“I’ll pray for you.”

It seems like the right thing to say, doesn’t it? We’ve all been in those situations where a close friend or fellow church member shares about their financial stresses or marital problems. And not knowing what else to say, we politely let them know, “I’ll pray for you.”

But recently I’ve come to realize that merely letting someone know you’ll pray for them is a wasted opportunity. Sure, it’s not the worst thing you could say. But it’s also not the best. It actually rings quite hollow, considering that 21% of Americans who self-identify as religiously unaffiliated still claim to pray on a daily basis.

This begs the question, As disciples of Jesus, is it really a good idea for us to tell someone, “I’ll pray for you”?

To find an answer, we look to the apostle Paul. In just about every one of his letters, he tells those to whom he is writing about how he’s been constantly laboring in prayer for them. There’s not a whiff of glibness here. Paul doesn’t speak in religious platitudes. No, we’re talking full-fledged, detailed descriptions of the apostle’s prayers. In fact, there are times where he launches into a prayer for them in mid-paragraph. Here are just a few examples of what I’m talking about.

“And it is my prayer 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.” (Philippians 1:9-11)

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19)

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Colossians 1:9-10)

These passages, among several others, show us how Paul faithfully modeled the practice of encouraging the saints through Gospel-saturated, Christ-exalting prayer. We can do the same.

Next time God gives you an opportunity to minister to an afflicted or discouraged brother or sister, try saying something different. Here are a few suggestions.

“I’m committing to pray for you every day.”

Take a moment and set a reminder on your phone. Or add it to your prayer list. Be sure to let your despondent brother or sister see you do this. It will encourage them to know that you didn’t just walk away and mumble some quick, generic prayer; but rather you’re setting aside focused time to pray intently for their needs on a daily basis.

lightstock_143473_xsmall_user_914889“I’ve already been praying for you.”

Be sure to pray proactively for those with whom you are doing life. Don’t wait for them to request it. That way, when they do come to you requesting prayer, you can let them know that you’ve already been praying for them. It’s striking how Jesus, knowing that Peter would soon deny him, told him, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). Did you see that? “I have prayed…” That’s past tense. Our Lord knew the power of proactive prayer.

“Here’s what I’m praying for you…”

Again, Paul modeled this faithfully. He didn’t just say that he was praying for the churches; he talked about what he was praying for the churches. It’s important to be specific. Letting others know the content of your prayers can be a powerful source of encouragement and edification, granted your praying is being formed by what Scripture teaches about the patterns and priorities of effective prayer.

“Let’s stop and pray right now.”

Perhaps it’s best, whenever possible, to let others actually hear you praying for them. It may be uncomfortable, but it will be immensely fruitful. Let others listen in on your conversations with God. People who are struggling need to hear a praying voice that exudes hope, faith, and genuine concern for their spiritual growth. For this reason, I’m always bolstered in the faith when I hear my brothers and sisters pray on my behalf. It knits my heart together with theirs, and kindles the fires of worship in my heart.



I’ve been on staff at LifePoint for over three years now. And I’m slowly getting the hang of this whole “being a worship pastor” thing. And when I say that I’m getting the hang of it, I mean that I’m coming to grips with the fact that I have no idea what I’m doing.

lightstock_140004_xsmall_user_914889Yet the funny thing is, I came into full-time ministry with the impression that a lot of the pastors I’d known were doing it all wrong. And secretly, I thought I was going to do everything the right way—“Move out of the way, guys. Let me show you how it’s done.” (Hello misguided, youthful arrogance!)

But the longer I serve the local church, the more I come to treasure the wisdom of the seasoned pastors I’ve known. Learning from these men has been invaluable for me, even when I failed to realize it. As a result, I’ve begun to meditate often on the counsel I received from them—counsel I dismissed at worst, and didn’t yet understand at best. So allow me to share what was passed on to me—wisdom that can only be gained from years spent in the trenches of everyday pastoral ministry.

  1. “People are not your source; God is your source.” When my dad first articulated that he felt called to pastoral ministry, my grandfather—who is now deceased, but was a pastor himself for many years—took dad to lunch. He looked across the table and said these words to my father who was just a teenager at the time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard my dad fondly recount that story. When you’re young and your parents tell the same stories you’ve heard a million times, you tend to think, “Yeah, yeah, we know that one, dad. We’ve heard it before.” But, now that I’m a little older, I’m glad my dad told me that story so many times; because, when I’m tempted to place impossible-to-bear burdens on my team, I can hear those words ringing in my head. They remind me that people make really lousy saviors. When my heart is in tune with that reality, I can simply enjoy the people I lead for who they are in Christ instead of sinfully using them to assuage my fear of inconsequentiality. The leader who holds fast to the true Source of life loves others well.
  2. “Always lead from overflow.” My wife’s grandfather just retired after thirty years of pastoring. A few years before he retired, I asked him what advice he would give to a young guy aspiring to ministry. Without any hesitation, he said these four words. In response, I thought, “Okay, that seems like good advice.” But now I know it isn’t just “good” advice; it’s life-or-death advice. It’s the difference between joyfully persevering in ministry and being crushed by the pressures of ministry. Pastoral leaders ought to be worshiping God regularly in private long before they lead in public. Faithful ministry stems from the reality that God is powerfully at work in the ruthlessly prayerful, Bible-devouring lives we live behind closed doors. If that isn’t true of us, we are doomed to fail; for “Apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5).
  3. “Your biggest challenge will be learning to lead from your character, not your gifting.” This was my pastor’s warning to me when I signed on to be the worship leader at LifePoint. And when he said it, I had no idea what he meant by it. But as years have gone by, I’ve realized just how profound it is. Too often, we assume that those with charisma and skill are the ones in the church who are fit to lead. So we put the talented people up front without giving any consideration to the patterns of their life. And then we’re shocked when their character fails. But the truth is, we should’ve understood all along that without godly character, a person’s gifting is not an asset; it’s a liability. For better or worse, the trajectory of a man’s leadership will always be determined by the quality of his heart; and his poor character is tragically fortified as he places more and more confidence in his own ability. On the other hand, charisma and talent are used by God to bear Gospel fruit when stewarded from personal holiness, ministerial integrity, and devotion to Jesus. Natural ability and Christlike character, when combined, create effective pastoral competency.

So there you have it, priceless words of counsel from seasoned pastors that have made all the difference in my life. I keep coming back to their wisdom to fan into flame the gift of God that is in me (2 Tim. 1:6). And every time I do, I become more and more grateful to God that my generation of church leaders is standing on the shoulders of giants such as these.