Eugene Peterson’s Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity holds up prayer, Scripture, and spiritual direction as the three foundational elements to Christian ministry, specifically for “located preachers.” Without continual daily attention to these three very private acts, the preacher’s ministry is shallow and shadow—of this world, not of Heaven.
On the subject of prayer, Peterson articulates the problem for, not just preachers but, all of us. Busyness. We have too much going on. Too many projects, too many phone calls, too many meetings, too many interruptions, too many school and athletic events, and way too much to do even in our leisure time. It’s endemic to our culture in the United States. As preachers, we live right in the middle of two different sets of demands that seem to cancel each other out: we must respond in love and kindness to the demands of the people around us, demands that “refuse to stay within the confines of regular business hours and always exceed our capacity to meet them all” and at the same time we must respond with reverent prayer to the demands of God for our attention, “to listen to him, to take him seriously in the actual circumstances of this calendar day, at this street address, and not bluff our way through by adopting a professionalized role.”
The only kind of prayer and prayer life that is appropriate as a response to our loving Father is the kind of prayer that is only entered into slowly and deliberately, the kind of prayer that takes time. It’s not prayer-on-the-go or prayer-by-request. It means entering large blocks of quiet time with my God where “wonder and adoration have space to develop.”
Is that even possible for an American preacher today?
It has to be.
You know yourself from teaching and from personal experience that seasons of deep meaningful prayer, communion with your God, sharing and listening and speaking with your Father, are always the times in your life of revival and rejuvenation. Empowerment and encouragement. There is certainly room for those on-the-go prayers. Praying in the truck rolling down Airport Freeway or over your Big Mac at MickeyD’s is honored by God. But without intentional chunks of prayer time each day—set-aside time to bask alone in the presence of the Father—our families and our churches suffer. My wife and my three daughters suffer when I neglect prayer. So does the Legacy Church of Christ.
Prayer acknowledges my faith in God to provide all my needs. It recognizes God as the giver of life. And it’s our demanded response to God. He started the conversation. He’s the one who spoke first. Every single thing we say to God in prayer is our response to his initial speaking in our lives.
For the past two years I’ve been involved in a daily Bible reading schedule that includes a Psalm or two every day. And I find myself praying the Psalms. All the time. Just like God’s people have for all time. The Psalms were the prayer book of Israel; they were the prayer book of Jesus; they are the prayer book of the church. At no time in the Hebrew and Christian centuries (except for maybe ours) have the Psalms not been at the very center of all prayer thought and prayer practice. John Calvin said the Psalms are “an anatomy of all the parts of the soul.” Everything that a person can possibly feel, experience, and say is brought into expression before God in the Psalms.
Read the Psalms. Pray the Psalms. Use the language. Use the word-pictures. Use the thoughts in the Psalms to express yourself to God in prayer.
It’s very, very quiet in the office today. Lance has a group of middle school students at a camp in Oklahoma City and Jason is on his way to Mississippi on a mission trip with the high schoolers. Suzanne’s on the Mississippi trip, Kipi’s locked in to VBS mode with just 12 days to go, and Bonny’s still putting her office back together after the “Flood of July 2.” After five straight days, the buzz of the fans and the de-humidifiers in the building are gone. And today’s the 4th straight day without any rain at Stanglin Manor. The yards are still soggy. But I got more work done outside Saturday than I’ve done combined since we moved in. Edging the curb and driveway with a weedeater was like digging a trench with a cereal spoon. I battled it for well over an hour. I think it ended in a draw.
There are 52 days until football season and my #52 is another Steeler from the ’70s, center Mike Webster. He was tough. He played in every single game during his first ten seasons, he started in 150 straight games, and missed only four total in his 16 NFL seasons. He won four Super Bowls with the Steelers and ended his career with the Chiefs.
Getting caught up on the countdown from the weekend will be a little more fun. #53 is not Bob Breunig, although he deserves honorable mention. My #53 is a great two-way star for the OU Sooners during the ’50s, linebacker/center Jerry Tubbs. Tubbs never lost a single football game during his three year career at Oklahoma. His 31 wins were part of that legendary 47-game winning streak and two national titles from 1954-56. He was an All-America at linebacker, he won the Walter Camp Award, and he actually finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1956.
Tubbs was the Chicago Cardinals top pick in the ’57 draft. And he was acquired by the Dallas Cowboys in 1960 during their expansion draft. After he finished playing, Tubbs served as an assistant coach for the Cowboys under Tom Landry for 21 years, an integral part of that run of five Super Bowl appearances in the ’70s. And to top it off, before any of his college and pro success, Tubbs won two Texas State High School Football Championships at Breckenridge.
And #54 is also a long-time Dallas Cowboy, linebacker Chuck Howley. He played three seasons for the Bears before coming to Dallas for draft picks in 1961 and played for Landry for 13 years. He went to six Pro Bowls and two Super Bowls, losing the heartbreaker in the Blunder Bowl on Jim O’Brien’s field goal and winning big the following year over Miami. Howley was named the MVP of Super Bowl VI, the only MVP ever to be named from the losing team. Landry called Howley “the best linebacker I ever saw.” And that’s good enough for me.
Now, to all you Randy White fans, let me present a technicality. I get the “Manster” and Howley both on my list because Randy White wore the #94 in college at Maryland. One of these days I’m going to list all 99 of the best football players ever on this blog and you’ll see White at #94. We were doing the countdown on 990AM one summer and actually had the equipment manager at Maryland, who was there back when White played, custom make a replica Randy White #94 Terrapin jersey for us. We were doing our show live from some pool hall somewhere in North Dallas and had Randy White there with us live and he gave the jersey away in a drawing.
The other Randy White story involves Carrie-Anne. White was signing autographs at some shoe store or something at a mall in Austin. This was back in 1990 or ’91. We didn’t have kids yet. And White actually stopped C-A and asked her if she wanted his autograph. She replied, “No, not really.” And that floored him. He couldn’t believe it. He asked her two or three more times, “Are you sure you don’t want my autograph?” And she just kept saying, “No, not really, no big deal, no thanks.” It was so funny. It has to be the only time in history a Dallas Cowboys Hall of Famer has ever been rejected like that.
Tomorrow’s #51 requires no explanations. It’s a no-brainer. Automatic. Hands-down. No debate.