The Power of a Praying Pew-sitter
A former pastor of mine liked to joke about church families getting home from church and having “pasta” for dinner. The double meaning, of course, was that church families would often criticize the preacher’s sermon afterwards over the dinner table. Now thankfully my experience in Box Hill has been overwhelmingly supportive when it comes to my preaching. I’m not making a passive-aggressive criticism here! You have been very kind, and any criticisms you have offered have been offered fully in love, and have been very helpful – thank you! Nevertheless, and speaking from my own heart experience prior to ordination, I found it all too easy to criticize the preacher. Even if I didn’t verbalise it, there would be times when my critical spirit would be unkind.
Now of course elders and teaching elders are fallen men with much sin remaining inside. We need look no further than the Apostle Peter in John 21 to see this! They will need correction, just as all Christians do, and there is certainly a time and a place for that (and, more than that, there will be multiple times!). Nevertheless, I want to suggest to you that, while it may be easy to criticize, the success and godliness of our pastors relies much upon… us! In part, their failures are dependent upon us as church members! And what I mean by that is that the prayers of the saints are extremely important. Let me open this up a little.
In Philippians 1:18b, the Apostle Paul says: “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honoured in my body, whether by life or by death.” Now think about this. In these verses, Paul has attributed so much to the prayers of the Philippian church! In his situation, he was imprisoned, and would soon face trial. And one of the key reasons that he was confident that he could face that trial in a God-honouring way was because of their prayers!
As I think about the way I prayed for my pastors in the past, this feels like a very personal rebuke that hits home to me. It was all too easy for me to think critically of my pastors and their sermons, and yet when I take this verse and ask myself: Did I pray for them? I must admit there is a significant degree of shame that rises up in my heart as I think about that! If I had taken time to pray instead of think critically of them in a bad way, it would have done me much good, it would have done my pastors much good, and – as a flow on effect – it would have done me even more good as God blessed the preaching of my pastors in response to prayer!
Now responding to the faults of others by praying for them is generally a good antidote to an overly critical spirit. If we are thinking critically of someone, and perhaps even with good reason, it would certainly be healthy for us to pause first and pray for that person. It is a great way to purge any sinful emotions that we may be allowing in our criticism! It will set our hearts in love toward them rather than a judgmental attitude.
But what’s more is that the success of gospel ministry actually relies much on the prayers of the saints. The prosperity of our work and even the godliness of our elders relies in a significant way upon your prayers as members. As a preacher, I know that something I have done in the past, and will continue to do in the future, is give you plenty of easy (and warranted) targets for criticism. When you see these things in me, and all of your elders and deacons, can I ask you to make it a matter of prayer first of all? Pray that the Lord would deliver us from dishonouring His name! And, weak though we are as your church leaders, we too will continue to pray for you as well! “That your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
Brothers and sisters, the success of the gospel in the Reformed Church of Box Hill needs much prayer – and prayer from all of us. We are in this together! We are called to serve one another, and one of the means by which we serve is through prayer for one another – and prayer for church leaders particularly.
I know many of you pray for us as elders, and pray for the ministry of the Word of God in our church – thank you! Please continue in prayer, persist! And let this also serve as an encouragement to all of us to continue and grow in prayer for the progress of the gospel. In this way, whether in life or death, we may take confidence that Christ will be honoured! Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria!