In the last issue I challenged the eldership to prayer: specific, diligent and faithfully practiced prayer. In this one, I direct that same challenge to the deacons in the church.
A couple of introductory comments are in order. With the elders, a warning needed to be sounded about the danger to forget that their work is pastoral, not administrative. Likewise, Scripture teaches that deacons are not to be thought of as merely financial functionaries who count money and write checks, but they are the spiritual managers of all congregational stewardship, including all the gifts, time and talents of the membership. Unless that is kept in mind, the charge I am about to make will be meaningless.
How ought the deacons to pray? Clearly, corporate prayer should be high on the list of the agenda items for your deacons’ meetings. In fact, I would strongly urge that deacons meet regularly, strictly for prayer for the various ministry needs of the local church. Further, in other prayer gatherings, deacons must be the conscience of the congregation, informing the other members of the specific needs which must be lifted before the Lord of the church. I believe it is one of the highest callings of the office.
But individual prayer as an individual deacon is also important. This is particularly so when a deacon is assigned to a parish/care group/district, as is increasingly the case among Reformed churches. The following target areas for prayer are as applicable to the individual deacon in his prayer as they are for the body of deacons in their meetings. Additionally, they may well suggest parameters for the prayers of the deacons in leadership in the worship services, should that be a practice in your church.
Prayers of Gratitude
In II Corinthians 8–9, the inspired apostle addresses the important subject of churches generously giving of their abundance to help others, who have need. In chapter 9:14–15, he declares, in commending the Corinthians for their gift, that:
…in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
Note that the gratitude of which the apostle speaks is gratitude that is both felt and expressed for several things:
• for the generosity of their faith, which was shown in their gift;
• for the grace of God shown to His people, providing for their needs;
• for the grace of God shown through His people, providing for others’ needs and stimulating thankfulness.
Such ought to characterize your prayers of gratitude. Tell the gracious Father of your genuine thanks that He has provided for the needs of your congregation by granting to your people generous hearts and faithful stewardship. Praise Him for His gracious arrangement to give gifts to your body of believers, thus challenging the ones who have much, to show love to those who do not.
Prayers for God’s Provision
Besides prayers of gratitude, the deacons must be the voice of the people of God in the throne room of the King on behalf of the needy. You must offer prayers for His provision. Nowhere is this more powerfully stated than in what we have come to know as the Lord’s Prayer. Notice how it prioritizes our prayers:
• Our Father in heaven,
• Hallowed be your name, Your kingdom come, your will be
• done on earth as it is in heaven.
• Give us today our daily bread.
• Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
• And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (Mt. 6:9–12, NIV).
Beginning with the prayer for the advancement of God’s reputation on earth (our first calling and priority in prayer), Jesus teaches us to pray for the coming of the “kingdom rule of God,” reflected in obedience to His kingly will. Only in the light of that living priority does he turn next to “our daily bread”! That’s worthy of note. Deacons, and all believers, have no business praying for anything unless that prayer is devoid of selfishness. When I was a child, we prayed in Sunday School for a private airplane. No, we weren’t anxious to learn to fly! The airplane was needed for the extension of the kingdom—for mission work in Nigeria. Our teacher spent much wise time explaining the difference between praying selfishly and praying as servants of the coming kingdom. Deacons must remember that too. To pray for God’s provision because it makes the work of the deacons easier if there is a large balance in the account is selfish. How different than praying for God’s generous provision for a specific need in the church’s ministry—whether financial, or a willing worker, or a talent not enjoyed before—because it will provide tools for the coming of the kingdom of God!
Prayers for a Gracious Heart Regarding the Poor
Let’s be honest. It is often difficult to have a healthy attitude regarding poor people. Driving around North Dallas, I see quite a number of individuals standing at busy intersections holding signs: “Will Work for Food.” The first month or so, my heart was tugged, and I wondered how I could help. Soon after, I became more calloused than I’d care to admit. I found myself wondering if it was a scam, if they were lazy, if they had criminal designs on getting into individual homes. Sadly, my fear was warranted; recent investigative reports have revealed that many of the so-called “will work for food” sign carriers are part of a network of people being paid to collect money for a group of people known to the police as con-artists. But as a Christian, I didn’t like my callousness either.
The words of the Lord in James 2:1–7 are a good reminder of the spirit of grace and generosity that must be present in the lives of the people of God. We must go out of our way to be open to the poor, even exposing ourselves to vulnerability if need be. Among no people in the church is such a spirit of grace to be more evident than in the deacons. They, of all people in the body of Christ, cannot be cold, calculating, overly suspicious. They must of course, be wise. But “wisdom” cannot be an euphemism for cold-heartedness. Pray diligently that God will keep you soft-hearted!
Spiritual Foe of Materialism
Matthew 6:19–24 is such an important passage for deacons that I hesitate to mention it merely in passing. It probably ought to serve as the foundation for a series of articles. However, allow me merely to suggest that the penetrating words of our Lord on the subject of serving the master of mammon have never, in my view, been more timely and important than they are at the end of the twentieth century in North America. Even our poor are wealthy when compared even to the extremely wealthy of the poor nations on earth! How dangerous it is for us to set our hearts on things that will corrupt, decay or rust—but how incredibly easy it has become. How crucial for the pulpit to warn, and for the church to pray that we never become captured by such idolatry. As deacons, pray regularly that you do not evaluate the quality of the church by taking inventory of her perishables. And pray that your people be delivered from this debilitating and destructive sin. Nothing destroys true and loving stewardship more than such greed.
Prayers for a Spirit of Dependence
Finally, I challenge you to pray in the light of the calling of our Lord in the very next verses, Matthew 6:25ff. There, He calls the church not to worry about perishables, but to trust in our heavenly Father. Remember the powerful words: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Such a spirit of faith is a gift of God, and is one so desperately needed in our time. Pray that God will endow both you, your fellow deacons and your congregation with such a spirit, with such priorities, with such faith.
Dr. Sittema faithfully contributes to The Outlook as editor of this column and has recently published the book With A Shepherd’s Heart as an outgrowth of this column. He is pastor of Bethel CRC in Dallas, TX.