In 1994 I had assumed the pastorate of a church where I had the opportunity to sit down with the outgoing pastor to discuss various issues of that congregation.
As I was sitting with him in his office talking, he handed me his keys and said, “Oh, I almost forgot, each Wednesday at 11:00 AM you have a counseling session, here in this office, with Mrs. Redford.” Not her real name, but I did ask, “What kind of problem does Mrs. Redford have?”
He gave me a verbal laundry list of problems that ranged from family skeletons to relationship issues to financial troubles to spiritual guilt to worries about inherited illnesses to fear of her family’s tomorrow, even mentioning her stress about a leaky kitchen faucet!
After hearing this, I asked, “How long have you been meeting with her?” The pastor said, “For the past seven years” which was as long as he had been there.
We then prayed together and I warmly wished my ministerial friend goodbye as he drove-off to his new pastorate in a neighboring state. As I waved goodbye, my mind was still trying to process this weekly counseling appointment that I seemingly just inherited.
Now, let me say something about pastoral counseling. It’s true that counseling parishioners is helping and influencing lives, however, seminary gave me just enough training to identify unhealthy patterns, but not enough to help others psychologically work through those problems.
Most pastors are not trained in psychotherapies. We are trained in Bible therapy. We can easily get our schedules and energies drained by these good intentions, but how better it is to introduce others to the Great Counselor.
I felt an obligation to at least meet with Mrs. Redford so I decided to honor the counseling appointment. I intended to at least evaluate the need before I announce or attempt any change. At my first session with Mrs. Redford, I listened. At my second session with Mrs. Redford, I asked questions and listened some more. At my third session with Mrs. Redford, I asked if she ever heard of “prayer therapy?”
Her response was “What is “prayer therapy?” I opened the Bible to the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 and said it is using the principles of prayer as taught by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to cope with your problems. “Here’s how it works” I said as I began to break down the Lord’s Prayer into four principles to practice with her problems.
1) Start with Praise
Jesus began His prayer by recognizing who He was praying too when He prayed “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10). So in “Prayer Therapy” you begin by focusing your heart and mind on the Father’s holy character, and we start by praising the God of heaven, not by rehearsing our problems.
2) State your Problem
Once we start our prayers with praise of God’s character, then we can clearly state our problems. We can be specific about our petition. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus prayed “Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:11-12). With a heart and mind fixed on the attributes of a righteous God, it’s hard to exaggerate or unnecessarily give attention to a problem that our God can solve.
3) Stand on His Promises
Having laid the petition for a solution to your problems at the throne of God, we are now called to claim the promises of God’s Word. When Jesus prayed “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13a) He was standing on the Father’s promise. We do not review and repeat our ills but in “prayer therapy” we stand on the Bible promises in prayer and we enjoy the solid foundation of assurance and peace.
4) Share in His Power
Jesus concludes His prayer with “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen” (Matthew 6:13b) as recorded in the King James Version. It’s a reference to 1 Chronicles 29 but it’s significance in “prayer therapy” is that once you’ve claim the promises of God you don’t back down. You stand in faith, you wait in faith, and you rehearse His promises, not your problems.
That was our third session, when I introduced her to these four principles that I called “Prayer Therapy.” I encouraged her to practice this “prayer therapy” with her problems during the next week before we meet for our fourth session.
At our fourth session, Mrs. Redford said, “Pastor, I hope you don’t feel bad, but this “prayer therapy” approach is such a blessing to me, that I would almost rather spend this time in prayer than here talking with you.” To which I thought, “Praise God!”
So what kind of problems do you have? Have you been carrying the same problems around for the last seven years, simply talking about them week after week with no real change?
Perhaps you have made friends with your problems and have become comfortable with just complaining about them. Maybe it is more than that, because the worry and concern about your problem is starting to zap life out of your day to day sense of well-being.
Whatever your problem – job, money, housing, health, family, marriage, relationship, work, illness, pain – whatever your problem, prayer is the answer. Yes, I’m aware that some problems in our sinful world won’t be banished until the rapture, but prayer is still the answer to coping.
So what kind of problems do you need to take to prayer?