In this article, we look at the key inner discipline of prayer. Prayer is vital to developing servant leader character as it reflects our hearts before God. Remember that Proverbs 4:3 says that the heart, or our inner life, is the wellspring of life, and Proverbs 21:2 reveals that God weighs our hearts when considering our actions. As we look at the activity of prayer, keep in mind the principle that our inner life, our heart, is the source of all we say and do (Matt 12:34-35) and upon which our growth and development as leaders depends.
Prayer and Intercession
Dallas Willard writes, “Prayer is conversing, communicating with God. When we pray, we talk to God, aloud or within our thoughts.” Prayer in its most basic form is communion with God. Yet, this definition is lacking the depth of understanding of what it can be for the believer. “Prayer is such a vast and multifaceted subject that we instantly recognize the impossibility of even lightly touching on all its aspects.” So, this is a very brief introduction, and I encourage us all to develop a lifestyle of seeking and learning more about prayer as we grow in relationship with God.
Prayer is one of the main tools we have for drawing closer to God. It is one of the simplest and most straight forward ways to communicate with Him. “The closer we come to the heartbeat of God the more we see our need and the more we desire to be conformed to Christ.” Prayer helps develop a renewed mind as we turn our thoughts constantly and consistently toward God.
Learn about prayer. Jesus made prayer a priority and frequently got up early and went away alone to pray. The disciples recognized from this consistent practice that there was power in Jesus’ prayers that were absent in the religious leaders of the day. Perhaps this is the reason they ask Jesus to teach them to pray in Luke 11:1. It was in this learning and growing process as they lived with Jesus that they discovered intimacy with God and seeing His power through prayer.
Like the disciples, we can learn by seeking out those who experience power and effectiveness in prayer. Begin with studying Scripture; read all that Jesus taught about and did through prayer. Seek out other, more mature believers who walk in great intimacy with God and have a powerful, effective prayer life who will share with you what they have discovered. We can also read books by pastors and leaders about prayer and how to pray. Read biographies of “explorers in the frontiers of faith” for whom “prayer was no little habit tacked onto the periphery of their lives” but was central to all they did. From Scripture, testimonies, and books on prayer, we learn that prayer is birthed in a humble, teachable spirit and is a daily (sometimes multiple times a day) activity.
Make prayer a lifestyle. When speaking about prayer to the disciples in Luke 11, Jesus taught them that it was a daily activity. He taught them to pray for their daily bread with simple and uncomplicated expectation that it would be provided. In his closing remarks to the church in Thessalonica, Paul also encourages them to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17). “It is not possible for us to spend all our time with the words of prayer on our lips, but it is possible for us to be all our days in the spirit of prayer, realizing our dependence on God for all we have and are, being conscious of his presence with us wherever we may be, and yielding ourselves continually to him to do his will.”
Prayer is not and should not be complicated. “Jesus taught us to come like children to a father. Openness, honesty, and trust mark the communication of children with their father.” Children simply ask, often without boundaries on what may be possible, with imagination and hopeful expectation. This is the daily habit Jesus expects us to cultivate in our own lives.
Pray with God’s heart for others. In John 17, Jesus prayed for his disciples. He did not just pray for those who were there with him in person, but he prayed for all those who would come to believe in him (Jn 17:20). This outward attitude focuses us on God’s heart for others. “Our prayer is to be like a reflex action to God’s prior initiative upon the heart.” He has entrusted us with a message for the world (Matt 28:18-19) and a mission to continue the reconciliation Christ began of the world to the Father (1 Cor 5:17).
Pray for yourself and family members. Pray for those you know who may be sick and need healing. Pray for your pastor, church staff, and elders for wisdom, strength, peace, and protection. Where you know of a need in a person’s life, pray for them! Pray for the church—both your local church and the Church as a whole. Pray for leaders in business, education, and government (local, national, international). Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and pray with your heart focused on how God loves others.
Spend time right now in prayer. Take time to quiet your mind and focus on God. Speak simply to Him of what is on your heart. Ask Him about areas where you can improve. Ask what practical steps you can take to be intentional about improving in that area. Listen for His response. Record what you hear Him speaking or impressing on your heart in a journal. Ask God to help you grow and develop a vibrant daily life of prayer, and to take you ever deeper into conversations and relationship with Him.
Prayer is beneficial for every area of your life and it impacts your growth as a leader and relationship with God. Look for ways to cultivate these practices in your daily life and see for yourself the lifelong impact it has on your development. Join me next time as we look at the practice of Service and be blessed!
 Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (New York: HarperOne, 2009), 184.
 Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, special anniversary ed. (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2018), 35.
 Foster, Celebration, 33.
 Foster, Celebration, 34.
 Leon Morris, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 13, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 104.
 Foster, Celebration, 40.
 Foster, Celebration, 42.