Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Inner~View #47: A Praying Pastor Leads His Church Deep Into Prayer



Phil Miglioratti interviewed Pastor Jim Nicodem, author of Prayer Coach: For all who want to get off the bench and onto the playing field


Phil ~ Jim, what does the subtitle tell us about your passion in writing this book?

Jim ~
You're absolutely right when you refer to my book's subtitle ("For Those Who Want to Get Off the Fence and Onto the Praying Field") as a reflection of my passion. I love to equip people to pray. Oftentimes when I speak on the topic of prayer, I'll begin by asking my audience: "How many of you feel that your prayer life is what it should be?" I've never seen a hand go up! Prayer is one of those spiritual disciplines that we all wish we practiced more—but somehow we never get around to doing anything about it.

I have two shelves of books on prayer in my study. Some of them are quite profound. In fact, during the year and a half that it took me to write Prayer Coach, at least half a dozen well-known Christian authors published books on prayer! So, why add another book to the list? Because I wasn't out to deepen readers' understanding about prayer—I was out to get them to pray. To actually do it.


Phil ~ You paint vivid pictures by using many athletic illustrations and examples -- While the teachings in your book apply to both genders and across generations, it seems you have a specific goal to capture the minds of men ... Why?

Jim ~
Before I tell you why I'm after men, let me say that I hope the athletic metaphor of my book's title, Prayer Coach, doesn't scare away any women. This isn't just a guy's book. By God's grace, I was able to get endorsements from an extremely diverse group of people: a women's softball gold medallist, a New Testament scholar, a lead singer for a Christian rock band, the founder of Promise Keepers, a high school student, a female radio talk show host, a world famous evangelist, and the "winningest" coach in college football—to name a few. Probably the strangest mix of endorsers in publishing history. But I wanted potential readers to know that this book is for everybody who wants to pray more.

Having said that, I'm definitely after the guys. For years I've done quarterly men's breakfasts at Christ Community Church on the topic of prayer. Several hundred men show up. I know how to get men's attention. I know how to say things in a way that they will understand and put into practice. Married men often lag behind their wives when it comes to praying. Maybe we're just not as good at expressing ourselves verbally. But it's time we set the pace in our homes when it comes to prayer.


Phil ~ Just as male readers may have some different issues than female readers, pastors (predominately male in our culture) have a specific set of circumstances and problems others do not face ...

Jim ~
Prayer Coach is going to be of tremendous benefit to pastors for at least a couple of very significant reasons. First, it's the tool that pastors have been looking for to disciple others in praying. Most of the guys that I mentor in small groups—businessmen and tradesmen, alike—aren't going to read the really profound books on prayer. They're looking for something that's much more practical. Something that's just a little bit butt-kicking, too.

For over twenty years I've been giving away copies of Bill Hybels' Too Busy Not to Pray—the most practical book available on prayer. I finally decided it was time to write an updated version! Pastors (I hope) are going to be regularly handing out copies of Prayer Coach, as well as encouraging their churches' small groups to use it as a curriculum.

Second, pastors are going to personally benefit from Prayer Coach because there is an entire chapter in the book that challenges readers to pray for those in spiritual leadership (especially pastors!) and explains how to do it. There are almost a hundred men at Christ Community Church who have formally signed on to be my prayer partners. They are not only committed to interceding for me throughout the week, they also pray on rotating teams while I am preaching at our weekend services.


Phil ~ You identify several normal situations, such as feeling anger or joy and struggling with temptation or anxiety, as actual promptings for prayer from the Spirit. Really? It seems we should take a fresh look at how the Spirit leads and guides us in prayer beyond using the written Word of God...

Jim ~
We miss so many opportunities to pray in the course of every day. Opportunities that God's Spirit is prompting us to take advantage of. I tell the story, in Prayer Coach, of a recent occasion when I was in danger of missing a connecting flight on a missions trip, along with a couple dozen people from my church. We had to claim our bags, go through customs, and then re-check them for the next flight. But there wasn't enough time to get all this done. So, being the take-charge guy that I am, I began strategizing ways to "fix" things (from bribing a customs official to give us a quick pass, to pleading with the airlines to hold our next flight).

All of a sudden it dawned on me that I ought to try praying! Less than half a minute after I said "amen," an airlines representative announced that we could take our time because our next flight had been delayed! The Spirit is constantly trying to get our attention so that we'll pray. We've got to learn how to discern and respond to those promptings.



Phil ~ Talk about your approach to what some call Prayer Evangelism.

Jim ~
Prayer is a huge part of evangelism. And that explains why the vast majority of Christ followers have never introduced a lost friend to the Savior. Prayerlessness cripples our outreach. We don't just need better training or tools for sharing our faith. We need to start praying for those who need Christ.

I like to teach believers how to pray the "3-Open" prayer (a pattern I learned from somebody else). This is a prayer that's to be prayed while we're in conversation with others. Now, my wife is constantly chiding me for my inability to multi-task. (For example, I can't fold laundry and watch a ballgame at the same time. Guys, are you with me?) But in this case we must do two things simultaneously. We must learn how to talk to God while we're talking to others.

First, we pray for an open door—that God will move the conversation to spiritual matters. Next, we pray for an open mouth—for boldness and clarity in speaking about Christ. Finally, we pray for an open heart—that the one we're talking with will respond positively to what we share. I've had some amazing conversations with seekers as a result of praying the 3-Open prayer.


Phil ~ You've put a new spin on the ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) format for praying. Explain how this approach is both similar and yet importantly different.

Jim ~
I was taught, years ago, to use the acronym A-C-T-S when praying. This reminded me to include adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication when I prayed. But I always struggled with that acronym. For starters, I could never remember it. What does ACTS have to do with praying? And then there was that word, supplication—I had no idea what it meant. Finally, on those occasions when I felt the need to begin my prayers with confession, I realized that I was reconfiguring the acronym to spell CATS—ugh!

So, I prefer a different acronym: C-H-A-T. Confess, honor, ask, and thank are four action verbs that I understand and that bring balance to my prayer life. CHAT reminds me to talk to God. And putting the "C" (confess) at the beginning of my prayers helps me restore sin-broken fellowship with God before trying to hold a conversation with him.

There is a separate chapter on each of these four aspects of prayer in Prayer Coach. I've heard from those I pastor over the years that the "honor" ("praise" or "worship") part of praying is the hardest. One guy told me that when he closes the weekly small group he leads by inviting the men to "praise God for who he is," the room becomes uncomfortably quiet. Nobody knows what to say. Once again, this is exactly why I've written this book. It's filled to the brim with practical instructions that will get people praying.


Phil ~ Regarding confession, you quote McMinn: "Part of our mess is not knowing we are a mess." How does that apply to our typical confessional prayers. Any special insight for how pastors need to apply this thought?

Jim ~
So much of our confessing barely scratches the surface of our sin. It reminds me of one of the household rules we had as our kids were growing up. Everybody had to have a clean room. But "clean" meant something different for our kids than it did for their mom. So, while the kids kept things picked up, in a general sort of way, mom would occasionally invade their territory and give their rooms a thorough going over.

In Prayer Coach, I use Psalm 51 to teach how to confess sins in an in-depth fashion. How to get at the sins behind the sins. How to come away truly clean and fully restored.


Phil ~ "Get ready to pray - 'cause we do a lot of it around here" was the warning a new staff member received as they joined your staff. Many pastors, of congregations large or small, traditional or contemporary, struggle to develop an authentic prayer culture in all the systems and structures of their church. How did you do it? Any wisdom on how to begin?

Jim ~
We do a lot of praying around Christ Community Church. Let me give you just a couple of examples of ways in which this has contributed to a prayer culture. (And, by the way, isn't it interesting to note that Jesus referred to the worship center of his day as a "house of prayer"—not a house of preaching, or a house of evangelism.)

First, our ministry staff members (about thirty of our overall staff) meet twice a week for an hour of prayer. We share the major ministry challenges we're facing (in twenty minutes or less, leaving plenty of time to pray), break into groups of three (so everyone is actively participating), and pray fervently. It's a noisy room! In over twenty years, Christ Community has never experienced a major split or a mass exodus. Prayer has wonderfully united our leadership team.

Second, we pray throughout leadership meetings. Not just at the beginning and at the end. If there are several items on the elder agenda, for example, we'll cover one or two of them, and then stop, break into small groups, and pray for twenty minutes or so. Then we'll cover a couple more items, stop again, break into small groups, and pray some more. On and on it goes. It seems like such a small thing, I almost hesitate to mention it. But it's a huge departure from the typical pattern of debating issues for two hours and then quickly closing in a brief word of prayer (which everyone is too tired to participate in).

I could say so much more on this score, Phil, about the prayer culture at Christ Community Church. Hopefully, I've said enough to motivate pastors to pick up a copy of Prayer Coach.


Phil ~ Jim, please wirte a prayer that you would hope others, especially pastors and leaders, would pray from their heart about getting off the bench and onto the field of pray ...

Jim ~
Lord, forgive us for our prayerlessness. Forgive us for doing life and ministry in the strength of the flesh when you have offered to supernaturally empower us—if we will only pray. Help those of us in leadership to become role models in this regard. Help us to train moms and dads to pray for their kids, believers to pray for their lost friends, church members to pray for those in spiritual leadership and for persecuted brothers and sisters around the world.

There is only one thing, Lord Jesus, which your disciples ever asked you to teach them. "Teach us to pray," they requested, after observing you at prayer. That's our request, today: "Jesus, teach us to pray!"

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