“Nothing is more important to God than prayer in dealing with mankind. But it is likewise all-important to man to pray. Failure to pray is failure along the whole line of life. It is failure of duty, service, and spiritual progress.” (Bounds, E.M., The Complete Works of E.M. Bounds on Prayer, Baker. compiled 1990, pg. 370.)

“What the church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Spirit can use-men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Spirit does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men-men of prayer.” (Ibid, pg. 447.)

I’m afraid that many of us, without thought, have equated the work of the church with organizational activity. God's great power in the church is its faith and faith increases through prayer. “Jesus replied, ‘This is the work of God-that you believe in the one he has sent’” (John 6:29, CSB).

While most of my recommendations for promoting prayer are written from a pastor’s perspective, I believe that there is much in here for other church leaders and members. As you read, reflect on applications to your personal life and ministry. Here are the 10 ways to promote prayer in your church.

1. Make prayer a priority in the church leadership

Whether you have a large paid church staff or if they are volunteer leaders, spend regular and consistent time in prayer together. As a senior pastor, I led our staff meetings by first spending significant time in prayer before moving on to our other agendas. At the close of the staff meeting, we would pray over the plans that came out of the meeting at the end.

Two of the churches I pastored were elder led churches. These were my favorite. Our elder meetings were the best because we brought everything to the Lord and did not make decisions apart from a unity of spirit in prayer.

If it’s appropriate, try to pray with everyone you interact with during the day. When I had an appointment with a staff member, a church member or someone in the community, I would not let them leave without spending some time in prayer. I still do this frequently when I meet with people even over the phone or online.

Another way to make prayer a priority is to have your staff or volunteers read through a great book on prayer together. You could discuss it chapter by chapter at regular meetings and pray together. You will have your own ideas that are best for your setting.

2. Designate a time of clearly defined corporate prayer in services

We are notorious for using prayer as a segue from one part of the worship service to another. Prayer is certainly more than this. Think about adding a pastoral prayer time in your worship. This can be a very reflective and instructional time. During the week think about issues that your people are dealing with, struggling with. Take the time to write out a prayer, perhaps a little each day during the week. In other words, craft your prayer to the Lord on behalf of your congregation like you would a sermon. You could even publish the prayer in your bulletin or online.

3. Share stories, recent and past of answered prayer

One of the privileges pastors enjoy is hearing of the many ways God answers prayer in the lives of his church members. This is worth sharing and there are many avenues you could make this happen: In the worship service either live or on video, social media, and the church’s website.

Another inspiration is recounting answered prayer from the past. Our Christian history is full of prayer and God’s wonderful timely answers. Ample examples are found in the Great Awakenings and revival history of the United States. There was the great prayer revival of 1857 with Jeremiah Lanphier in New York City. Prayer so saturated the area and later the country that sailors on ships entering the harbor, not knowing of any spiritual awakening taking place, were falling under conviction of sin, and repenting even before docking. Here’s a couple of videos about these things.

4. Seek to improve your own prayer life

There is a certain gravity that envelops a praying person. It is also called the “fragrance of Christ”. “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,” (2 Corinthians 2:14–15, ESV)

People recognize it when you spend extended time in prayer. The time is spent not just praying through a list, but seeking God with your heart, mind and soul. It is like the prayer of Moses to see the glory of God. Moses prayed, “Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.”” (Exodus 33:13, ESV)

My friend, Dr. Donald Whitney has some great advice on generally improving your prayer life. You can see it here.

Dr. Whitney also has a prayer app that was developed by one of his students to help add variety to his prayer life. You can download it from the App Store or Google Play for free.

Five Psalms: Praying Through Psalms of the Day

5. Make an opportunity for ministry prayer at the close or between services

At my last pastorate, I was inspired by a neighboring church pastor, Sam Storms at Bridgeway Church, to add prayer ministry teams of two or three individuals who were available between and after worship services to pray with and over those who have needs.

I put together a Prayer a Prayer Ministry Team card. I personally recruited couples and individuals who were mature and prayerful. I gathered them together for about 45 minutes of instruction with the card. Every single one of them volunteered. In fact, they were excited to see what God would do. Here’s how we did it: During the announcement time and again near the close of the service, we would announce that prayer teams would we at a certain location if anyone would like to receive prayer. Not a Sunday passed by that we didn’t have someone want prayer and a few times we had people accept Christ during the prayer ministry time.

If you’d like a copy of the prayer ministry card we used, you can download it here.

If you’d like help setting up a prayer ministry team, I’d be glad to assist.

6. Designate a prayer team for each church event

Every year your church has important and life-changing events. They range from Vacation Bible School to the annual Christmas Pageant. For each of these events, make sure to have a prayer team that is praying over every aspect of the event. The team doesn’t have to be big; it may be just 3 or 4 people. However, design a prayer sheet for that event and ask them to get together two or three times and to pray over the sheet. They may meet in person, on the phone or online. Focused, purposeful prayer for each event will make a difference in the heavenlies and on earth.

7. Have a congregation wide 21 day or 40 day prayer initiative.

The perfect time to have one of these is during the Lenten season. You could do it in preparation for the passion week or you could start it after Easter Sunday and set up 40 days that coincide with ending on Pentecost Sunday. You could also start the new year off with a 21 days of prayer emphasis for your church. Whether you do it at the first of the year, in preparation for Easter or in preparation for Pentecost, I wouldn’t do this more than once a year or once every two years.

Here are some guides that may help to inspire you. I feel confident that if you were to ask these churches if you could customize what they have done for your church, they would be flattered and of course help you to do that.

Rick Warren has a whole kit available for purchase if you are interested in all the bells and whistles.

8. Teach your church how to pray

Yes, actually teach how to pray. I’ve done this several times. At my last church, we still had a Wednesday night meal and prayer service. I used this as an opportunity to teach on prayer. Once I taught through the Apostle Paul’s Prayers. After the teaching we would gather at our tables and pray on that subject of Paul’s prayer for that night. I had many, many compliments on this kind of praying. I also used some of Andrew Murray’s writings to help me in teaching on various subjects of prayer.

One year I preached a series on The Lord’s Prayer called “The Prayer that will Change Your Life”. I took 10 weeks on the Sunday morning series with application each Wednesday Night prayer service. One of the best resources that helped me design this was by Elmer Towns, “Praying the Lord’s Prayer for Spiritual Breakthrough.”

You can get a PDF of this book for free here:

9. Promote prayer walking events coordinated to the church and community calendar

Create a prayer walking guide that matches the needs of a particular event. For example, with the start of a new school year it would be appropriate to ask different families or small groups to prayer walk near a school or around a school. For people who cannot walk distances, they could “pray the windshield” from the car. There are a variety of needs students and teachers will have. Prayer walk the school bus barn and the sports complexes. In the wider community, prayerwalk before and during county fairs and festivals. If there isa city council meeting, ask if you could pray in the meeting room before the event takes place. When asking, find out if there is anything they would like remembered in prayer. Any community or church could use groups of people praying on-site with insight before an even

Here's a link to a prayer walking guide I created for my last church. It’s in a word document, so you can change the graphics and text.

10. Use available technology to enhance prayer

Create a page on your church’s website for prayer requests. Get your webmaster to set it up where a request can be posted on the page for all to see or to be private. You can make the page one that people have to register to access. That will keep out spam. You can create a prayer wall and project that on the screen during your prayer service or prayer time in church for those present to pray over the requests. Promote the prayer wall page on social media. Just make sure you have a designated person to monitor the page and to reply to requests.

Encourage your small group ministries to form social media groups where they can share prayer needs with one another. Ask these groups to provide a link on their social media to your church’s prayer wall page.

Leveraging technology with prayer and outreach provides a fresh new way to intentionally reach your areas for Christ. Your church could join the ministry and encourage your members to join with their own individual accounts. This is a great way to saturate neighborhoods with prayer and good deeds. It may be the best outreach tool that uses prayer as a basis for ministry.

Check out the website. There is a video that explains how the process works, and it does.

I don’t intend for you to try all ten of these ways to promote prayer in your church. Perhaps you won’t try any, but while reading through this list, you thought of another way to promote prayer in your members and in yourself. That is even better. My prayer is that you will grow in the knowledge of Christ through the time you spend with him. Amen.

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We are given a conscience by God, but that conscience is not given fully formed. Our conscience is shaped by our experiences and our responses to life. It is further molded by the perceptions we have of our experiences. This is also a part of spiritual formation. Everyone experiences spiritual formation, from Christians to atheists, we are all spiritually formed in one direction or another.

A great influence on spiritual formation is your family of origin. Since formation takes place in the early years of our lives, we don’t readily recognize it. It becomes evident when you recognize you are doing something, without thought, just like one of your parents.

One of the funniest things I’ve witnessed was my wife say something, then to abruptly stop talking. Next, she exclaimed, “I sound just like my mother!” I’ve experienced this with both of our adult daughters: “I sound like mom!” It’s a startling realization that we are being shaped in the early part of our lives, for years at a time, often without even knowing it, only to realize it as adults.

This kind of formation is a double-edged sword. It can be great if you had someone to help you interpret these experiences in a healthy way. The other edge is when you don’t have the best of examples or a healthy person in your life to interpret life-shaping events. Our formation is then found wanting.

For most of us, our spiritual formation is a mixed bag. We have some very good values on the one hand and in the other, we are challenged in how we view the world. Our early experiences are interpreted for us by parents, religion, siblings, caregivers, teachers, and friends. These then become the structures in which we view everything else. The structure of our thoughts determines our view of the world.

The thought structures that we’ve adopted may be true or false, or a variation of both depending on the circumstances. This becomes part of your inner critic.

Next, we are going to list eight different ways our thought structures have been formed that are harmful to us. It is essentially eight ways your inner critic may sabotage your life.

It is important for us to be critical with our inner critic and acknowledge to ourselves when we have been holding thought structures that sabotage our lives, making our situations worse than it really is or needs to be.

I’ve drawn these eight different ways from two books by Dr. Daniel Amen. I’ll reference them at the end of the blog. So here are the eight ways your inner critic can sabotage your life.

1. All-or-nothing thinking

This kind of thinking is focused on absolutes. You won’t hear “maybe” or “sometimes” come out of this kind of thinker’s mouth. This thinking uses words like “all”, “always”, “never”, etc. Part of this thinking is believing that everything is either good or bad, that there is nothing in between. It’s a black or white rigid thinking.

You might get away with this in simple math, but not in simple relationships. One secret to building long and successful relationships is the ability to compromise. Anyone who has been married for a while knows the application to this statement: You can be right, or you can be happy, but you can’t be both. Which one can you live with?

2. Focusing on the negative

This is when your thoughts see what is bad or negative, ignoring anything good that may be in the situation. You may be speaking in front of a group of people, and you didn’t cover the material as you had thought you would. That may cause you to feel like the presentation was terrible. However, there were likely many there who got something good out of it. They didn’t know what you knew. They didn’t have the same expectations you had of yourself. Remember, “God works all things together for good” (Romans 8:28).

3. Fortune telling

Fortune telling is letting one bad experience determine how the rest of the trip, job, or life will turn out. Getting a flat tire early in a car trip does not mean that the rest of the trip will be bad. Having a bad dating experience doesn’t mean all members of the opposite sex are idiots and you should give up. Do you see where I’m going with this? Don’t give up. You don’t know how it will turn out. Give life, love, and God a chance.

4. Mind reading

Mind reading is believing you know what the other person is thinking even though they haven’t told you. This is a major reason why people have so much trouble in relationships. They assume they know what the other person is thinking even before they get a chance to give evidence. It’s hard enough when someone assigns bad motives to your actions, let alone putting their own words inside your head. Give people the benefit and wait for them to speak. It may be much better than you thought.

5. Thinking with your feelings

Feelings may lie to you. Your thoughts may lie as well. Be aware how dangerous it is to say, “I feel you don’t love me” or “I feel like a failure.” You must counter “thinking with your feelings” by thinking with your thoughts. Look for evidence. Maybe these feelings are just coming from your own insecurities or unrealistic comparisons with others.

6. Guilt beatings

This is a specialty of the inner critic. Guilt beatings begin with “I should…” or “I ought…” or "I must…” There are expectations tied to these statements about your performance.

Dr. Amen states that it is better to replace “I should…” with “I want to….” It removes it from the guilt arena and moves it into positive motivation. Guilt beatings are effective, but only for a while. They soon lose their power because the benefit of good behavior is clouded by our negative motivation. When we see it is good for us, we can move from “have to” to “want to” to “get to.”

7. Labeling

When you label someone or something with a negative image, you limit the way they can be perceived. If you label someone a “jerk” it will be almost impossible to see anything good come from them. There may be much good that the person does, but the “jerk” label covers it up. The same goes for yourself: “I’m too stupid”, “I’ll never get it right”, and “I’ll never change.” These are all labeling. When you apply that label, it makes it easy to give up and not try anymore.

This can also work in the positive side but in a negative way. Someone has labeled a son or daughter as being “perfect.” Now they cannot see what everyone else sees about them. They have flaws and shortcomings like everyone else. But the person who has labeled them “perfect” just can’t see it.

8. Blaming

This is the worst one of the eight. Blaming is when you blame others for the problems in your life. Statements like: “It’s not my fault”, “If you hadn’t…” or “How was I supposed to know…” It is unattractive when a child does it, but it is downright insulting when an adult will not just take responsibility for their own actions or inactions. It’s a sign of a real change in character when a person accepts responsibility for the failures in life. It means that they can do something about it. When you don’t take responsibility and it’s always someone else’s fault, you are powerless to make change.

It's not necessary to overthink how you think, but it is good to do a check-in to verify if your thinking is matching up with reality. Sometimes a good objective friend can help. But for most of these, simply withholding judgment on others is enough. You’ve got enough trouble in this world without making yourself part of it.

For further reflection on these, Dr. Daniel Amen has put this into two of his books: Change Your Brain Change Your Life, Revised and Expanded. by Daniel G. Amen, M. D. pgs. 116-117 and in his book Feel Better Fast and Make It Last. pgs. 100-106.

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I always strive to have a clear conscience toward God and men.” (Acts 24:16, CSB)

The practical working out of our salvation takes time and effort. There are pockets and potholes of resistance in all of us as God is working to use all things so that we may be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29). As Dallas Willard so famously said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, but to earning.” Even so, we are to be willing partners with God in the shaping of our lives, especially our inner life.

All of us have to some form and degree an inner dialogue. We have inner thoughts and even discussions within ourselves over issues of the day, our personal interactions with others, and reflections of ourselves. This is important to recognize. It’s important because we should be discerning in our self-talk. Our self-talk has several assumptions that we should question from time to time. They carry assumptions about life and how the world operates that may not be true. Perhaps some assumptions are mostly true but not completely and others are just false. Leadership coaches call these self-limiting beliefs. To the degree our assumptions do not align with reality they limit our flourishing.

Besides our assumptions and self-limiting beliefs, we have a conscience. Most people, when they think of conscience think of an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other both whispering into your ear what to do, or not to do. Conscience is the “ought” impulse.

Personally, my conscience whispers: I “ought” to be productive. I “ought” to put others needs before mine. I “ought” to be out sharing the gospel. I “ought” not to be eating that dessert. That’s conscience. It’s the internal conflict that can feel like voices going off in our heads.

The Bible talks about the conscience as an accuser to us along with God's law written in our hearts: “They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:15, ESV) We have the capacity to know when we do good, could have done better or just flat out sinned.

We have a conscience because we have a capacity for moral judgment. Capacity is something that may be expanded or contracted. You can grow or shrink your conscience. You can also abuse it or make it thrive.

God is involved in our conscience. He gave it to us in the first place and expects us to take care of it. Your conscience is a gift from God. God knows what is going on in our heads with our conscience and whether we are obeying it or not, whether we have trained it or have abused it.

No two consciences are exactly alike. If they were, we wouldn’t need passages in the Bible like Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 which teach people with differing consciences to get along in the church. Because of this, no one’s conscience perfectly lines up with God’s will. So don’t use your conscience to judge someone else’s.

I mentioned that you can abuse or damage your conscience. You can do this in two directions. You can make it insensitive, or you can make it oversensitive. You make it insensitive by ignoring the promptings of it and of the promptings by the Holy Spirit though your conscience. Pharaoh is an example from the Old Testament who hardened his heart to God. In the New Testament, the book of Hebrews warns us not to “harden our hearts” to God’s promptings or will, as others have in the past, suffer a similar dire fate.

You can also make your conscience oversensitive by packing it up with all sorts of rules that are not really a right or wrong thing but just opinion. The Apostle Paul issues a warning about this to Timothy and the church at Ephesus. You can see both insensitivity and oversensitivity in one passage.

Through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared. They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods that God created to be received with gratitude by those who believe and know the truth.” (1 Timothy 4:2–3, CSB)

They ignored God, but then imposing strict and unnecessary rules about food and marriage. It is vitally important to evaluate the truth of your beliefs because true or false, they will program your conscience.

I’m thinking of a personal experience that may help with this. Growing up in west Texas, I faithfully attended a Methodist Church. In our church’s fellowship hall were pool tables and ping pong tables. The other kids and I had a lot of fun playing on those tables before Sunday School. When I got to High School, each year, we had a dance in the church fellowship hall for all the students. I never saw anything wrong with playing pool or dancing. After graduation I went off to college. The school had regular sponsored dances in the University's Student Center. They were good with live bands and popular DJs. I enrolled in a couple of social dance classes at the University. I learned the two step, the three step, polka, and square dancing. Believe me, I was no “Dancing with the Stars”, but it was a great way to socialize and have fun.

During this time, I came to know Christ and my life was changed. On the one hand, some of the things I did as an unbeliever I needed to stop. On the other hand, there were some things, now as a Christ follower, I needed to start doing. Going to school dances was not one of those things I ever felt like I needed to stop. In fact, I brought many of my dance friends the campus Baptist Collegiate Ministry, until I was told that going to dances would hurt my witness and stunt my spiritual growth. I was a new believer. I was also told by some more “mature Christian students” not to listen to any other music, but only Christian music. I followed their direction and stopped both dances and listening to any other music. I allowed my conscience to be restricted in an area that I now understand was not a right or wrong issue, but someone else’s conscience paraded as right and wrong for everyone, including me. My conscience became overly sensitized, and I fell into a subtle form of legalism.

To quote the Apostle Paul again, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13, ESV) The flesh can and will move us to extremes: Excesses in behavior or to pride by abstaining.

To sum it up, our internal dialogue, self-limiting beliefs, and conscience make up what I call the inner critic. We need to be aware and be diligent in managing our self-talking, self-limiting, and self-judging. Knowing what your inner critic is and how it functions leads us to steward it for an aligned life before God, others, and ourselves.

For why is my freedom judged by another person’s conscience? If I partake with thanksgiving, why am I criticized because of something for which I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or Greeks or the church of God, just as I also try to please everyone in everything, not seeking my own benefit, but the benefit of many, so that they may be saved.” (1 Corinthians 10:29–33, CSB)

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