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Leading from your knees

Lutheran leaders joyfully spend hours in prayer, knowing prayer in Jesus’ name always works according to the Savior’s will.

In Revelation, the apostle John certainly crystallizes the context for any discussion on Lutheran leadership. “Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short” (Revelation 12:12).

We live and labor in spiritually violent times. Certainly, hatred for Christ and his church has been evident since the fall. But it seems to mere mortal eyes that in these last days the father of lies has ignited a volcanic eruption of deceit and slander and evil and untruths. Don’t agree? Recently I saw a picture that assaulted my senses like a knockout punch. It was a person holding a sign that said, “If Jesus comes, kill him again!”

Lutheran leaders know from Scripture that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

Pray in all circumstances

In the face of such evil, Scripture exhorts God’s people to pray. To pray in the Spirit, to pray all kinds of prayers, to be unceasing in prayer. How true for Lutheran leaders! Lutheran leaders lead from their knees. If they do, all is won. If they don’t, all is lost. After all, it is Christ’s church. It is Christ sending the Spirit through the omnipotent gospel to create and sustain a vibrant and confident faith. With the poet we sing, “ ‘In trembling hands’—and yet we cling with grip of steel, which you must give” (1993 Christian Worship 199:4 © 1993 Werner H. Franzmann). Only the Spirit of God can work the miracle of faith, a firm trust that believes the gospel is unstoppable.

So on your knees, people of God, on your knees in humble repentance. Leaders know from Scripture how true the prophet’s words are when he reminds us that our best efforts are but filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). We know from Scripture that each of us can say, “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. . . . Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Romans 7:19,24).

On your knees, people of God, on your knees in grateful trust and confidence. Our leader looked defeated in death, yet by his death he conquered sin. Our leader shredded the shroud that covered the peoples (cf. Isaiah 25:7) and burst triumphantly from a tomb. In Holy Baptism, his death and resurrection become our history and our destiny. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4). Lutheran leaders “count [themselves] dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). What divine power is unleashed in Baptism! The Spirit creates saving faith and distributes to the body of Christ all the gifts necessary to serve the Savior by serving his flock with joy in his promises.

On your knees, people of God, on your knees as you pray the powerful promises of the great I AM.

Trust that Jesus will answer your prayers

Prayer in Jesus’ name always works according to the Savior’s good and gracious will. What did Jesus say to his body, the church? “My Father will give you whatever you ask in my name” (John 16:23). Jesus wants us to know he is serious about that promise. He repeats or rephrases that promise about a half dozen times over three chapters of John’s gospel. And what a promise is it! It stands firm and eternal. It stands as a bulwark against Satan and his raging demons. It stands secure against the onslaught of the prevalent evil saturating societies everywhere. It is immovable as it supports my shaking knees when I’m filled with doubt or worry or pessimism.

Do you want proof that God keeps his powerful promises? Remember King Jehoshaphat? Invaded by a vast force, he poured out his heart to his Savior-God. “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20:12). And the Lord God did not disappoint. Read all of chapter 20 to see how God answered his prayer with an unforgettable victory.

Yes, on your knees, people of God. Like Jacob of old, go to the mat with your Savior by hanging on to the promises he has given you (see Genesis 32:22-31). The Spirit of God will superglue these omnipotent promises into your mental dialogue and keep your worldview focused on Christ. God says that your efforts in Christ will be blessed. Always. “No matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20).

Be confident in Jesus’ answer

But we don’t always believe it. Sometimes to human eyes a decision appears to be a colossal failure. A building project fails, a budget isn’t met, a church or school closes. Other times, humans see a decision that appears to be successful. Offerings surpass a budget, a building is completed and dedicated, a new ministry endeavor sees souls gathering around the Word. But you are believers. Always look with eyes of faith. Every effort, whether it appears successful or not to our human analysis, is blessed by the Lord God for our eternal good. In well-known words, Paul echoes the confidence God gives us in Christ, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). In all things!

Like Jacob of old, go to the mat with your Savior by hanging on to the promises he has given you.

So, pray the powerful promises of God. Look them up, ponder, memorize, and incorporate them into your planning and discussion. And be confident! Always. In all things. So a “failed” project or a poor decision has you refocusing. Hear his promises: “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees” (Psalm 119:71). “I know, LORD, that your laws are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant” (Psalm 119:75,76). Remember with joy the promise that the Lord disciplines the one he loves and he chastens everyone he accepts as a child. “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children” (Hebrews 12:7).

Lutheran leaders joyfully spend hours in prayer; indeed, they “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Keep on praying boldly and confidently, living in the victory Christ has sealed to you in Baptism. And remember with confidence that Christ “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

To God alone be the glory!

This article is based on one of four TED-talk-style presentations on what Lutheran leadership is and why it’s important in today’s world that were presented at the WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership. Watch select videos from the conference, including Zarling’s talk. 

Author: Mark G. Zarling
Volume 110, Number 4
Issue: April 2023

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