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Cultivating Private Prayer

By Barry Westman on February 23, 2011

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the Desiring God 2011 Conference for PastorsinMinneapolis. The conference, hosted by John Piper, focused on the theme of “The Powerful Life of the Praying Pastor”. This wasn’t a “worship” conference, necessarily, but what we learned was so valuable to every believer, regardless of their area of specialty. We heard some pretty dismal stats when it comes to prayer. Paul Miller, director of seeJesus.net, said that in their studies they’ve found that 90% of people have no functional prayer life. Even more astounding was his statement that pastors don’t fare much better, with 80% of pastors not having a functional prayer life. Christians struggle with prayer – how do you concentrate, what does good praying look like, how do you interface with God, and feelings of guilt and doubt that prayer actually works.

In one of the most challenging sessions, Dr. Joel Beeke, president of Puritan Reformed TheologicalSeminary, spoke on how to cultivate your private prayer life. Beeke talked about the issue of prayerless praying vs. prayerfully praying. He uses James 5:13-18 as an example of powerful prayers! Elijah, a man just like us, prayed and the rains stayed away and then they came when he prayed. Today, prayer gets neglected. It is sometimes thought of as an interruption to what we’re doing, rather than the foundation. As pastors and worship leaders, how much time do we spend in private, prayerful praying? That was the challenge. The goal isn’t long periods of time, but the goal is quality. If we don’t draw near to Him in private, then when we’re on the stage we’ll have nothing to draw from, our prayers will be powerless and filled with prayerless praying.

As a solution, Beeke said that to seek a more fervent prayer life, it will require of us to take hold of ourselves and to take hold of God. He gave us many ways to get a better handle of ourselves when it comes to prayer. First we need to remember the value of prayer. He gave the example of Daniel, who was willing to die if he wasn’t able to pray. He encouraged us to never engage in any act of ministry without first spending time in prayer. I thought of how that would look in my own ministry – sure, we pray at the start of our rehearsals, and before we sing on Sunday, but is it prayerful praying, or are we just speaking prayerless prayers out of duty? We also need to maintain the priority of prayer by ranking it higher than anything else on our schedule, even carving out time for prayer in our schedule, and between items on our calendar for the next event.

He also talked about how we should pray. He said to pray with sincerity, telling Him everything aboutyou as if He knows nothing, knowing He knows everything. That stuck out to me, because often I think to myself, well He already knows how I feel, why do I need to pray? He is looking for sincerity in our prayers, and we can’t settle for anything less. We also need to cultivate a continual spirit of prayer throughout the day, not just at set times. Finally, Beeke said to read the Bible for prayer. God speaks to us through His Word, and we can pray it back to Him. As we read a verse, pray; read to hear from God and expect an answer.

Along with taking hold of ourselves, we also need to take hold of God in prayer. We can plead God’s promises in prayer, remember that each part of the Trinity is involved in our prayer life, and finally believe that God answers prayer!

This was a powerful conference, and I left feeling encouraged to go so much deeper in my own prayer life, knowing that there is so much more that I could be doing. I was challenged to lead a family prayer time, and also consider how my prayer life affects the prayer lives of those in my ministry. The session with Francis Chan was amazing!! I would encourage you to go to this website, where you can listen to or watch each of the main sessions of this powerful conference!

Barry Westman

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Barry Westman

Barry Westman

Barry has served in worship ministry for 20 years, currently serving as Worship Pastor at Bethel Baptist Church in Janesville, Wisconsin. He was born and raised in Minnesota, husband to Tina, and father to three beautiful children - Chad, Emily and Olivia. He usually leads worship from the keyboard and loves to play board games!

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