Books on leadership are legion. The value of a strong leader in an organization, church or family are so incalculable, we are naturally interested in what makes such leadership possible. When considering the most central traits of leaders, we typically talk about vision, determination, communication, charisma. I cannot recall a book that mentioned the importance of prayer in leadership.
A Primary Feature
When we consider Jesus, and the defining qualities of His leadership, prayer is a primary feature.
But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:16)
From the above verse, we see this was a regular practice of Jesus. It was a discipline or habit of his regular life, just like eating or exercise. This gave Him regular strength as He communed with His Father. It is easy to dismiss Jesus’ example, as if His perfection could not be modeled by us. Yet if there is anything which shows how human Jesus was, it was His dependence on His Father. He looked upward for wisdom and strength in all the moments and situations He faced.
A Model for Impact
Jesus’ regular practice of prayer made an impression on his disciples.
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)
As they observed his example, the disciples asked him to teach them how to pray. This is critical in leadership; those things which people observe in us are more persuasive and impactful than the things we tell them. Particularly, people want to know how we make important decisions.
A Foundation for Wise Decisions
Jesus again showed that when wisdom was most needed, prayer was most urgent—even more than sleep.
In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles
Jesus chose the twelve disciples on the basis of the time spent in prayer to His Father, and out of the wisdom that came from that time. We likewise should consider that, if we have a critical decision to make in our business or family, prayer may be more important than sleep or food.
A Refuge in Crisis
At the most difficult moments of Jesus’ life, He turned to God in prayer. Consider the night before Jesus was arrested and put to death. He was facing not only painful physical torture, but even more substantially, God the Father’s wrath poured out on sin. Jesus was about to become the sacrifice for every person who believed on Him, and he would absorb all the condemnation which would rightly be poured out on them. He went to the garden and prayed.
And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:40-42)
Jesus spent the moments before the most difficult period of His life in prayer. Prayer became the means by which Jesus maintained His perspective and His hope in God the Father. Through that same prayer, he also prayed for those who followed Him, and for the generations that followed them. In a very real sense, He prayed for you and I in that hour in the garden. Though the outcome looks unlike what the world might have expected, Jesus succeeded in all He did.
Prayer is a Foundation for Wise Leadership
It is a regular habit of those who want to lead well. If Jesus, the Son of God had to pray regularly to maintain his perspective before God the Father, how much more do we, as fallible men, need help maintaining the right mindset and attitude!
Secondly, it is important in modeling humility and dependence to those we lead. Through prayer we acknowledge that our leadership is nothing more than a stewardship for which God will ask us to give account.
Third, prayer is an essential component of decision making, as we seek wisdom to make choices which will bless others—particularly when there are many unknowns. Such communion with God in prayer helps to ensure that we are thinking and deciding based on priorities which will please God—and thus have the mark of His Wisdom.
Finally, the leader who has cultivated a life of prayer will be equipped in the moment of crisis. Character cannot be built in crisis—it is revealed in crisis, and those who have nurtured a closeness with God will reap those rewards at times when reason is short-circuited by suffering or stress. For this reason soldiers drill again and again, so that at the moment of conflict, they will know what to do, even when they can barely think.
So as we lead, let us pray.