Before coming to Calvary seven years ago, I served as a youth pastor for many years. I believed in the power of prayer, no question. I believed that in ministry we need the power of God to move in the hearts of people in order to see lives truly transformed for His glory. But I can tell you, it wasn’t until God called me to Calvary to be part of seeing new churches planted and dying churches replanted that I became desperate for God in prayer. For a while in ministry, you might be able to lean on your own gifting and passion and zeal. But when you’re looking at a situation where God has to show up in power or “this isn’t going to go,” you don’t understand how deep your need for prayer really is. The Lord has continued to make me see and feel my need for surrendered, desperate, persistent prayer. This is His grace at work. I’m convinced more than ever that persistent prayer has been and always will be the most important discipline and practice for the biblical pastor.
Several years ago, a friend introduced me to a book by an old Methodist-Episcopal pastor named E.M. Bounds. He wrote a book in 1913 called Power through Prayer. This was a profound book for me as I hadn’t before read a book that was so zealous for prayer in the life of every believer. The implications of Bound’s book were massive, not only for my life with God, but for my ministry. There’s a particular paragraph from the book that has stuck with me for years. I come back to this short paragraph regularly to be reminded and convicted of my deep need for persistent prayer. Bounds says:
“What the Church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use – men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men – men of prayer.”
When I first read this paragraph I thought, “God, make me that kind of man. Make me the kind of pastor that’s on fire for you and your purposes by your Holy Spirit, because of prayer. Make me prayerfully dependent on you in all things.” I became convinced that this kind of prayer is needed in every church. If God is going to move, if God is going to bring the spiritually dead back to life, if God is going to breathe life and zeal into towns and communities through his Church, then we need men that are going to fall on their face in prayer. But here’s the thing, it’s not only that pastors must be men of prayer, but priority #1 must be that they lead churches where prayer is central. Churches made up of praying people.
I often think of a story that I heard years ago about Charles Spurgeon. There was a group of American pastors who went over to London because they had heard of the great Spurgeon. They heard about this Baptist preacher; how his church was blowing up; and how they were reaching thousands upon thousands of lost people with the Gospel. So this group of American pastors are over there asking, “What’s the secret? We’ve got to see this for ourselves.” They visit Spurgeon and his church. Spurgeon takes them for a walk through the church building. It’s a Sunday morning, the time of morning when worship is going on. Folks are singing in the sanctuary. He takes these pastors into the depths of the church building … into the boiler room. Spurgeon opens the door and all of a sudden, in front of them is a group of four hundred people on their knees praying; Praying for the service, praying that God would move in power, praying for Spurgeon as a preacher. Spurgeon then looks as this group of men and says, “There, gentlemen, there is the secret for God’s blessing His work here.”
I remember hearing that story and thinking, “Our church must have prayer like that because we need God to move like that!” It is through prayer that the power of God moves in and transforms the hearts of people. For this reason, one of the first things that we must prioritize in our lives and in our churches is this kind of devoted, dependent, persistent prayer.
Now, what this kind of prayer looks like may be different from pastor to pastor and church to church. However, whatever it may look like practically, it is critical that this kind of prayer is not only a priority but a joy for congregations and its leaders. Over the next several posts we will be exploring some of the specific ways we can practice persistent prayer in our lives and ministries.
 E.M. Bounds, Power through Prayer, Trinity Press (July 6, 2012)