We like to think we can manage don’t we. We like to think we can cope. We develop management strategies for logistical and personnel problems. We buy more commentaries or listen to sermons online when we are struggling to work out what a passage means or how to preach it. We turn to strategies and next steps in pastoral counselling meetings, having done diligent research and study. All the time we’re searching for the silver bullet, the thing that lets me do it.
But what if what we really needed was to be radically dependent on God. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been in the trench warfare of preparing for a Sunday and I’ve been trying everything, until finally I sink to my knees and pray. I don’t say that proudly, but with a sense of shame and embarrassment. It’s not that I haven’t been praying all the way through my preparation, I have but it’s too often pray based on the assumption that God will bless my work. When what I really need is to ask my Father to open his word to me, to clear through the mysteries of people’s hearts and minds and speak by his Spirit. When you put it like that how dare we think we are up to that task, that a few commentaries or a borrowed sermon outline will do what alone is a work of God.
I’m increasingly being reminded that that is my job as I shepherd people. In any and every situation the greatest thing I can do with people is pray with and for them and get them praying for themselves and one another and with one another. God alone can loose the shackles of sinful desires from a heart. God alone can unlock the chains of anger and rage that are twisting inside someone and come raging out and bring lasting heart change. God alone can repair a marriage as he brings a fresh awareness of his grace crashing over the couple like a wave. God alone can save the lost and recalcitrant, and every other, teenager.
That’s not saying all we do is prayer. But it ought not to be the last thing we do. It ought to be the foundation on which everything else is built. In our ministry and in our families.