Prayer is a wonderful privilege. To be able to speak to the One who rules all things with his immeasurable love is not something we deserve but it’s a joy we have. It’s important too. How can we expect those we are walking alongside to flourish – how can we expect our churches to grow – if we are not turning to our Lord and asking him to act?
For many of us, prayer for others comes quite naturally. We see a brother or sister’s brokenness and we long for God to bring hope. We see a need in our community, and we plead with our Father to help. We pray for people, with people – repeatedly, passionately (well, we do on our good days, at least!)
But how often do we sit back from the individual needs we are aware of and pray for the big picture of the ministry we are involved in? How frequently do we pray for God to guide us in the ways we relate to him – and others – as we offer pastoral care to the individuals around? If your answer to those things is, “not often”, then why not take a moment to pray now? And commit your care of others in the local church – your lives – to increasing Christlikeness? That well-known hymn in Philippians 2 might help – from it, we can pray for:
The pastoral care we offer is just one strand of local church ministry. The gifts that God has given us are just a few of the gifts that God has given the local congregation of which we are part. We are members of a team – a family – and one that is firmly rooted in the person of Christ. His work on the cross unites us. Now our call is to labour in that same unity: to speak, to act, to love in ways that show we are one. We can pray that our pastoral care will be service that fits with what else is going on in the local church – service that flows from the love and unity we have.
The human heart has an incredible capacity to muddle motives. Of course, we want the best for those we are walking alongside. Of course, we long to honour Christ. But, from time to time, darker forces are also at play. Sometimes, when we are supporting others, we do so with half an eye on making sure we look noticeably good. Sometimes, when we make suggestions about ways forward in the church, it is our agenda not God’s that’s driving our passion. Sometimes, we don’t just want progress, we want power. Those moments stand in stark contrast to Jesus’ example of, and call to humble service. He was passionate without being self-seeking. We can pray for humble hearts too.
We can do nothing without Christ. No conversation is going to bear fruit, no individual is going to change, and no hard situation is going to abate without the activity of God. Yes, there is wisdom in the world, but that doesn’t change hearts and it’s certainly not the best that pastoral care desires. We need Christ. We need him every moment of the day. We can pray for dependency – a desire to lean on Jesus that never goes away.
Walking alongside others is hard. There are frequently challenges and irritations along the way. None of our churches is perfect. All of us will face opposition at some stage. There will, occasionally, be times we need to articulate that someone is in error or stand up against things that are very wrong, and we don’t need to shirk from those things but there’s never a place for grumbling. Mumbling darkly, gossiping quietly, letting our words become charged with jealousy, bitterness or revenge are abhorrent to God. We can pray that we will be pure, even when facing deep wrong.
Sometimes people assume that pastoral care and evangelism are not the best of friends. But as we live lives of humility, as we walk alongside others in love, as we display unity and dependency and the holiness God desires – we shine. Light in the darkness is an alluring thing. Our godly care of others is a beacon in a dark world. We can pray that we will be good witnesses.
Sacrificial Joy (v17-18)
Christians tend to lean towards either comfortable joy (that requires little or no sacrifice) or sacrificial service (that, amid exhaustion, displays no joy or defaults to shallow expressions of happiness that no-one believes are true!) We cruise or we burn out – neither are a Christlike way. Our call is to sustainable sacrifice that is infused with praise. Paul, when he penned these words, may have been being “poured out like a drink offering” on behalf of others but his faith was so deep that he still had an authentic ability to “rejoice”. We can pray that, as we care, we too will know joy.
There are many other ways we could pray. If you have time, you could keep going through Philippians and see where that leads you. But the most important thing to do is pray…really pray…so why not do that now?