Dear James,

It warmed the heart of an old man, especially on a frigid February morning, to see your letter in the mail. I was wondering how you were doing. What wonderful news that Jean is expecting again! Your family is growing. With that, so will your responsibilities. But I would remind you to meditate much upon the promise of James 4:6, that “he gives more grace.” Some translate it “greater grace.” Either way, you will find that grace grows in proportion to your need. Another very busy servant of the Lord found his grace to be more than sufficient (2 Cor. 12:9), and you will too.

You asked if I could write a little more about the prayer life of the ruling elder. My answer is: not easily. It is a painful subject because I sense a very deep and personal deficiency here. I wish I had the perspective on the prayer life of a ruling elder back when I began that I have now. If our regrets were permitted in heaven, no doubt prayer-regrets would haunt me there. But O the depth of the sufficiency of Christ’s death that has paid to the last farthing for every failure and every sin. Hell will be filled with regrets; but not one shall make it past the pearly gates of glory.

I say without hesitation that effective, fervent prayer is the most important and chief work of the ruling elder. Prayer is the duty of every Christian. It is doubly the duty of the elder. Your closet, wherever that place of quiet solitude is that you have carved out for prayer, is where the battle is lost or won. It is said of Jacob, “in his manhood, he strove with God (Hos. 12:4).” The ruling elder must be a prayer-man. Do you need wisdom? You will get it only by prayer. Do you need strength? Prayer is the pipeline to heavenly power. Whatever it is you stand in need of, may you say with Hannah, “for this child I prayed (1 Sam. 1:27).”

Prayer, you will find, ties all the duties of your work as an elder together. Do you need to get to know your sheep? One great way is to be praying for them and asking them how best you can pray for them. Do you see some of the wrinkles, spots, and blemishes of the flock that mark all God’s sheep in his pastures below? Prayer is the first weapon to begin to deal with them. Do they need to be nourished by the word of God, especially the preached word? Pray for your pastor and put his preaching ministry regularly before the throne of grace. And prayer blesses your soul, too. Prayer makes the heart larger, and a ruling elder desperately needs a great heart.

I mentioned already the need for wisdom, but let me emphasize that. Individually, and as a session, you will need an abundant supply of godly thinking. We must ask for this in prayer (James 1:5). Solomon was at his best when he asked for an understanding heart (1 Kings 3:9). Beware of making plans and decisions without consulting the Lord.    

Let me bring these thoughts to a close with some practical advice. You need a plan. There is enough to be praying about, even in a small church, that you need a strategy and a system to do this work well. A disorganized prayer-life is as bad as a disorganized army. When it comes to prayer, elders often have great thoughts, but bad habits. How will you adequately and effectively pray for all the needs of every saint, let alone your own needs and those of others you know? I would not prescribe where God has not. You will need to find a plan that works for you. However, the Scriptures do teach that “without counsel, plans fail (Prov. 15:22).” So my counsel, for your consideration, is to divide up the members of your church like a calendar, with some allotted to each day. By this method you will pray particularly for each member at least monthly.

James, let me remind you as I close, that our Savior Jesus Christ was and is a praying man. Jesus prayed for his sheep, and he still intercedes for them today (Heb. 7:25). There is nothing in which your likeness to Christ is more needed than in prayer-likeness. Well said that godly evangelist George Whitefield, “O prayer! Prayer! It brings and keeps God and man together. It raises man up to God and brings God down to man. If you would therefore, O believer, keep up your walk with God, pray. Pray without ceasing.”[1]

Your soul’s well-wisher,

An older elder

[1] Randall J. Pederson, ed., Daily Readings: George Whitefield February 11 (Ross-shire, Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 2010).

Ordained Servant Online, April, 2023.

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Ordained Servant: April 2023

Public Aid?

Also in this issue

Christians, Churches, and Public Aid, Part 1

The Voice of the Good Shepherd: The Primacy of Preaching: A Biblical Overview, Chapter 3 [1]

Commentary on the Book of Discipline of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Chapter 4B

Can Biblical Exposition Be Beautiful and Powerful? A Review Article

Illustrating Well: Preaching Sermons that Connect, by Jim L. Wilson

Poetry of Redemption: An Illustrated Treasury of Good Friday and Easter Poems, by Leland Ryken

Death Is but a Comma

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