The Follow-up

"Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are...and he was traveling...strengthening the churches." Acts 15:36-41

After almost 40 years of ministry on the mission field and as a pastor in a local church, God commissioned my wife and I to an itinerant ministry. It is one of the most fulfilling experiences of our lives, connecting with "the brethren" and strengthening the churches. It has an ancient heritage, and we are honored to have a small part in carrying it out in a contemporary setting.

Paul's words reveal his passion. He was driven to "see how they are." The nature of his ministry was itinerant, but he left a part of himself in the lives of the brethren in every city where he proclaimed the word of the Lord. Dana and I can relate.

The pastors and people we have met may be in our rear-view mirror, but we always have Georgia on our minds...and Iowa, California, New York, Nevada, Texas, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Ohio, Minnesota, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Florida, New Hampshire, Virginia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Israel. You get the picture.

We have planted a part of ourselves in every state and nation we have visited. Along the way, we have also lost pillows, sunglasses, cell phones, clothing, and luggage. Thanks American. Not bitter. No pressure. But it has been almost 10 months. Any luck yet?

There is one common denominator we have found in every church, and in every city we have visited. The pastors and people of the churches are in need of strength and encouragement. We have spent many long nights, long after the meetings with the churches, listening and comforting pastors and spouses. It was not on our agenda, or in our material, but it was the reason God led us there.

Strengthening and encouraging is close to the heart of God. Those who are called to minister in His name will find great fulfillment in being a pencil in His hand, writing a note of compassion and concern on the broken hearts and weary lives of those in need of both.

I remember hearing a great voice for Southern Baptists preaching a powerful word at one of our conventions. It was shortly before his moral failure became evident to his adoring audience. He made a statement that I have never forgotten. He was quoting a discouraged pastor, I am convinced it was autobiographical, and that it revealed his own broken spirit. He said, "I surrendered for more than this." He was right, but he settled for less. Don't do it.

Satan has a strategy. It is discouragement. Fear not. The Father has one as well. He offers strength from The Son and encouragement from The Spirit. Both are released through prayer.

This same word for strengthen is found in Act 14:22, where Paul was...

"strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, 'Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.' ”

Strengthening people comes from praying for people, not just talking to them, or listening to them. Don't take my word for it. Listen to Jesus. He thought it did.

"But I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:32

The Blue Letter Bible defines the word used for strengthening, found in Acts 15:41 as...

to establish besides, strengthen more

to render more firm, confirm

It is rooted in the same word Jesus uses as His focus on praying for Peter in Luke 22:32. We should do no less.

Pray for pastors. They need it, and you need the practice. Talking about them either makes them a target for Satan, or an idol for people. Praying for them strengthens the tie that binds them to the throne of God's grace, and releases the tender mercies of your own heart. Whining about their shortcomings rarely turns Sunday services into joyous homecomings. Carving up roast preacher to your family, week after week, only starves your soul, and won't feed theirs. Stop it.

The fear of failure is never far from the heart of a pastor or preacher. Satan will make sure of that. Remember the words of Jesus to Peter? Failure is often a prelude to victory.

The weekly encore anxiety that haunts a pastor of a local church is relentless. Sermons to prepare, messages to preach, hospitals to visit, funerals to lead, weddings to perform, lost to save, vision to cast, meetings to attend, decisions to make, staff to coach, deadlines to meet, counsel to give, and fights to settle are like relentless waves, hitting the same beach over and over again, week after week. They can take their toll on the strongest of rocks.

Praying for your pastor will strengthen their seawall. Praying strengthens the church to provide shelter from the storm, and avoids turning it into a Pearl Harbor, with nothing but attacking planes and sinking ships. Prayer strengthens pastors and people, equipping them to sail out of the harbor and engage the enemy with a message that transforms the culture, one life at a time.

As Dana and I head out this morning to South Carolina, we are praying for the pastors of that state. We are praying for David and Cindy Lane, and the American Renewal Project team that we will joining there. In a few hours we will be leading 600 pastors to pray, and to stand up for Religious Liberty in this nation. They already have much to do, but so much is at stake. Pray for them to have the courage and the strength to do what is necessary to lead the next Great Awakening. TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!