As a spiritual leader, what do you think about praying for success?
A Kingdom Contradiction?
In many ways, praying for success may seem like a Kingdom contradiction. After all, the Bible tells us the Kingdom is about things like weakness, humility and being poor in spirit. How does praying for success fit in with those values?
The Desire for Humility
Humility is a hallmark of servant leadership. We are called to trust God and to trust others. Success should not just depend on the leader. We are to remember that we are dispensable as leaders, and to invest heavily in others. Spiritual leaders are to be gentle with those in our care, ready to admit our mistakes, and quick to forgive those who wrong us. We should be grateful, recognising the input others have into our leadership. We recognise our limitations and share authority with those around us. As humble leaders, we must divert attention from our successes and celebrate the success of others instead. How does praying for success fit in with this characteristic?
The Example of Jabez
I pose these questions, because during my devotions this week (a fascinating series on the unsung heroes of the Bible written by Paul Gravelle and found in New Daylight by BRF) my attention was drawn again to the prayer of Jabez:
Jabez was honoured more than his brothers; and his mother named him Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him in pain.’ Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, ‘Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from hurt and harm!’ And God granted what he asked. (1 Chronicles 4:9-10, NRSVA).
Does that sound like a humble leader to you? Would a humble servant leader pray for blessing? Why would a humble spiritual leader ask God to enlarge his border? Would a spiritual leader who emphasised the Kingdom values of weakness and being poor in spirit ask God for his hand to be with him and to keep him from hurt and harm? Does praying for success not smack of the prosperity gospel?
The “Problem” of God’s Provision
The prayer of Jabez has indeed been criticised for encouraging spiritual leaders and others to pray selfish prayers. The difficulty with that criticism is that the Bible tells us God answered Jabez’s prayer positively! God did bless him. He did enlarge his territory. His hand was with him. God did protect Jabez from hurt and harm.
Attitude Counts for Everything
Why did God grant Jabez’s request? It can only be because Jabez asked with the right attitude; the right motivation. Jabez was essentially praying for more opportunities for service, more Kingdom opportunities and in doing so, it was right for him to ask God to keep him from evil, physical, spiritual, mental and emotional, as he did so.
Paul Gravelle’s testimony is that having prayed the prayer of Jabez himself over a number of years:
God has certainly increased the boundaries of my ministry – even in retirement – so that I can be a blessing to others. And I can confidently say that the hand of God has indeed kept me from evil in a number of different ways. (New Daylight, 2 August 2018).
Praying for Success
I have been challenged to pray more for success. I want to pray that I will seek after the Lord. I pray that I will have success in my ministry, so that the glory goes to God, not me. I want God’s hand to lead and guide me in all that I do. I want to pray that my ministry will bring forth spiritual fruit. I pray that I will grow spiritually, growing in my relationship with God and growing in grace towards other people. I want to pray that God will give me the strength and energy to finish my life well and to become the person he created me to be. Above all, I ask the Holy Spirit to purify my motivations for praying these prayers.
May these prayers be a holy rather than a worldly ambition. If you too are challenged to pray for success, then you might want to use the words Paul Gravelle suggested in his devotion:
O Lord, I long for you to bless me indeed and to increase my effectiveness for your kingdom. May your hand be always with me to keep me from evil and let me be a blessing to others, causing them no pain. Amen (New Daylight, 2 August 2018).
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