The expression of guarding the gates really has to do with guarding the mind. As noted in the previous message, John Bunyan wrote another classic although much less recognized than Pilgrim’s Progress entitled The Holy War which tells the story of Mansoul being captured and taken over by Diabolus because of the gates being compromised. That same plan is still being effectively carried out in our generation. People of every kind and status within the church have a responsibility to not let this kind of thing take place. This is especially true of those who are actively called into the ministry. If the shepherd can be toppled, the sheep will scatter.
It was explored how that study allows a man who serves a church to guard his mind. While that is a good measure to take up, there is another crucial “guard” that we have to recognize. It is the aspect of prayer. Of all the disciplines involved in a Christian’s life, prayer is the most difficult one to maintain conversely it can be one of the most joyous and powerful tools we can find in our spiritual arsenal. A preacher must maintain regular habits of communion with God in prayer. If a minister is not careful he can come to the place in which he will neglect his place of prayer because of his attention to the Kingdom. He may have all kinds of grand truths rolling through his soul because of the constant exposure to the Word. He can be so busy with various meetings, discipleship of new converts, and counseling of those who are in the throes of some dilemma of life, and obligations to duties of the organizational stripe, that he can entirely neglect his prayer life. In fact a minister is more likely to omit his praying than a new convert who has just come in to the church.
Diabolus loves to get the men involved in ministry to fall to the temptation of substitutes for prayer. Sermons on prayer, reading books on prayer, attending prayer conferences, and hearing sermons on prayer can never take the place of prayer. One can even come under the belief that church attendance, praise, singing, giving, and doing measures of physical labor at church can be a valid substitute for prayer. What soon happens is a tendency to resort to all of these things to move us into a position for revival without true heart-felt prayer.
Pastoral prayer is a great biblical concept and it has great authority. There is an ingredient of spiritual authority that comes to life when a pastor will discipline himself to prayer for his people. From the outset, I have to tell you that this is NOT an easy task to do. Prayer that is truly heart-felt and sincere rarely takes place (for me, perhaps not others) when we just decide to get on our knees and begin to pray. There has to be some stimulus of preparation that is involved in it. There are useful things that you will learn to use to help put your mind into a vein of prayer.
There are times when reading books on prayer will be very helpful to put you into a mindset of prayer. Some of the ones that I have regularly gone back to frequently and year after year are listed below:
E. M. Bounds Complete Works on Prayer—There are eight books in a single volume and are very rich and motivational toward opening my heart for prayer. The Necessity of Prayer, The Essentials of Prayer, The Possibilities of Prayer, The Reality of Prayer, Purpose in Prayer, The Weapon of Prayer, Power Through Prayer, and Prayer and Praying Men.
Leonard Ravenhill on Prayer—Ravenhill’s material is becoming increasingly rarer to find in bookstores these days. He was a staple for many of the preachers who attended the Deeper Life conferences scattered around the nation in the 1970’s. There have been times that I have read just a page or so of Ravenhill’s material and found it incredibly rich in preparing my heart and mind for prayer. Particularly helpful are his two books entitled Revival Praying and Why Revival Tarries. A recent biography about Ravenhill entitled In Light Of Eternity by Mack Tomlinson is a very inspirational book.
Wesley Duewel—This author was one of those that I was encouraged to try sometime in the early ‘90’s when I went to Because of The Times. I have found much value in the books he wrote, Mighty Prevailing Prayer and Touch The World Through Prayer. Not only will these books inspire you to pray, it will inspire you to preach on prayer.
Another means of putting my heart in a bent toward prayer is listening to sermons. There are some sermons that I have heard over the years that are almost worn out because I have listened to them so much. You have to be careful about listening to them too often or they will become so common they lose their ability to touch you. However, David Fuller’s The Master Key of Prayer (1986), Anthony Mangun’s Passion In Your Prayers (1994), and anything that Vesta Mangun has ever done on prayer are sermons that will inspire your prayer life.
Prayer is a place of surrender but once that surrender takes place, the wellsprings of heaven seem to burst forth and the glory of God is declared. But Diabolus wants to scale the gates by causing you to abandon your post in your prayer closet. If he can make you appear to be a man of prayer but not really be given to prayer, he will do everything he can to make this happen. If he can make you impatient with the results of prayer, you will finally give in and quit praying. Can I tell you this? The work of the Kingdom means a lot of weeding, watering, and waiting! What we have to understand is that ministry is going to take you longer than you thought, cost you more than you had planned, but you will be surprised by what happens in the end!
Prayer is not very glamorous and it is very hard work. But to the man who will give himself to a life-long persistence of prayer, he will make the most of his calling. We have to pray because of the condition of our heart. Prayer empties the heart of its cares, anxieties, and pressures that attempt to choke us. We have to pray because we know that the answer is beyond our human ability, talent, and strength. We have to pray because it is the key to divine direction. By actively taking up the prayer mantle, we find our relationship with God being empowered and strengthened. When that happens, we find that old man beginning to be changed into the image of Jesus Christ. Conformity to his image will cause us to have to endure some necessary pressure.
I have no doubt that the pastors who read this blog have done this multiple times in their tenure where they serve. I call it “walking the pews.” What I mean by that is going into the empty sanctuary whether in the day or in the night and walking the length of each pew and praying for the people who sit in those slots every week. Because people are creatures of habit they mostly sit in the same place year in and year out. It can be very useful to pray for these people during this time. As you pray for them there are unexpected crosses that will be thrust onto your own spirit as you contemplate the calamities that people have to navigate through. Troubled financial situations, marriages under pressure, wayward children, health issues that debilitate, and the all out assault of pressure and stress are all scenarios that people drag to church with them. Add to all of these things the need for a heightened measure of spiritual life and you soon discover the real meaning to pastoral prayer. If you as the pastor are not praying for them, then who will do it?
Pastoral prayer will also shape your soul. I am sure that where you serve that everybody is going in the same direction and that everybody fully supports everything that you are doing. However from the seat I currently occupy, I have my share of critics, skeptics, and maligners. Trust me I have prayed imprecatory prayers on every one of them until one day (thankfully) God turned my agitation with them into compassion. I begin to feel sorry for them! I have to say I almost couldn’t believe it when that shift began in my own soul. Furthermore, it would have never occurred had I not been “walking the pews.” Suddenly the Lord turned my aggravation with them into empathy because I saw them for who they really were. So now instead imprecatory prayer has been replaced by intercessory prayer and in some I see a change but sadly in some I can only see a hardening take place. It is situations like this that you realize that prayer is something that does indeed guard the gates.
Pastoral prayer will cause you to pray over your preaching too! In fact, you ought to lay hands on the pulpit and ask God to turn it into an altar that all human performance, talent, education, pride, ambition, and personal vendettas can be gutted and sacrificed on. Don’t waste your pulpit on frivolous and unimportant matters. Ask God for your heart to be emboldened so that you will have clarity of thought and the courage of conviction when you lead the church to worship through the act of preaching.
Sometime ago, I purchased a little book called The Valley of Vision, which is a collection of Puritan prayers, by Arthur Bennett. One of those prayers called “A Minister’s Preaching” I copied and wrote in the front of my Bible. I share it with you and think you will be blessed by it.
My Master God,
I am desired to preach today,
but go weak and needy to my task;
Yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth,
that an honest testimony might be borne for thee;
Give me assistance in preaching and prayer,
with heart uplifted for grace and unction.
Present to my view things pertaining to my subject,
with fullness of matter and clarity of thought,
proper expressions, fluency, fervency,
a feeling sense of the things I preach,
and grace to apply them to men’s consciences.
Keep me conscious all the while of my defects,
and let me not gloat in pride over my performance.
Help me to offer a testimony for thyself,
and to leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting thy mercy.
Give me freedom to open the sorrows of thy people,
and set before them comforting considerations.
Attend with power the truth preached.
and awaken the attention of my slothful audience.
May thy people be refreshed, melted, convicted, comforted,
and help me to use the strongest arguments
drawn from Christ’s incarnation and sufferings,
that men might be made holy.
I myself need thy support, comfort, strength, holiness,
that I might be a pure channel of thy grace,
and be able to do something for thee;
Give me then refreshment among thy people,
and help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way,
or bear a broken testimony to so worthy a redeemer,
or be harsh in treating of Christ’s death, its design and end,
from lack of warmth and fervency.
And keep me in tune with thee as I do this work.