Excerpted (with minimum editing) from Gardiner Spring, The Power of the Pulpit [BOT, 1986], 222–6

Such is the importance of the Christian ministry, that we are constrained to solicit for it one particular favour. It is a request in which we feel a very deep personal concern. Pray for us! “Pray for us” (1 Thes 5:25), says Paul; “pray for us” is the hearty response from every Christian pulpit in the land, and in the wide world. If the prayers of good men were solicited by such a man as Paul; and if, with his giant intellect, his eminent spirituality, and his intimate communion with God and things unseen, this holy man needed this encouragement and impulse in his work, who will not say: “Brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified” (2 Thes 3:1)!

It is a delightful thought to a young man entering upon the ministry of reconciliation that, unworthy as he is, the prayers of thousands of God’s people are continually going up, on his behalf, to his Father and their Father, to his God and their God. He seems to hear the church of God saying to him, We cannot go to this sacred work, but we will follow you with our prayers! He seems to hear many a Christian parent say to him, We have no son to send to this hallowed vocation; but go you to it, and you shall not lack an interest in our prayers! Not a few of the churches of this land have enjoyed the high privilege of sending forth into the spiritual harvest a considerable number of beloved youths from their own more immediate families. And it has been the usage of such churches, to an extent that is ungratefully remembered, to assemble for the more special service of commending their young brethren to the care and faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God. How fitting, in every way, is such a service! How full of encouragement to the heart that trembles under a view of the responsibilities of the sacred office! How delightful this spiritual impetus to a mind almost ready to sink under its own conscious infirmities! And how unspeakably precious the thought to all who labour in this great work, whether in youthful or riper years, that they are thus habitually remembered in the prayers of the churches! Let the thought sink deep into the heart of every church, that their minister will be very much such a minister as their prayers may make him. If nothing short of Omnipotent grace can make a Christian, nothing less than this can make a faithful and successful minister of the Gospel!

We entreat the churches to regard with a more deliberate and devout mind the great work itself to which their ministries are devoted. To explain the doctrines and enforce the duties of genuine Christianity; to defend the truth against all the subtlety and versatility of error; to sustain within their own minds that sense of God’s presence, and of those moral sanctions, which are revealed in His Word. And to experience that deep and tender impression of the things that are unseen and eternal, that are necessary to give earnestness to their preaching, as well as that consistent life and deportment that are necessary to give power to their preaching; to do this in a way that shall adapt itself to different times, places, occasions and characters, and without being disheartened by difficulties, appalled by enemies, and weary of the yoke which they have taken upon themselves, is no ordinary work! If a people are looking for rich discourses from their minister, their prayers must supply him with the matter; if they seek for faithful discourses, their prayers must urge him, by a full and uncompromising manifestation of the truth, to commend himself to every man’s conscience in the sight of God (see 2 Corinthians 4:2); if for powerful and successful discourses, their prayers must make him a blessing to the souls of men. Would they have him come to them in the fullness of the blessings of the Gospel of peace, with a heaving heart, a kindled eye, and a glowing tongue, and with discourses bathed in tears and elaborate with prayer? If so, their prayers must urge him to pray, and their tears inspire his thrilling heart with the strong yearnings of Christian affection. It is in their own closets that the people of God most effectually charge upon the soul of their beloved ministers, to take heed to the ministry they have received from the Lord Jesus (see Acts 20:24).

And who and what are ministers themselves? Frail men, fallible, sinning men, exposed to every snare, to temptation in every form; and, from the very post of observation they occupy, the fairer mark for the fiery darts of the foe. They are no mean victims the great Adversary is seeking, when he would wound and cripple Christ’s ministers. One such victim is worth more to the kingdom of darkness than a score of common men; and for this very account their temptations are probably more subtle and severe than those encountered by ordinary Christians. If this subtle Deceiver fails to destroy them, he artfully aims at neutralising their influence by quenching the fervour of their piety, lulling them into negligence, and doing all in his power to render their work irksome. How perilous the condition of that minister then, whose heart is not encouraged, whose hands are not strengthened, and who is not upheld by the prayers of his people! It is not in his own closet and on his own knees alone, that he finds security and comfort, and ennobling, humbling, and purifying thoughts and joys; but it is when they also seek them in his behalf, that he becomes a better and happier man, and a more useful minister of the everlasting Gospel!

Nothing gives a people so much interest in their minister, and interest of the best kind, as to pray for him. They will love him more, respect him more, attend more cheerfully and gain more profit from his ministry, the more they commend him to God in their prayers. They feel a deeper interest in his work the more they pray for him; and their children feel a deeper interest both in him and in his preaching, when they regularly listen to supplications that affectionately commend him to the throne of the heavenly grace.

The results of a preached Gospel are associated with the most interesting realities in the universe. Nay, they form no small part in affecting the realities themselves. There are no such bright and radiant exhibitions of the ever-blessed and adorable Godhead, as are made where a preached Gospel has free course and is glorified. That wondrous exhibition of the Divine nature, that progressive development which is in itself so desirable, and in its consequences so endeared to every holy mind, never shines forth with such impressive distinctness and subduing lustre, as when the hearers of His truth and grace, proclaimed from lips of clay, indicate that appearing of His great glory. Had the people of God on the earth minds as pure as the angelic intellect around the throne, with what deep concern, solicitude and prayer, would they watch the progress and follow the labours of the humble and faithful ambassadors of the cross, as they proclaim this glorious Gospel, and as the effects of their preaching reveal new and lasting exhibitions of the manifested Deity! The effects of their preaching upon the souls of men are nothing less than the savour of life unto life in them that are saved, and in them that perish of death unto death (2 Cor 2:15–16). The same light and motives that are the means of fitting some for heaven, when abused and perverted, only fit others for hell.

O it is at a fearful expense that ministers are ever allowed to enter the pulpit without being preceded, accompanied, and followed by the earnest prayers of the churches. It is no marvel that the pulpit is so powerless, and ministers so often disheartened when there are so few to hold up their hands. The consequence of neglecting this duty is seen and felt in the spiritual declension of the churches, and it will be seen and felt in the everlasting perdition of men; while the consequence of regarding it would be the ingathering of multitudes into the kingdom of God, and new glories to the Lamb that was slain!

On his behalf therefore, and on the behalf of his beloved and respected brethren in the ministry, the writer would crave an interest in the prayers of all who love the Saviour and the souls of men. We are the dispensers of God’s truth and at best fall far below our mighty theme. The duties of our calling return upon us with every returning week and day. They often come upon us with many and conflicting demands. They sometimes put a demand upon all our thoughts, and at the very time when we have lost the power of thinking; and sometimes they call for all the ardour and strength of our affections, just at the time we are the least susceptible of them. There is also associated with these demands that pressing solicitude, and corroding anxiety, which exhausts our vigour, prostrates our courage, and drinks up our spirits. And then, in addition to all this, there are so many disappointments in our work, that we need the sympathy of prayer.

Our spirit is sometimes stirred within us, and we go forth to our people flushed with the hope of rescuing them from everlasting burnings; and in some hapless hour of self-sufficiency, we vainly imagine the work and triumph are our own. We are instant in season, and out of season (2 Tim 4:2); we make a business of preparing for the conflict, sometimes polishing our arrows and sometimes leaving them rough and barbed. We put on our armour, and enter the field with the determination to lay out all our strength, and with the confident assurance that we must do execution. But what a lesson of self-abasement! We cannot convert a single soul. “We have piped unto [them], and [they] have not danced; we have mourned unto [them], and [they] have not lamented” (Mt 11:17). We urge the Divine commands, and they trample upon His authority; we urge His threatenings, and they despise His justice; we speak of His promises, they heed not His faithfulness; of His Son, and they tread Him under their feet; of His patience and long-suffering, but their impenitence and obduracy are proof against them all. We reason and expostulate with them, until the obstacles to their conversion seem to us to rise higher by every effort to surmount them; until, finally, we sink in despondency, and cry out, “What mighty power can break these adamantine hearts? What omnipotent grasp can rescue these perishing men from everlasting burnings?” O you blood-bought churches, your ministers need your prayers, for the exceeding greatness of that power which God worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead (Eph 1:19–20).

We have a concert of prayer for the heathen, another for Sabbath Schools, and yet another for the blessing of God upon the distribution of religious tracts. Why should we overlook the great means of God’s own appointment for the salvation of men? May there not be something in the form of a concert of prayer for the ministers of the Gospel? If nothing better can be suggested, why may there not be a general understanding among Christian men, and Christian families, to set apart the morning of every Lord’s Day, for this great and special object? This was the practice in the family of my venerable father, and it has long been my own as well. And it is a most precious privilege. The time is a very fitting one; and such a service would not fail to exert a delightful influence on the privileges of the sanctuary. “Before they call I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear” (Isa 65:24). Should God be pleased to give to the churches the spirit of prayer for their ministers, it would be with the purpose of answering it. “He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer” (Ps 102:17; cf. Neh 1:5–6). It is written, that “the LORD will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night” (Isa 4:5); nor will the altar be profaned, nor the incense less fragrant, if those words of hope are more often upon the lips of those who offer it, “Clothe Thy priests with salvation: that Thy saints may shout aloud for joy!” (cf. Ps 132:16). Nor is this all! Let the ministers of the Gospel have an habitual remembrance at the domestic altar every day. “It is no small thing,” says a modern writer of our own city, “for any congregation to have daily cries for God’s blessing ascending from a hundred firesides. What a spring of refreshment to a pastor! The family devotions of praying Kidderminster, no doubt, made Richard Baxter a better minister, and a happier man; and it is possible we are reaping the fruits of them in his books, The Saints Everlasting Rest and Dying Thoughts” [see Thoughts on Family Worship, by J. W. Alexander. No family should lack this most valuable, seasonable, and beautiful volume].

Ye then, who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent, and give Him no rest (Isa 62:6–7). When the churches cease to pray for ministers, ministers will no longer be a blessing to the churches. Brethren, pray for us, that we may be kept from sin; that we may walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time (Eph 5:15–16); that our hearts may be more devoted to God, and our lives a more impressive exemplification of the Gospel we preach; that we may be more completely girded for our work and our conflicts, and put on the whole armour of God; that we may be more faithful and wise to win souls, and that we may keep under our body, and bring it into subjection, lest after having preached to others, we ourselves be castaway (1 Cor 9:27). When we turn our thoughts toward barren ordinances and a fruitless ministry, our hearts sink within us, and we would fain throw ourselves at the feet of the churches and implore a remembrance in their prayers. If you ever enter into the “secret place” of the Most High, and get near the heart of Him whom your souls love, plead earnestly that His own power may attend the stated ministrations of His Gospel. If you ever lie on Jesus’ bosom, please remember us! Open your desires; tell your Immanuel of His costly sacrifice and wonderful love; tell Him of His power and our weakness; speak to Him of the unutterable glory, and the interminable anguish beyond the grave. With tears of solicitude urge you suit, and tell Him that He has committed the treasure of the glorious Gospel to earthen vessels, in order that the excellency of the power may be all of God!

Editor’s note: A concerned brother recommended the printing of this article as a remedy to the sad neglect in local churches. I cannot agree more to having it printed, for I can surely identify with the struggles and burdens of the ministry that Mr. Spring brings out so graphically and poignantly. Oh, may the Lord move us to pray not only for your pastor, but for all ministers of the Gospel, who labour faithfully in the Word, especially those known unto us. Brethren, pray for us!

J.J. Lim