The safety of a tightrope walker depends on tension. The wire or rope must be taut to provide stability. Musical instruments also employ tension. A violin’s strings are pulled tight enough to play, but not so stretched that they snap.
Tension is not limited to tightropes and violins. Life is all about tension. Growth and decay. Light and dark. We see it in our spiritual lives, too. The balance of free will and God’s sovereignty. Stewardship and sacrifice. Prayer and preparation.
Prayer? Yes, even in prayer.
Of all people, those in ministry understand the importance of prayer. But for what are we praying? And how do we know when it’s time for prayer to give way to action?
If we’re honest, our prayers often center on requests for God’s favor upon our plans, such as healthy attendance, increased giving, willing volunteers, and provision of resources. While these are not bad things to seek, they all have one thing in common. They presume that our plans are God’s plans. But what if they’re not?
One way to learn if our plans are different from God’s is by changing the way we pray. Consider what would happen if we prayed for:
God to be Glorified
Everything we do, we do in Jesus’ name (Colossians 3:17) and for his glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). This includes our personal plans and those of our ministry. It’s not about us. It’s not even about our members or those to whom we are reaching out. It’s about bringing glory to the One who created us, saves us, and sustains us.
Are we intentional about praying for his glory first and foremost?
Our Own Spiritual Growth
Even though our ministry is not about us, we’re still part of the process. If we’re not growing spiritually, we won’t be effective in our ministries. It may sound selfish, but it’s not. We should pray for ourselves. Whatever our plans and preparations, we need the gift of faith (Romans 12:3) to see beyond our own limitations to what God intends to do in and through us.
Do we ask the Lord to fill our spiritual wells with faith and creativity, as we grow in our dependence on him
The Spiritual Growth of Our Members
Of course we want our plans and preparations to expand God’s kingdom on earth. However, while our target audience may be the unbelieving community, our plans will either encourage our members to grow or be a stumbling block to them.
Will we ask the Lord to show us how to encourage the spiritual growth of our members in a way that stretches their faith?
Wisdom and Discernment
As we research our plans, we gather an abundance of facts. But information isn’t enough. Wisdom is the application of knowledge, and is one of the few things God tells us to specifically request (James 1:5). Satan is a supreme counterfeiter (2 Corinthians 11:14; 2 Thessalonians 2:9) and often shows us what we want to see rather than what we need to see.
Are we seeking the Holy Spirit’s discernment to determine whether our intentions are built on godly grounds or fraudulent foundations?
We belong to El Olam, the Eternal God. Although he created time, he is not bound by it. That’s sometimes difficult to remember because we are finite beings who are bound by time. We’re sensitive to its passage, especially when we’re in the middle of a project. But God is sovereign and his timing is perfect. He often uses times of waiting to refine us and remind us of our dependence on him.
Will we choose to pray during these waiting-room sojourns, trusting God for his perfect timing?
There’s nothing wrong with praying for the success of our plans. But something is terribly wrong if that’s our only focus. Our heavenly Father is continually working to conform us and our members to the image of his Son. If we want to resemble Jesus, we must share his priorities.
Finally, at some point, we need to come up off our knees and act. When ancient Israel attacked Ai after a rousing victory over Jericho, they were soundly defeated. Joshua and the elders prayed for direction. God answered Joshua and then told him to get up and act (Joshua 7:13). The time for prayer gave way to a time for action.
Of course, we never really stop praying. The apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to pray without ceasing. But there are times when prayer is both our spiritual and physical posture and other times when we pray and act simultaneously.
Prayer and preparation work together to form a positive tension in our lives and in our ministries. Prayer is not merely a step in the process, it is a heart attitude integrated with every plan and every preparation.
Someone once wrote this advice to Nancy Leigh DeMoss, founder of Revive Our Hearts Ministries:
“Don’t let your ministry go stale. Don’t let it become a program or a formula. Realize it is always Christ who is the answer and the need of women and men alike. Take people to Christ. See every program, every page of every book, every interview, every conversation as an opportunity to lead people into his presence, for that is what we need. The evaluation of everything in your ministry should be, ‘Was God there? Did people encounter the God of the Universe?’"
If we want others to encounter the God of the universe, then regardless of our plans and preparations, it is imperative we encounter him ourselves. Only then will our service truly honor the One we seek to serve.
Ava Pennington teaches a Bible Study Fellowship class. She is also the author of Daily Reflections on the Names of God: A Devotional, published by Revell Books and endorsed by Kay Arthur.
Publication date: June 9, 2014