The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”—Deuteronomy 31:8
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.—Philippians 4:6
Once I heard a pastor say something that changed my life.
He was talking to a group of fellow pastors about how to have hard conversations with people. Hard conversations are a part of the job, but they’re nobody’s favorite part. From time to time we are called upon to address a conflict, or to confront a sin, or to remove someone from a leadership position, or to let someone know they’re not going to get their way. It’s not any fun for anyone involved. If you’ve ever had to have a conversation like that, you know that the anticipation is the worst part. In the days and hours leading up to the big moment, you imagine every possible worst-case response on their part, you overthink everything you’re going to say, and you live under a cloud of anxiety until it’s all over with. Or at least I did, until this pastor came along and said what He said.
This was the simple statement that changed everything for me: “I’ve found that if I’m faithful to pray about those conversations in advance, for my heart to be soft and for that other person’s heart to be soft, it almost always goes better than I expected it to.”
That was it. “Remember to pray.” Remember that there is a real God who says that He goes before you. Remember that it’s not all up to us, and that when we pray, we are inviting God’s power into the situation instead of just relying on our power. It sounds simple once you hear it, but I can tell you that I had not been faithfully praying about those conversations prior to that, and they were always stressful and often unfruitful. Since then, I have put his wisdom to the test again and again, and now I know it to be true: when I pray, God goes ahead of me, and things always go better than they would have otherwise. When something like that comes up now, I am far less stressed than I used to be. I know that my God goes before me, and everything is going to be fine.
This principle applies to other areas of life as well. If we are nervous about something at work or school, we can pray and invite God into that situation, and there is a noticeable difference. Things just turn out better, because God cares, and He rewards the fact that we have remembered Him, and acknowledged that He good and powerful, and that He is the Lord over that particular situation, issue, or person.
When Joshua was preparing to lead Israel into the Promised Land, where they knew that many battles and challenges lay ahead, God told Him not to be afraid or discouraged, because “The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you.” Personally, I want to grow in the faith that this is always true, and I want to become the kind of prayer warrior who is always inviting God to go ahead of me into whatever is next. This applies to both my work as a minister and to my personal and family life. When I preach, is that sermon just the sum total of my best effort, or does it have supernatural power because I have been faithful in prayer, and the Lord goes before me into the pulpit? As Carey and I raise our children, is it just a matter of using the best wisdom we have moment by moment, or are we being faithful in prayer so we can be assured that the Lord goes before us into the great unknown of the teenage years and beyond? In every area of life, I want to learn to worry less, pray more, and trust always.
Right now at Community Church, we are on the verge of something very exciting. We are moving out into new territory as a church, and I’m pleased to be able to say that in this endeavor, I have every confidence that the Lord goes before us. I’m talking about Herlong Community Church, which will open its doors for the very first time this coming Sunday, September 24th.
Planting a church is a major undertaking, more than any of us realized at first, but I can honestly say I’ve never been a part of a ministry that had a better foundation of prayer laid before the first person even walked through the door. Our staff have been praying about this possibility for about two years now. Our elders have been faithfully praying for HCC in our early morning prayer meetings for nearly that long as well. We have prayed on Sunday mornings and at Monday night prayer group, in our small groups and in our personal quiet times. We have been joined in our prayer efforts by other churches in our area, and by pastors and congregations from Reno and beyond. Truly, we have sought God’s power and His favor for Herlong Community Church. He has confirmed in numerous ways that this whole thing was His idea, and now that the big moment has arrived, we can know that He goes before us, and that the result will be far better than it would have been if we had trusted only in our own strength. Please continue to pray this week. I’m so excited to see what God is going to do.
What about in your life? Are there things looming in the future that are exciting or scary? Sources of hope or anxiety? Are you praying about those things, bringing them before God and asking Him to go before you into the unknown? If you do, I can promise you two things: First, whatever it is, it will go better than if you hadn’t prayed. Second, you will have more peace between now and the time it arrives, because you will have remembered to place everything in God’s hands where it belongs. This week, identify something in the future that you know you need God’s help with, and make a plan to faithfully pray for it. You’ll be glad you did.