In Acts chapter 6, a dispute arose between the Hellenist and Hebrew Christians regarding the daily distribution to widows. The apostles handed over the responsibility for this task to seven chosen men. Why? So that they could devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). This is a key verse, I think, about ministry. Ministry is made up particularly and especially of two things: the word and prayer.
This has long struck me as being very significant, particularly when it comes to prayer. I spend many hours a week preparing my sermon, as I should. I study the passage of Scripture, usually in the original language, and pour over it with commentaries, making notes and thinking about meaning and application. There’s no easy way around sermon preparation – it takes hours. It probably takes me about 10 hours or so these days. Immediately after Bible College it was double that. So do I spend 20 hours, even 10, in prayer? If my ministry as a pastor is prayer and the word of God, should I not be giving a lot of time to prayer as well?
I have to admit, I don’t spend 10 hours a week in prayer. Maybe I should? It’s so easy to be an activist in ministry – there’s so much planning, admin, people to visit, blogs to write… Running around doing lots of ministry crowds out time to pray. But why not spend 10 hours a week in prayer?
In my first year in full-time paid ministry, before Bible College, I was involved in student ministry on campus at a university. I was responsible for looking after the medicine students. A friend a year ahead of me on the Ministry Training Strategy (MTS) was looking after students in the engineering faculty. But he sat me down, with a list of all the med students I was looking after (about 80), and prayed with me right through the list for each and every one of them. Very impressive.
Since then I have met with fellow ministers or congregation members to pray for an hour or so through the list of people in my parish. I have to admit that I find it very hard to do that on my own. It’s much easier praying with a friend. We take it in turns. We use a passage of scripture, say one of Paul’s prayers, and pray in general for each person – for their godliness, growth in Christ, etc. If we know them and their needs in more detail, then we pray more specifically for them as well. It’s still a long way off 10 hours, but it’s a small way in which I can fulfil my responsibility to be involved in the ministry of prayer, as well as the word.
If I can spend so much time in the ministry of the word, should I not spend much time in the ministry of prayer?