultivated especially faithfulness in prayer. In my experience prayer is the most difficult thing I have to do as a minister of the gospel. I struggle the most there and I know many of you do. And we have to cultivate faithfulness we have to develop it continually throughout our lives. And sometimes we have to start small. The Lord says in Luke 16:10, “He who is faithful in a little thing is faithful also in much.” You start small and you grow and grow and you are able to do more. And one of these days the Lord will say to you, “Well done good and faithful servant. You’ve been faithful in a little, I’ll have you do much.”
The second thing I want to close with is to emphasise the supreme need of the church which is power. Power to live godly lives, power to preach, power to influence our societies, power to impact our societies. But where will that power come from? Yes, the preaching of God’s word has a place, gossiping the gospel has a place, but prayer must have a big place. The most pressing duty of the church is prayer because prayer brings power and surely the official representative of the church the minister must give himself to prayer. He must be a man of prayer. When the late Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones wife was asked what it was that stood out for her as she thought about her late husband and the one thing she mentioned was that he was preeminently a man of prayer. Can that be said of you by your own wife by your own church? Perhaps by your own friends? Pray. The power is there. Pray.
And in this regard we must take our cue from christ whose earthly ministry was rooted in prayer. We’ve already seen that he prayed morning noon and evening, he prayed all day and all night, and even in eternity. Hebrews 7:25 tells us that he forever lives to intercede for us. And even though the nature of his intercession might be somewhat different from what it was when he was here on earth, it does underline the fact that even for our glorified saviour prayer, the nature of that special and unique prayer is important. When the apostles give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word in Acts 6:7 we are told that the word of God spread and the number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith. Committing themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word produced that effect. How can you not pray if you are looking for that effect?
I want to end with some questions. Are you faithful? Are you faithful in prayer? Do your people trust you to pray? They gave you your job, they called you to be a minister, so you could among other things pray. Do you pray? When you promise to pray for your people, when you promise individuals that you’ll pray for them, do you pray? Do your people trust you to pray? Do you fulfil their trust?But if you don’t, if you don’t pray in private, you don’t pray in public, you don’t pray as an eldership, you don’t pray with your people, I urge you repent right now. If you have not made much of prayer as a minister of the gospel, repent. Commit yourself afresh to remaining and continuing faithfully not just in the ministry but in the ministry of prayer. And may God bless you abundantly for Jesus sake, amen.