“Praying When It’s Not Working”
by Dan Reiland
Your church isn’t growing and you can’t figure out why. That’s always a tough place to lead and live.
You aren’t alone. In fact you may be among the majority of churches in the U.S. that are struggling to grow. For some, on the surface, all seems well. Of course there are a few problems here and there, that’s true in every church, but overall things seem good. So, what is it? How do you decode the cipher that unlocks the answer? Or perhaps the issues are more obvious and even problematic, but the solutions still evade you.
Your leadership is always a factor. In fact, it’s a huge factor. It’s essential that you keep learning and continue to grow. But let’s assume that you are on that with passion. You are investing in your personal growth as a leader. You are reading, attending conferences, and getting occasional “coaching lunches” with leaders who are ahead of you in the journey. Maybe you’ve even brought in a consultant. He or she is insightful and has helped you see things you can’t see, but it’s still not working.
I know you pray. We all pray. But personally, sometimes I find it difficult to hang tough in prayer for long periods of time when solutions elude me. How about you? It’s not that I think God isn’t there or doesn’t care, I know He is and He does. But I seem to run out of the ability to keep asking the same thing over and over. Sometimes I find myself practicing a new spiritual discipline. Sitting. Yup, just sitting quietly before God and waiting on Him. I know “sitting” is not included in the top twelve spiritual disciplines written about by Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Henri Nouwen or any other spiritual formation guru or modern mystic. Nevertheless, that’s what I sometimes do. I have a prayer room in the basement. Each morning I make a cup of tea and head downstairs. I know, real men drink coffee so strong it walks down to the basement by itself. Hey, I don’t color my hair or wear skinny jeans but I do drink tea. There I said it.
When I pray I often walk in small circles in my prayer room. I pray with passion for the things I know. I pray with clarity for my family, my prayer partners, and the things in my world that are obvious. But also, on occasion, I just sit. I don’t know what to pray. For a type A and driven type, that seems so counter-intuitive. I need to “do” something. Even in prayer I need to “make something happen.” But if it worked that way, all churches would flourish all the time.
So, I don’t have the answers, but I’m in the journey with you. Yes, I’m in a church that is working, God is blessing 12Stone® Church. But it’s a mega-church so there are plenty of “church-sized” challenges to be solved within that blessing. You may be in a church like ours, or you may be in one of the churches that are not working, so here are a few thoughts that may be a source of help or encouragement.
1. You are not alone.
As I’ve stated, the majority of church leaders face what you face. I’m not remotely suggesting that you should adopt a fatalistic — “Well, this is my lot” kind of attitude. I’m saying that what you face is normal. Leading a church is not easy. It’s a spiritual battle and you are guaranteed more struggle than you are success. Inspiring, right?! But it really is inspiring when you think about it. You are in a spiritual war for souls and war is difficult. Jesus is on your side. What appears to not be working in the natural may be huge success in the spirit realm. Don’t get me wrong, results matter, but there is a bigger picture in play.
You are not alone, and don’t try to go it alone. I have seven prayer partners, and I know many others pray for me. I couldn’t lead without them!! How about you? Do you have one or two or many who are dedicated to pray for you? The prayers of others are often the tool that God uses to help you breakthrough.
2. The Spirit prays for you.
I’m not going to get preachy here. But to leave out an obvious scripture seems foolish. You can gain confidence from Romans 8:25-27. And I highly recommend that you soak in the larger context of Romans 8:18-30.
25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
Maybe just sitting is not such a crazy idea.
3. God is bigger than any problem you face.
You remember the story in Numbers 11 about the nation of Israel complaining because Moses dragged them into the desert and they had no meat to eat. They even questioned leaving Egypt. God was angry with them, but Moses interceded. Then Moses questioned God’s ability! He questioned how God was going to provide meat for 600,000 men – for a month! And God responded:
23 The LORD answered Moses, “Is the LORD’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you.”
I would have been shaking in my boots if God said that to me. But the message is for you and me today too, not just for Moses. Moses had seen God part the Red Sea but already doubted His power. That can happen to any of us. We know God can do it, but we want Him to do it on our time-table, the way we want it, and that’s not always how God shows up.
The bottom line is that whatever you face it has not caught God by surprise and He can handle it. It’s up to you to seek Him, to ask for His blessing and favor, and maybe for awhile, just sit in His presence. Sometimes just knowing He is near is enough.
4. Your leadership matters.
I suspect you know this, but it’s good to hear it again. Your presence makes a difference. You hanging tough and staying strong matters. Your congregation is counting on you. You don’t have to possess all the answers. None of us do. But you can believe in God who does. He will provide. I’ve had a hunch for a long time that God might measure differently than we do. I’m not sure, so I’ll not get into that, but let’s just say what is “big” on earth may not be so big in heaven. And what is big in heaven may not be so big on earth. I do think God wants His church to grow, even if just a little at a time. So hang tough — remember you are not alone. And some days if you just “sit” with God, that may be enough.