My region was rocked by an ice storm last Wednesday. The aftermath was catastrophic, like something out of a war movie. Entire trees came down, some on roadways, some on houses, some on cars. Fallen branches were everywhere, taking with them power lines.
My home lost power about five in the morning. We were among the 700,000 PECO customers that had their electricity cut off. Mine came on at noon the next day, but five days later, many were still without heat with nighttime temperatures in the teens and daytime highs below freezing.
Homes were not the only victims. Businesses, schools and public buildings languished in the cold and dark. Traffic signals were out. Navigating the roads proved a nightmare.
Without electricity, the region struggled to function, at many points grinding to a halt. With no power the darkness closed in. Life interrupted! Unable to watch television or read, many people curled under the covers for bed by eight o’clock, praying for morning light and the hope of a new day.
No power meant bitter cold, especially with temperatures so low. With businesses, schools and public buildings in the same boat there was no escape, no place of refuge. The whole thing had an apocalyptic feel about it. We can better grasp Jesus’ words in Mark 13:18 about the tribulation, “Pray that it may not happen in winter.”
A Parable of Power
Through this ice storm, God showed us dramatically what it was like to have no power. Motivation ebbs. Moods darken. A sense of paralysis takes hold.
The storm’s impact served as a parable of power. When the power grid of prayer goes down, the effect on the church is ruinous. When the church does not function as the house of prayer of Christ’s calling, effectiveness dwindles. Energy is sapped. Weariness sets in. Enthusiasm flickers.
Prayer connects us to Christ for the power needed for life and ministry. It is how we abide, how we are enabled to do all things through Christ (John 15:5, 16). When this connection to Christ is not sustained, when we do not abide in Him through prayer, we produce little fruit. Coldness sets in. Light dims. Moreover, the house becomes a target for thieves. Our enemy the devil lurks at the door, seeking to devour us and destroy, or at least neutralize, Christ’s church.
Each cell of the church, each individual believer whom Christ has enfolded into the body, must be operating efficiently as a power cell of prayer. The entire grid needs to be operating at full strength, no dead spots, no prayer outages.
The greatest way a pastor can shepherd his congregation is to equip them in prayer and so connect them to Christ, leading them to abide in Christ for spiritual life, health, vitality and fruitfulness.
Prayer is not simply one spiritual discipline among many. It is as necessary for the function of the whole of the Christian life as electrical power is essential to normal life operations in this wintery fallen world.
Prayer is the means by which we are to address every dimension of life with the strength of Christ, whether financial, relational, physical, spiritual, or psychological. Whatever our sheep are dealing with, they have to make sincere, relentless, aggressive prayer part of their handling it. The same holds true for anything we do or hope to accomplish as Christ’s church. No prayer, no power, no produce.
That means basic to shepherding, like getting people fully connected on the power grid through abiding, is conducting “prayer audits.” Just like the PECO technician might come to a home to conduct an energy audit or a power audit, pastors need to inspect the power output and integrity of each person’s prayer life to see how well it is functioning on the grid.
The key diagnostic is, “Tell me about your prayer life.” Then listen, and probe. Often, our people have a rudimentary understanding of prayer, and with it an undeveloped prayer life. But if they are brought to grasp the marvel of prayer that God has placed in their hands as part of His plan, they would gain a new sense of urgency and expectation.
Give them material to help them form a biblical understanding and practice of prayer. One option is my booklet, Why Do We Pray? (Basics of the Faith Series). It’s comprehensive and concise (32 pages), giving orientation to God’s design for prayer—their prayer. It’s also practical, giving direction for how to cultivate a vibrant prayer life.
Like a technician, be ready with a tool box of resources and an array of approaches tailored to their inclinations and circumstances. More often than not people will play the “too busy” card. Be ready to trump that card with questions like, “Do you watch television?” The time is usually there. It’s just a matter of how we spend it. Is there travel time or waiting around time? Have them turn off the radio or put away the smart phone to connect with the God who is with them.
Try to set up some sort of feedback system that helps them monitor their prayer output. That might be you, but it’s better if you can hook them up with someone whose wattage in prayer is already pretty healthy. Otherwise, there might be an initial power surge of prayer but that will drop when the spike of enthusiasm fades. You also might plug them in to prayer groups, where other people put words in their mouths to which they can say the “amen.” The example of the group becomes a training ground in prayer, as well as forcing the issue since prayer is the business at hand.
As PECO sent crews to repair the various disconnects of the power flow, so God gives pastors the responsibility to build, maintain, inspect and repair the power grid for the vitality and effectiveness of His house of prayer. There is no more significant shepherding goal than making sure our people are well connected to Christ.