Every time I sit down at my desk a little yellow Post-it note with my chicken scratch handwriting stares me in the face. On the Post-it note is a three-word question: Did you pray? The very necessity of this note shows the weakness of my soul. Maybe better said, it exposes the pride and arrogance of my soul. I wish I did not need such a reminder—and I wish the note always served its purpose—but sadly there are times when I sit down and I have not and do not pray. From forgetfulness to busyness, prayer is often the first thing that gets set aside when the demands of life and ministry come knocking at the door. The time is short and the to-do list is long, and it is easy to get into productivity mode. Yet the very nature of the demands of ministry expose why I need this reminder on my desk.
The proclivity of the human heart leans towards independence, self-reliance, and self-righteousness. Theologically we know we are dependent, but practically we live as if we are autonomous. For those of us in pastoral ministry, there is an irony to this struggle because we continually preach to ourselves and to others about our need for and dependence upon Christ. But sadly we can fall into ministering by the flesh in independence instead of dependence. We forget what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:7 where he reminds the Corinthians that “only God gives the growth.” In the context, Paul is not minimizing his privileged role as a servant of God (1 Cor 3:5) or his need to be faithful (1 Cor 4:2). Rather he is highlighting that though God uses men to plant and water (1 Cor 3:6), He is the one who causes all growth.
Every sermon, every counseling meeting, every leadership meeting, and every evangelistic opportunity is dependent upon the mercy and grace of God. When we pray we are expressing our humble dependence upon Him, recognizing that apart from His gracious work, there will be no fruit. Prayer is a confession of need and a declaration of His greatness. We cry out in need to the only One who can meet those needs—the all powerful, benevolent Creator who is at work for His glory. And while there is nothing mystical that takes place when one prays before a meeting or when sitting down at a desk to study or answer emails, prayer or the lack of, is very revealing of the heart. It reveals who or what we are putting confidence in. It reminds us who and what ministry is all about. It also reveals whose glory we are really seeking. At times, we get so entrenched in ministering for Christ that we minister without Christ. We forget who really does the work, and we end up vainly spinning our wheels and burning out our souls. The Lord has called the minister to a most privileged and glorious task, and yet we were never meant to do it in our own strength. Prayer is not the only way we depend on the Lord, but is one of the most tangible evidences of dependence.
I hope one day I don’t need a Post-it note to remind my soul of how dependent I am. But until that day comes, I need to be asked the question: “Did you pray?” I need the reminder of my dependence! When we sit down to write our next sermon, to prepare for our next meeting, or to meet with that couple for counseling, may we humbly express our dependence on the Lord, recognizing that all our labor is in vain apart from His grace, for ultimately He is the one doing the work!
Justin McKitterick is one of our nine TES campus pastors, having served as the Pastor-Teacher of Grace Community Church in Jacksonville, Florida since 2011.