Especially for leaders, new years require fresh vision. And for pastors and other Christian leaders, fresh vision requires prayer. But quality prayer takes time and, for me at least, finding that time is one of the biggest challenges I face.
Time is so precious. I often feel I don't have enough of it simply to do well with my family, my job and my church. So I end up giving almost all my time to those things, and telling myself that God will understand.
He understands, I'm sure. But He can't be pleased.
It's been well said that you spell love T-I-M-E. And since prayer is an expression of my love for God, and I need quality time with God to gain fresh vision for the future and power for daily living, then I must spell prayer the same way. Prayer deserves my time.
I'm convinced I'm not alone in this struggle. Many of today's well-intentioned pastors and Christian leaders are so pressed for time. And prayer can become one of the earliest casualties of a busy schedule. Yet the shortage of serious time for prayer becomes quickly evident in a leader's life and in the fruit of his or her ministry. I know they are in mine.
That's why I struggled recently when I was asked to bring a devotional word to a national gathering of Southern Baptist prayer leaders in Chicago. With some difficulty, I decided to be vulnerable. I admitted that I am ashamed of how little I rely on prayer compared to my own efforts. I too rarely engage God in a way that invites Him to override my desires or plans. Mostly, I quickly ask Him to bless what I'm rushing off to do. I told them I see this happening with Christian leaders everywhere, and that we as leaders need help reprioritizing prayer in our lives.
Then we looked at Gideon's experience in Judges 6-7. Like this timid, reluctant and frustrated leader, we often toil away in our own strength at things that don't really help much, rather than inviting God into our challenges and letting Him empower our leadership.
But one life-changing day Gideon had a conversation with God as "the Angel of the Lord" that has deeply challenged me about my own prayer life. Here's a summary of what I said about it in my devotion for those prayer leaders.
Gideon was weak when his extended conversation with God began, but God loves to use weak people. Though God initiated the conversation, Gideon did most of the talking—at first. Then, after questions and fleeces, there was a moment of surrender, when Gideon gave his fears, desires and plans over to God. After that, God did most of the talking—and acting. Gideon never had to say, "God said obey me ..." to the people he led. He simply acted with a new boldness that came out of his personal conversation with God. And the people gladly followed him in his obedience to God, with a powerful result that brought God glory, and His people victory.
That's the kind of prayer encounter I need. Gideon was a small man and a reluctant, fearful leader. But all that changed when he engaged God in extended, serious prayer.
In this coming year, I have concluded that I must do whatever it takes to meet God like that. And I must encourage and facilitate that in the lives of those I lead and influence. I look around me, in Southern Baptist life and elsewhere, and I see that there are others sensing the same need. By God's grace, a new year gives us more time. Let's be leaders who give a great deal of that time to God in prayer.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. This column first appeared at the Illinois Baptist (http://ibonline.ibsa.org), the state association's newsjournal.