Thursday morning (4/12/07)
Breakout seminar #1
Rick Gamache: “Watch Your Devotional Life”
GAITHERSBURG, MD – Over the past few months I have come to see my pastor Rick Gamache as the most gifted leader and preacher I have had the privilege of seeing up close. And although I see him all the time, I wasn’t about to miss his breakout session in the Pastors College classroom. No regrets.
As he and associate pastor Mark Alderton preach through Acts on Sunday morning at Sovereign Grace Fellowship (Minneapolis, MN), they have especially pointed out the correlations between the Apostolic church and the contemporary Sovereign Grace church. Recently a sermon on Acts 6 outlined the role of deacons and thus the role of pastors. Acts 6:1-7 also became the primary text for Gamache’s breakout seminar, Watch your Devotional Life: The Pastor’s Communion with God. The text reads,
1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. 7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.”
Pastors are mainly devoted to preaching and prayer. So the exhortation is for pastors to watch their preaching and prayer. This particular session was an exhortation for pastors to guard their prayer life.
Only three out of 10 pastors pray for 15 minutes each day. But here in Acts “the twelve” call out seven Spirit-filled deacons to care for the widows. This would free the Apostles to “devote” themselves to their leadership/pastoral task. The term “devote” (προσκαρτερησομεν) here is a strong word in the text. Even at the expense of other ministry opportunities, they were to “devote” themselves to a narrowed focus.
This priority is especially astonishing given the importance needy widows occupy in the New Testament. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27). By finding deacons to care for the widows highlights the significance of prayer in the pastoral life. The feeding of the widows was a threat to the Apostles — not because it was intrinsically a bad ministry — but because it hindered their primary duty. This reveals that the early leaders of the church did not have short prayer times in mind since it demanded a clearing of the schedule. They spent a lot of time at preaching and public/private prayer. This made it necessary to say “no” to other ministry opportunities. For example, being devoted to my wife does not mean I spend all my time with her. But it does mean she is a chief priority and because of this I must say ‘no’ to many good things. The same is true of prayer in the pastoral life.
Not only does Scripture call us to be “devoted” to prayer (Acts 1:14, 2:42), but Paul commands us to prayer (Rom. 12:12, Col. 4:2). A life devoted to prayer is the call of all Christians, and especially pastors. We need to watch it! Good ministry opportunities crowd in and demand time, but we must not let ministry become its own worst enemy. C.H. Spurgeon once said in a sermon,
“Sometimes we think we are too busy to pray. That is a great mistake, for praying is a saving of time. You remember Luther’s remark, ‘I have so much to do today that I shall never get through it with less than three hours’ prayer.’ … If we have no time we must make time, for if God has given us time for secondary duties, He must have given us time for primary ones, and to draw near to Him is a primary duty, and we must let nothing set in on one side. You other engagements will run smoothly if you do not forget your engagement with God” (Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. 18).
It would not be a Sovereign Grace conference unless every session was connected to the Cross. Gamache reminded us that our access to God in prayer comes through the work of Christ alone (Heb. 10:19-22). We must confess our inability to draw near to God based upon our own merits. The holiness of God does not consume us because of the Cross!
Neglecting the invitation is spiritual foolishness. We are called to ask, seek and knock (Luke 11:9-13). God promises to act when we pray. There is a cause-and-effect relationship to prayer. God says, “I will let your prayers effect My universe.” Amazing! Spurgeon writes: “We do not bow the knee merely because it is a duty, and a commendable spiritual exercise, but because we believe that, into the ear of the eternal God, we speak our wants, and that His ear is linked with a heart of feeling for us, and a hand working on our behalf. To us, true prayer is true power” (An All-Around Ministry, p. 13).
Psalm 50 shows the relationship of a breathtaking God and our drawing near to Him. In the first 14 verses we see a glimpse of the power and majesty of God. In verse 15 we are summoned: “and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” When we pray, we get the help and God gets the glory.
Pursuing the ministry without prayer is pride. Pastors are called to labor to “save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). The harvest is ready but the workers are few (Luke 10:1-8). Without God working in me, I will watch sinners run headlong to hell and my heart will be unmoved. God must be at work in our ministry and affections. Pastors are called to “stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24) and work for “your progress and joy in the faith” (Phil. 1:25). These callings make the pastor feel really needy! We are incapable of eternal fruit without the work of God. Thus, “Prayer is a means of crushing my self-sufficiency.”
“My life as a pastor is a life of war.” Seasons of blessing can lull us into a peacetime mentality. We can easily forget our dependence. “We will not drift into prayer but we will drift into prayerlessness.”
Gamache concluded with some practical advice for watching our prayer lives.
1. Structured and unstructured prayers. Sometimes we should just spill our hearts out to our Daddy. And there are times prayers will be shaped by prayer folders. Structure your prayer around Scripture as you are reading. There is a connection between prayer and the abiding Word in our hearts. Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). Also, there is a connection between knowing His will in Scripture and praying according to that will: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 John 5:14). Also, the Word and prayer are interconnected because the Word produces faith (Rom. 10:17) and that faith is essential to prayer (Matt. 21:22).
2. Expressing deep needs and high joy in prayer. We praise God in prayer as He meets us in our darkest despair and when He meets us in our delights!
3. Long and short prayers. Quick outbursts of prayer throughout the day and longer prayers that “linger.” Spurgeon says, “pray until you pray.” Linger in prayer until you enter into the spirit of prayer. Pray for prayer.
4. Spontaneous and scheduled prayers. Learn to pray throughout the day and also plan your prayers.
In all, it was an excellent breakout session and I was blessed to be there. Prayer is no strength of mine and I’m better encouraged and equipped to pursue prayer more faithfully. I’m motivated to excel, not out of guilt or condemnation of failure, but because prayer is our access to the fountain of God’s blessing!
But what most comes to mind when I recall this session is that prayer is the means of “crushing my self-sufficiency.” And prayer seems to be an excellent gauge of my understanding of the immensity of the pastoral task and my own utter dependency upon God.
Related 2007 SGM LC sessions:
1. 2007 Sovereign Grace Ministries Leadership Conference
2. R.C. Sproul: “The Holiness of God”
3. Rick Gamache: “Watch Your Devotional Life”
4. Mark Dever: “Watch the Past: Living Lessons from Dead Theologians”
5. David Powlison: “‘In the Last Analysis…’ Look out for Introspection”
6. C.J. Mahaney: “Trinitarian Pastoral Ministry”
7. 2007 Conference photographs