In his very helpful little booklet, Words to Winners of Souls, Horatius Bonar put down a list of the specific sins that ministers, in particular, are tempted to (and often do) commit. In the midst of that beneficial list, Bonar smites himself for having not had a prayer list, detailing the names and spiritual conditions of each member of his flock. And he lists this as a peculiar sin for men in the ministry – not to have a plan for knowing the status of the sheep, and being able to regularly pray for them, by name, and with a well-informed heart as to the state of their souls. And Bonar was writing long before the days of Microsoft Excel! ‘So what excuse do I have’ I said to myself, ‘if I do not have a running (and regularly updated) list of each person who makes up the PRBC family, and at least one or two specific prayer needs jotted down beside each name?’
That was four years ago. And, by God’s grace, I have had, ever since, a handy-dandy spreadsheet saved in my computer to help me pray more specifically for each person in our congregation. Here’s what is on it:
A. In the left hand column is a list of names.
B. In the next column, I enter any good spiritual signs or reasons to thank God for what He is doing in that person’s life (‘good conversation about Luke 8 two weeks ago’ or ‘shared the gospel with her co-worker last week’, and so on).
C. In the third column I type in specific, personal, spiritual prayer requests (‘struggling with discouragement’ or ‘asking questions about baptism’, etc.).
D. And, in the last column I keep a tab on other kinds of prayer requests for the person in question (‘back surgery on the 16th’ … ‘job search’ … mother’s salvation’, etc.).
Each week, I consider it part of my pastoral duty to pray specifically for every person on that list (i.e. every member, regular attendee, child, and frequent visitor to our church).
Why am I telling you all of this? Not to brag on my prayer life. I am actually not that good at it. Rather, I share with you my routine (learned from Bonar) because I think it might be beneficial to you … on a couple of fronts.
First, I do have a list. So, if you're a PRBCer, and have something specific you’d like me to be praying about each week, ask me to – and remind me to put it on ‘the list.’ If not a PRBCer, I'll still pray for you!
But second, I mention my list to you because I believe you might just want to create a list of your own. What if you created a list (with all four of the afore-mentioned columns) … and filled it in with the names of your co-workers, or class-mates, or softball team members? What if each Sunday School teacher had a list like this, comprised of his or her students’ names? Ministry team leaders could do the same. And the ideas could go on and on. You may not have a list as long as the whole congregation (or the time the church affords me to devote to it). But what if you started with a list of just 10-15 people? What might God do through your prayers?
So … have you had this nagging sense that you ought to be a little more disciplined in your prayer life? I am neither an expert nor a good example. But a preacher from a couple of centuries ago has taught me at least this one valuable, practical hint. Try it out … and see what God does.