John Owen understood the demands and privileges of ministry. In a sterling sermon preached at an ordination service on Friday 8th September 1682, he laid out in challenging and practical terms what the task of the pastor truly is. In our previous article we looked at Owen’s essentials for preaching the Word, but coupled with this in his mind was the pressing need for ministers to pray. In this piece we will examine the motives he provides for us to pray, and will think through what a pastor should pray for in a subsequent article.
The motives for prayer are:
- Prayer is the proof that we are discharging our ministerial duties fully: Owen is adamant that prayer is the measure of a man’s truly fulfilling his ministry. ‘Let him preach as much as he will, visit as much as he will, speak as much as he will’ but without prayer there is no evidence that he is truly fulfilling his given ministry.
- This is the way whereby we bless our congregations: the minister’s ability to bless his people is not authoritative (it is not something he dispenses) but aspirational and declarative. The only way that we can see true blessing fall on God’s people is to beseech him to grant it. This is a great motive to pray.
- No minister in the world can maintain his love for the church who doesn’t pray for them: pastoral ministry means that the preacher is in contact with the best and the worst of Christian conduct and attitudes. He will meet with many causes for discouragement as he shepherds the souls of those in his care and ‘nothing can keep up his heart with inflamed love towards the, but by praying for them continually.’
- God will teach us what we are to preach to our people through prayer: by praying for believers the preacher is constantly bringing before his mind what the most profound needs of the congregation are, and this in turn affects his thinking on what and he shall preach – ‘the more we pray for our people, the better shall we be instructed what to preach to them’.
For many of us in ministry time for, and application to, prayer is the toughest battle of all, and Owen’s words give us great incentive to seek God’s face for those we minister to – it is crucial to the joy of our hearts, the health of our souls, the effectiveness of our preaching, and the good of our hearers.