A thought I had recently was that the level of maturity for leaders can partly be revealed by the nature of their praying.
A number of years ago while on staff at a church here in Southern California, I was among a group of leaders who combed through and prayed over prayer requests which had come in on Sunday at the services.
It was revealing, insightful and a bit discouraging that most of the requests were asking us to pray over financial and health issues—mostly asking these issues to be removed or resolved. Very few had to do with asking us for personal growth or to pray for others they knew.
That started me thinking about the nature of the things we ask for when we pray. We, of course, should be confessing, adoring and thanking, not just asking, but let me focus on the asking part of praying for the rest of this post.
I believe there are three stages in the asking:
1. Asking God to do things for me
2. Asking God to do things in me
3. Asking God to do things through me
For me—This is where the asking in prayer is all about what I feel I need or want; stuff/health/money/smooth sailing without problems or difficulties. There is little to no thought to asking God to change me or grow me or use me, but mostly to “Give Me.” A song I like by country singer Alan Jackson, “The Older I Get,” has the line in it “It’s the people you love, not the money or stuff that makes you rich.” I think most of us know in our heart of hearts that it’s all about people, not money or stuff, yet it’s tempting to to primarily focus on the money and stuff when we ask.
In me—At this stage I’m now praying for God to change me, grow me, deal with my character. As I began to grow as a Christian leader, I gradually realized that God is more concerned with my character than with my comfort. I pray to be more comfortable in my life, and He allows just the opposite in order to develop my character in areas like patience, endurance and trust.
Before I was married I had a roommate who was in college while I worked. Most mornings he would ask me to pray that everything would go perfectly wonderful with no problems that day. After a while, I suggested to him that his desire was not the best thing to be praying; that the way God would mature him was through allowing difficult situations to come his way from time to time. He didn’t take too kindly to my suggestion.
I spend very little time these days praying for blue skies and sunny weather and much more time praying for character growth—however He wants to bring it; even though I may not like His methods and didn’t vote for it!
Through me—The focus is now on others. With the exception of one, the world consists of others. I’m praying for lots of other people. It was the Christian musician Keith Green who had the line in one of his songs: “It’s so hard to see when my eyes are on me.” Isn’t that the truth!
My prayer book today looks very different today then it did early in my leadership journey. It’s populated with the names of lots of people for whom I pray on a regular basis. Hardly any pages focused on “For me.” Some pages focused on “In me” and most pages focused on “Through me.”
I’m not saying it’s wrong to be praying that God would do things for me. It’s not wrong to be praying that God would do things in me. But if most of what I pray about is still focused on me and not enough on others, it’s probably telling me something about the level of my maturity as a Christian leader. How are you doing?