Monday, February 13, 2017

Pastors Must Dive to the Ocean Depths of Prayer

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After teaching three to four thousand pastors and Christian leaders, over a period of forty years, at conferences, seminaries, retreats, churches, and individual contacts, I have concluded that most Westernized pastors don't have significant praying lives.

By "significant praying life," I mean the way Jesus prayed in lonely places, as was his custom, as usual.

I am sometimes asked, "Why don't pastors pray? Why are they too busy to pray?"

My answer - one possibility - is: "Because they don't believe."

Eugene Peterson writes:

"Prayer is our core activity. The life of prayer, the practice of prayer, is at the center of the human enterprise. Observed in the context of world civilizations and stretched across the centuries, what stands out is the odd place we American pastors hold on the prayer horizon. For us it is a consumer product. It is a pious item more or less external to ourselves, and for the most part trivialized...
It is rare to find American pastors who are true contemplatives, who embrace the disciplines that nurture a continuous and ready access to the soul and God, who understand themselves as persons of prayer set in a community of prayer." (Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, p. 111)

For most pastors, prayer is a "ceremonial gesture." It's something we do at weddings and funerals, and before the potluck luncheon. "If vocational holiness is to be anything more than a pious wish," writes Peterson, "pastors must dive to the ocean depths of prayer." (Ib., 11-112)

We have no right telling our people that they ought to pray when our prayer life falls somewhere between a water drop and a puddle. Perhaps we don't believe?

My recent book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.