The Posture of a Man of God

The Posture of a Man of God

Leading from Your Knees

Jeremiah Lanphier was a businessman who served as a missionary to New York’s Lower East Side. He was earnest in door-to-door evangelism and tract distribution, and as he made his evangelistic rounds each day, he would pray regularly, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”1 Lanphier decided to begin a noon-hour prayer meeting once a week for businessmen. One noon hour in the fall of 1857 he opened the upper lecture hall at Old Dutch Church on Fulton Street and knelt to pray—alone. Thirty minutes later he heard footsteps on the stairs and was joined by others.

The number grew to six. Over the next four weeks attendance at the prayer meeting grew incrementally until, by mid-October 1857, one hundred people (including unbelievers experiencing conviction of sin) came every day to the church for prayer. Noon-hour prayer meetings spread around the city in churches, fire houses, police stations, stores, and a theater. One newspaper was compelled to call the noon hour in New York the hour of prayer!2 The movement spread beyond New York throughout the nation, effecting a widespread work of God that resulted in the conversion and moral reformation of multitudes. It came to be known as the revival of 1857–1860.

I recall hearing a respected Scottish preacher reminisce about a prayer meeting started in Scotland in the middle of the twentieth century. A couple of ruling elders in the Church of Scotland covenanted to meet together every week to pray for revival in their church. The sad state of the Church of Scotland today might cause one to question what effect their prayers had. But in the latter part of the twentieth century the Church of Scotland was served by some great evangelical pastors. As the story is told, the weekly prayer meeting never grew beyond those two elders, and after a couple of years of weekly meetings, their burden lifted and the prayer meeting disbanded—without any observable signs in answer to their prayers. However, some years later, it was calculated that many of those great evangelical pastors in the church were called and trained for the ministry during the period those elders were praying.3

Early in my ministry God granted me the blessing of seeing the transformative effect of concerted prayer. I served as a youth pastor in a church that had experienced dramatic decline due to an economic crisis in the community. The church’s youth group had once been known throughout the denomination for its discipleship of young people, many of whom became pastors and missionaries. In the first weeks of my ministry there the youth group consisted of three to five young people attending a weekly event. In desperate dependence on God, we initiated a weekly prayer gathering for youth leaders and the young people. The prayer group developed a list of names of unbelieving friends they desired to expose to the gospel.

The gathering grew in numbers, and young people on the list of unbelievers also began to attend the prayer meeting. A couple of them came to faith through the prayer group. God’s blessing on the preaching of the word at weekly gatherings and evangelistic events became evident. When God called me to another pastorate several years later, disciples were multiplying and maturing significantly in the youth group. The spiritual fruit was beyond what we could have asked for or imagined, and I’m convinced the soil was cultivated in that weekly prayer meeting.

The history of the church is stitched through with examples of God using his people’s prayers to extend Christ’s kingdom and mission in the world. That history testifies to a scriptural pattern that forms the first of our practices in pastoral leadership. The church is led to maturity on her mission through intentional, earnest, persistent intercessory prayer. A man of God leads from his knees!

The Apostolic Pattern

The apostles both practiced and prescribed leadership through intentional, earnest, persistent intercessory prayer. And they learned it from Jesus. Ephesians 3:14–21 is one conspicuous example of how the apostles understood prayer to work in the leadership of the church. Paul’s prayer in chapter 3 serves as the pivot from precept to practice in his leadership of the mission at Ephesus. In the first two chapters of Ephesians the apostle discloses what God has done for his people, solely by grace. In the last three chapters he emphasizes how the church must now live in that grace.

Ephesians 3:10 discloses the glorious end goal of the church, which should serve as the great motivation of a man of God as he leads God’s people on Christ’s mission: that through the church’s growth in maturity, God’s manifold glory might be cosmically displayed. It is with that inspired vision in the immediate rear view that Paul prays as he does in Ephesians 3:14–21, and as he is about to tell the church how to live in order to realize that vision (Eph. 4–6). Paul makes the pivot from precept to practice in the life and mission of the church through prayer.

The history of the church is stitched through with examples of God using his people’s prayers to extend Christ’s kingdom and mission in the world.

This is deeply significant for pastoral leadership in Christ’s church. The apostle is very purposeful in what he is doing; notice his words “for this reason” (Eph. 3:14). He has just proclaimed the gospel to the Ephesians and is aware of what he is about to call them to do, as those who, in Christ, have received “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3), so he bows his knees before the Father. A full exposition of the prayer would show that the goal of the prayer is expressed in verse 19: that the believers might be “filled with all the fullness of God.” That essentially means “you would grow to full maturity in the character of God in the likeness of Christ.” Paul is praying for nothing less than the very purpose of God for the life of the church in Christ, that as Christians worship, work, and walk together, they would be conformed to the character of Christ for the glory of God (cf. Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:6; 3:10; 4:13, 15). In other words, the apostle has delivered the propositions about what is true of them in Christ, and he wants them to grow into the fullness of what God has purposed for them in Christ. For this reason, he adopts the posture of prayer. The leader of Christ’s mission among the Gentiles is leading from his knees.

God has blessed me with some significant mentors in my life and ministry, particularly in the practice of prayer. Victor was forty years my senior and had a habit of breaking into prayer in the middle of my conversations with him. We would be addressing a pastoral or personal issue, and he’d start praying as though the Lord was part of the conversation. When I interned with him, he would invite me into his study to kneel with him and pray if he had encountered a difficult pastoral situation.

Another mentor was a seminary professor who was respected by the student body for (among many other things) his prayers. When a fellow student asked him what he remembered of our seminary’s esteemed founding faculty, under whom he had studied, he said without hesitation, “their prayers!” The dependence on prayer that had been modeled for him was now being modeled by him for us. However, as profoundly formative as godly mentors in prayer are, and as thankful as we should be if God has given them to us, they all have their limits. The apostles’ mentor in prayer had no flaws, failings, or limitations. They learned about the priority and pattern of prayer from Jesus.


  1. Samuel I. Prime, The Power of Prayer (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991), 5.
  2. Iain H. Murray, Revival and Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism, 1750–1858 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1994), 343.
  3. I recall hearing this story at a conference at College Church, Wheaton, IL, in 1994 and have since confirmed the sources contemporary to the movement.

This article is adapted from The Pastor as Leader: Principles and Practices for Connecting Preaching and Leadership by John Currie.

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