You CAN Pray [Part 2]

Prayer and the Trinity

For You CAN Pray [Part 1], click here. 

Ephesians 2:18 – For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.



To sever, interrupt, or detach the relationship between two things.

Disconnect might happen when you are on the phone and you walk in a room with no service. It might happen as you check email at home when the power goes out and you’re WIFI goes down.

Disconnect can be pretty dangerous too.

It can happen when your pickup truck is pulling a trailer full of boxes as you move your student into her new dorm room. Disconnect can prevent communication between pilots and air-traffic control towers.

Disconnect can show up in your spiritual life as well.

If you profess to be a Christian but claim an inability to pray or a fear to pray aloud, you may have become the victim of Disconnect.

Whether intentional or unintentional, this fear or inability reveals that you have disconnected your prayer life with the foundational Christian belief in the Trinity.

The doctrine of the Trinity teaches that there is one God who exists in three persons, equal in essence and being but distinct in function.

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

There is mystery here, but the doctrine of the Trinity is not a mere philosophical exercise. It is not merely a teaching to study and ponder.

The doctrine of the Trinity has real, gritty, concrete, flesh and bone arms and legs. It impacts your everyday life.

It impacts how we live in relationships with one another. It impacts how we read the Bible.

And the Trinity directly connects to how you pray.

Sam Allberry writes, “Christian prayer is Trinitarian.”

Trinity by Jeronimo Cosida, circa 1570

The beauty of this truth is that when you start to understand how the Trinity connects to prayer, you will be more confident when you pray and more excited to pray.

Scripture shows us to pray…


This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. When we turn to Jesus’ pattern for prayer, we start with the address, “Our Father”.

Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:18 that we have access “to the Father.”

The norm in Scripture is prayer to God the Father.

A common question emerges: Does that mean we should not pray to Jesus or the Holy Spirit?

Praying to Jesus – There are a few examples in the Bible of praying to Jesus. Before his death, Stephen prays, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” (Ac 7:59). The very end of the Bible gives us a prayer to Jesus, “Come Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20).

Clearly it cannot be wrong to pray to Jesus. BUT… Jesus himself told us, “Pray like this… Our Father“. We actually honor Jesus more when we follow his example and pattern and pray to God the Father.

Praying to the Spirit – Unlike the Son, there are no examples of praying to the Holy Spirit in the Bible. This does make some sense. The Holy Spirit characteristically hangs in the background; his main role is to put the spotlight on Jesus.

It must be said that the Holy Spirit is God so it would not be a sin to pray to Him, but we need to recognize that this should not be the general form of our prayers if we are going to pray like the prayers we find in Scripture.

Praying to God the Father is the norm.

Family Time


One of the reasons for primarily praying to the Father is that it reminds us who we are in relationship to God. He is our Father. We are his children. This isn’t a meeting with your boss or an over-busy, easily frustrated dictator. Praying to the Father, we remind ourselves that prayer is family time.

Family time should be intimate – not intimidating.

Consciously recognizing God as your Father when you begin to pray should give you a boost of encouragement! Right away, we start off with a reminder of God’s love and grace. Look, you can do this!

Next we pray….


Here’s an important question to consider: What does IN JESUS’ NAME mean?

Once, you’ve answered that, here’s a second question: If you’re not really sure what it means, why do you say it?

Even though it does mean something quite important, we should never try to fill up space in our prayer time with things that mean nothing to us. Jesus said, “When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases,” (Mt 6:7). If IN JESUS’ NAME is an empty phrase to you, don’t keep saying it mindlessly. Fill it up with meaning first, and then say it.

When you go to a wedding, an usher usually greets you at the door and asks a simple question. “Bride or Groom?”

You respond by telling the usher who it is that you know. Hypothetically, this ensures that everyone gets into the wedding is someone with a relationship with the wedding party. Hypothetically, if you do not know anyone, you do not get into the ceremony.

 IN JESUS’ NAME means access. 

For through him we both have access… to the Father.

We can pray to the Father only when Jesus grants us access to him. He gets us in the door. Hebrews 9:24 tells that “Christ has entered… into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.”

Another way to say this is Jesus is our mediator. A mediator is someone who stands in the gap. Left to our own, we have an unbridgeable gap between us and God. Jesus’ work on the cross makes the unbridgeable bridgeable.

Our prayers reach God because Jesus stands in the gap.


Some people think IN JESUS’ NAME is Christian magic. If you pray (it is thought) and forget to say IN JESUS’ NAME, God will say no. But if you say IN JESUS’ NAME, God will say yes. Plus you can even say it and wave your arm like a wand and beat demons, cure cancer, or make your bank account bigger… But only if you say IN JESUS’ NAME.

But IN JESUS’ NAME is simply a regular reminder to ourselves and an admission before God that we believe in the Gospel.

It is a declaration that you understand you have done nothing to make God your Father, that you have done nothing to gain access in prayer, and that you can only make these prayers because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

So IN JESUS NAME is a Christian distinctive. If you do not believe this about Jesus, IN JESUS NAME doesn’t mean anything. It is just three extra words.

IN JESUS’ NAME is a declaration of hope.

All the promises of God find their Yes in him.
That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.
2 Corinthians 1:20

I hope you see how filling up IN JESUS’ NAME with this gospel meaning should only increase your confidence in prayer.

You don’t have to warm yourself up. You don’t have to have it all together. When you pray through Jesus, you recognize you never have it all together and that every word of prayer is a word given by grace.

IN JESUS NAME reminds you, you can pray.

Last, we pray…


This might be the best part. All of our fears and insecurities in prayer should melt when we understand the Spirit’s work in prayer.

The Holy Spirit’s role in prayer should make the disconnect connect.

In Romans 8:15, Paul writes, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry “Abba Father!

When Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer, he said to pray like this, “Our Father.”

Paul shows us that the Spirit moves us so that we do pray that way.

God the Spirit propels us to pray to God the Father in the very way God the Son taught us.

There’s more good news in verse 16, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

Do you ever feel too messed up to pray?

If you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit lives inside of you. His job is to remind you who you are. You tell yourself you’re too messed up to pray, but the Spirit inside whispers, “No you are not! You’re a child of God. Say it with me… Father.

Sometimes that does not seem enough.

We give in and start to pray even though we feel too gross, too weak, too simple. But then, we have no clue what to say.

(Ignoring the fact that you can always hop on the ACTS train) Paul has even more good news for your prayer life pessimism in verse 26.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercede for us with groaning too deep for words…. the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Don’t know what to pray? Not a problem.

God the Holy Spirit not only reminds you and encourages you as a child of God. He prays with you and for you.

So as you mumble, stumble, and fumble your way through prayer, God himself is prays. And notice what Paul says at the end. He prays “according to the will of God.”

Remember, Jesus teaches us to pray your will be done.

Now, the God the Spirit prays for us to God the Father in the way God the Son taught us.

THIS is why you cannot disconnect the Trinity from your prayer life.


God the Spirt prays for you

to God your Father

accessed through the work of God the Son.



Disconnecting your prayer life from your belief in the Trinity puts you in dangerous territory.

When you say you cannot pray or that you do not know what to pray, then you are also saying that God the Spirit does not live inside you or that he refuses to do his job.

You are saying that you do not have the same access to the Father. This means Jesus’ work on the cross failed to do the job.

Connect the dots. You don’t believe these things, do you?

Christian prayer is Trinitarian.

The Trinity fuels Christian prayer.

So the next time you are called to pray in a small group or you hit a wall and do not know what to say next, remember who God is and remember who you are.

Pray to your Father.
Pray through the access you have in the Son.
Pray by the power of the praying Spirit inside of you.

You can pray!


You CAN Pray [Part 1]


If you ever want to terrify someone, ask them to pray.

Sometimes someone will come up to me since I am a pastor, drag me across a room, introduce me to someone, and say something like, “This is Mark. Mark has this problem. Can you pray for them?”

I look at Mark’s friend, smile, and say, “I could. But, no. You can pray for Mark. I’ll pray with you both.”

Mark’s friend expected a pat-on-the back; instead he is simultaneously wrestling regret, fear, and the sudden urge to run.

Sometimes I will be in a small group and everyone is having a great time since the conversation hasn’t gotten too personal or practical yet. Everyone loves theory in a small group. Theory is safe. But some brave soul breaks the unspoken rule and says something real – a real issue that needs real prayer. I look at the circle of friends sitting around our honest friend and ask, “Will someone pray for our sister, Katerina?”

Katerina suddenly finds herself in a circle of frozen, deaf zombies that failed to understand any words that left my mouth.

You can play this game too if you want. It is kind of fun.

Ever share a need with a friend and they look at you like they are only half-listening? They nod and murmur something like, “Sure. I’ll be praying for you.” Next time that happens, you can drop this bomb on them.

“Great. Would you mind praying for me right now?”

Be prepared to get any number of looks, excuses, and weird body contortions.

In each of these situations, if you press these friends about their hesitancy, you will hear all sorts of reasons for this prayer phobia.

But the most common response I hear is this: I don’t know how to pray.

People who have been in church for thirty years will tell you this. People who went to 36 weeks of Vacation Bible School as children. People who serve on ministry committees. People who haven’t missed a Sunday morning service since Ronald Reagan was in office. People who meticulously share their own personal prayer requests with anyone who will listen.

Somehow, when you ask them to pray, almost no one knows how.

The Lord’s Pattern

This shouldn’t be the case. On a broad level, God gave pastors to equip the saints, to enable them to do the work, to empower them to obey God’s will for their lives. Surely this includes the expectation that the people will be equipped to pray.

At another level, God knew we would struggle here and included a manual for us in the Bible. One of Jesus’ twelve disciples specifically asks Jesus how to pray.

Jesus shares with his disciple what we call The Lord’s Prayer.

As Tim Keller says in his must-read book regarding prayer,  our relationship to The Lord’s Prayer is like living next to a railroad.


At the time I went to school, The University of Memphis main campus was split by a set of train tracks. This caused all kinds of headaches when you parked on the south side and had class on the north side or when you lived on one side and wanted to work out at the gym on the other.

At the beginning of my senior year, I moved into an apartment that sat right next to the track. When my roommate and I first moved in to the apartment, sleep was near impossible. Every time a train rolled through campus and blared its horn at a pedestrian or a car trying to beat the train to the intersection, my windows and bed frame would shake.

But an amazing thing happened.

By Fall Break, I never heard the train.

I had heard the train so much, I stopped hearing it at all.

As Keller writes, we do the same thing with The Lord’s Prayer.

We recite it at church, at weddings, at funerals, and at pregame huddles. We say it so much we no longer hear the words we say. It means nothing to us now.

We have taken Jesus’ teaching prompt and turned it into a mindless pool of words.

We have taken his grace to help us pray and built it into an obstacle of communion.

The Lord’s Prayer is not a dictated ritual to be thoughtlessly repeated verbatim ad nauseam. Jesus meant for it to be used as a guide to influence our own personal talks with God.

It is not so much The Lord’s Prayer as much as it is The Lord’s Pattern.

Adapting the Pattern

When you examine his pattern for prayer, you can boil it down to a few essential elements. There are numerous prayer tools that have been created to help you pray in light of the Lord’s Prayer. One of the most popular is the ACTS method of prayer.

When you pray, think ACTS.

 ADORATION – Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name…

Jesus’ pattern helps us see we should start our prayers by honoring God for who He is. Our prayers should start with a vertical dimension.

Practically, you can pray about one of God’s names (King of Kings, Prince of Peace, Jehovah, etc). You can pray about one God’s attributes (God, you are holy… loving… wise). You can pray about one of his works (God you created all things… revealed yourself through the Bible… saved me by your grace).

God cannot be exhausted. So when you start your prayer by praying about God, you start off with an endless supply of material.

CONFESSION – Forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors

Confession simply means to agree with God about your sin. You do not need a priest. You do not need to do a good deed to even up the score of your heart. You simply need to recognize where you have fallen short.

Practically, you should confess specifically. Resist the urge to brush your prayers with broad strokes. Instead of confessing your anger, confess the ugly words you spit at your spouse. Instead of confessing your pride, confess your condescending thoughts towards your coworker. Get specific.

THANKSGIVING – This aspect of prayer is not found in The Lord’s Prayer, but Scripture tells us many times to show thanks. For example, Philippians 4:6 says,

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer… with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Usually when we pray, we immediately jump to what we need. The ACTS method helpfully reverses that urge. Pastor H.B. Charles, Jr. says, “Before you ask God for something you need, thank Him for what He has already done.”

Practically, continue to be specific with your thanksgiving. A good rule of thumb to get started is for every one thing you ask of God, offer thanks for one thing He has done.

SUPPLICATION – Give us this day our daily bread… Your will be done… 

We probably need the least amount of help here. Supplication is a fancy way of saying request or petition. If we are good at anything in prayer, we are good at supplication. The Lord’s Pattern gives us two important reminders. First we ask for daily needs. Like the Manna in the wilderness, God wants to give us just enough for today so that we return to Him again with our needs tomorrow. Second, we should recognize that all of our needs are subject to His will and not our own.

Practically, think necessity not extravagance. As you bring your requests to God, explicitly recognize God has the right to answer as He pleases. Voice your willingness to submit to His call on your requests.


As with the pattern given to us by Jesus himself, the ACTS method is simply a guide. It is meant to help us pray; it should never constrain us as we seek to meet with God.

If you struggle with knowing how to pray, use a tool like this to get more comfortable. Certainly, reading works on prayer like the one from Keller or studies on the Sermon on the Mount like this one by Daniel Doriani will surely help us grow as prayers.

But the best way to grow in prayer is by actually praying.

Your prayer life is not solely an individual matter. Your friends, family, and church need you. The next time someone asks you to pray for them or to pray out loud in a small group, you have an opportunity. Do not be content with sheepishly backing away from it by saying you do not know how. Jesus has shown us how; He’s given us a pattern. ACTS or no ACTS, be bold and pray.

In an upcoming post, we will look at how the doctrine of the Trinity empowers us to pray. God Himself enables us to pray to Him.

For now, listen to the train rolling past. Hear it once again. It was sent down the track to remind you. You can pray.

Click here for You CAN Pray [Part 2]

“A Good Soldier” – A New Series.

Part 1: 10 Practical Ways to Obey 2 Timothy 2:7.

When I was undergoing some pastoral training at my local church in Louisville, KY during my seminary days, a good friend of mine raised his hand during a brief time for Q&A.

“If there’s one thing I could read to help me understand leadership better, what would it be?” Rob asked.

Our lead pastor did not hesitate. He told us about a gargantuan book that he had recently worked through. He told us about a book that every man was given at West Point in order to prepare for a life of service. He told us about Anton Myrer’s Once an Eagle. And then after the session was over, he gave his copy to Rob.

Now, I wasn’t the one bright enough to ask such a helpful question. But after I had heard such praiseworthy comments about the novel and had seen its Large-Print Family Room KJV Bible size, I went home and immediately ordered a copy on Amazon.

During that time, I was working on a term paper on the significance of the apostle Paul’s usage of the soldier metaphor. My friend Rob and I had also been watching the HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers, together and discussing leadership principles we had ascertained from each episode. So to be introduced to a military classic with this kind of reputation was something I could not pass up.

Recently, my wife and I have begun to listen to this masterpiece on audiobook. The narration is a little too speedy at times for my taste but the book still manages to take over 41 hours of listening to complete. During the course of these long hours of taking in a tale of leadership, discipline, and loyalty, I have had plenty of time to meditate on some of Paul’s last written words to his disciple Timothy.

“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus,” (2 Tim 2:3).

Being a pastor, a ministry leader, or just a Christian who is doing the normal Christian duty of making disciples is like the life and work of a good soldier. This was one of Paul’s go-to metaphors in his letters. Over and over again, he pointed to the Roman soldiers of his day to teach truths about the Christian life.

At the end of this passage, Paul tells Timothy to do something with this favorite metaphor.

“Think over what I say,

for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”

2 Timothy 2:7

There’s a command, and there’s a promise. Paul did not just talk about soldiers for fun. It wasn’t because he particularly enjoyed military history. He didn’t just happen to be a Stephen Ambrose type of guy.

The reason Paul went to this metaphor over and over, and the reason he commanded Timothy to meditate on it, is that the Lord has ordained the soldier (along with the athlete and farmer) to be inspired examples for pastoral ministry and the everyday Christian life.

God has chosen the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer to uniquely teach Christians what their life is supposed to look like. This, Paul says, deserves our attention.

This passage calls for a response. It demands some action. On a practical level, 2 Timothy 2:7 basically tells New Testament believers that if they want to understand their lives and callings as Christians who make disciples, they should buy some old military books, spend some nights watching sports, and get a little dirty planting something in the ground.

Here are 10 ways that you can follow Paul’s instruction on meditating on how the soldier, athlete, and farmer teach us about the Christian life and discipleship:

10 Practical Ways We Can Obey 2 Timothy 2:7

  1. Read military history, biographies, novels, and memoirs that give insight into the life of the soldier.
  2. Watch a military film like Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, or anything else besides Pearl Harbor.
  3. Talk to a military vet about their time in the service.
  4. Play in a sports league.
  5. Train to run a marathon.
  6. Grab some buddies and have a regular night where you watch the big game (Paul said to meditate on the athlete. No “I don’t like sports” answers allowed).
  7. Watch great documentaries like many in the 30 for 30 series to gain insight into the life of an athlete.
  8. Plant and maintain a garden.
  9. Visit a local farm and see first hand the work that goes into producing a harvest.
  10. Read some John Steinbeck or Wendell Berry that gives insight the life and work of a farmer.

While doing one of these simple tasks, follow Paul’s command. Meditate on what you are hearing, seeing, feeling, learning, experiencing. What about these tasks lines up with what you are called to be and do as a believer? What insight can you gain from these areas of life and culture that speak into our worldview as a disciplemaking follower of Jesus.

Don’t just do one of these tasks. Watching a war movie or playing a pickup game at the gym in and of itself will not help you reach Paul’s goal of understanding the Christian life. We need to do these things while seeking the Lord in prayer asking him to give us wisdom and insight into why he has chosen these unique metaphors to teach us about our lives.



In this new blog series, I am trying to do my own part in obeying Paul’s command in verse 7. What exactly is it supposed to look like for me to live my Christian life, to serve in my ministry, like a soldier? While working my way through Myrer’s military classic, I am trying to pull away principles from Once An Eagle and examine them in light of Scripture and Paul’s revelation that the story of the soldier is a parable for the Christian’s own sojourn through life.

I pray that as we give thought to the life of the soldier, we would see the fruit of the Lord being faithful to his promise — that we might be given “understanding in everything.”

I’d like to hear from you. Do you have a favorite military movie or biography? Favorite sports documentary? Have you ever read a single book about farming? Leave a comment below. I am always looking for new resources to help me in my own quest to think over what Paul has to say to us.

Five Simple Questions to Lead a Bible Study Anytime, Anywhere, with Anyone

I remember the first time I had the opportunity to lead a Bible Study. I was in high school, and once every week I would meet with my youth pastor and a few other guys in my youth group at Perkins for breakfast and conversation about the Bible.

After a few weeks, my youth pastor decided he wanted the students to take some ownership in the group so he asked me to lead the discussions at the table. Being one who always wanted a role in leadership and feared the idea of disappointing a mentor, I jumped at the opportunity even though I had no idea how to lead a Bible Study.

I don’t remember much about those Bible Studies at breakfast, but I am positive they were terrible. I had no clue what I was doing. I would read a passage the night before and try to find something creative to point out – something that would make the rest of the group ooh and aah while nodding their heads in approval.

That’s not exactly how things turned out. I stuttered my way through the talk each morning trying to find something meaningful to highlight while sharing nothing with clarity. After a few weeks, I grew weary of the exercise and the early mornings soon became too much. I soon vacated my role as Bible Study Leader and took back my few extra hours of sleep in the morning.

The Bible Studies were so bad even the Bible Study Leader quit coming.

I had a worthy goal.

I did not have the skills to successfully achieve my goal.

I burned out and went back to bed.

There were many problems in the way I approached the Bible Study.

Leading a Bible Study means letting the Bible take the lead. 

The first problem was I thought leading a Bible Study meant I needed to come up with something to say. Good Bible Study Leaders and Teachers know that they are not coming up with something to teach; they let the Bible teach for itself.

When you write a Sunday School lesson, a Bible Study, or even a sermon, you do not go to the Bible with something to say. You go to the Bible to see what it has to say.

I should not have prepared for my Bible Studies by looking for that elusive moment of inspiration when I would find something that would leave everyone breathless. Instead, I should have spent time figuring out what the author of the passage was trying to say.

Leading a Bible Study is more effective when one person is not doing all the talking. 

Probably not your best method for leading a Bible Study at Perkins.

A lot of times when we try to lead a Bible study for the first time, we think we need to duplicate what our pastor does on Sunday morning. We think that we need to be a teacher who does all the talking and who is is responsible for teaching a set lesson.

But often times the most effective thing a Bible Study Leader can do is sit back and facilitate. Asking good open-ended questions and letting others discover what the text is saying through conversation often provides deeper, richer learning than straightforward lessons where only one person does the talking.

In most cases, Bible Studies should be a dialogue that depends on the group navigating the text rather than a monologue by the expert. One reason for this is that good questions that lead to a dialogue is a much more reproducible method than the expert monologue model.

Leading a Bible Study is easier than you think.

Some of you probably believe that you could never lead a Bible Study. You’re wrong.

God has called all believers to make disciples. He has called us to teach others to obey everything that Christ has commanded us. Paul says we are to be “teaching one another,” (Col 3:16). Teaching at some level is something all Christians are expected to do.

The fact is Jesus would not call you to do something that is impossible for the non-experts. When God calls us to make disciples and to teach one another, he is calling us to a task that is doable. We just overcomplicate it too many times.

Whether it is with your kids at home, with some friends at school, or your spouse, you should be leading someone in discussions on the Bible. That’s just one part of what it means to make a disciple.

So how can we do that?


5 Simple Questions to Lead a Bible Study Anytime, Anywhere with Anyone

There are many methods you could use to lead a simple Bible Study. This is just one way that allows you to open up a Bible passage at any time with anyone and have a solid, biblical conversation that will produce great fruit.

I was taught this method of Bible Study by one of my former pastors, Chad Lewis. I have taken this method that he passed on to me and taught it to several men in discipleship classes. It has been fascinating to watch men who never thought they could lead, take these five questions and become able Bible Study leaders in a short amount of time.

  1. What does this passage teach me about God?
  2. What does this passage teach me about myself?
  3. How do I need to respond to these truths?
  4. How does this passage lead me to worship?
  5. How can I use this passage to minister to others?

Take these five questions today and work through them with someone you know. Allow time for the both of you to meditate on these questions and to talk about some of the answers that the Holy Spirit has brought to mind.

The beauty of this model is that it works for every passage of Scripture. You can use it in the Gospels or in the Books of the Law. You can use it in Paul’s Letters or in the Prophets. You can use it in a narrative or in a poem. Where ever you are in the Bible, these five questions will continually lead you in powerful discussions about God and his Word.

This set of questions is just one of the many tools I learned from Pastor Chad Lewis in Pastor’s School at Sojourn Community Church. One of my favorite things about Pastor’s School was how everything that we were taught was reproducible – taught in a way that we could take it to someone else.

Another gift that Chad has continued to take to others is his gift of songwriting.

Right now, in the wake of great suffering and loss, Chad is working on a new album that you can be a part of. Please consider being a part of the Kickstarter campaign to help him finish the album.

Chad has passed on many things to me that I have been able to share with many others. How awesome would it be to see the masses of people that this man’s ministry has impacted rally together to serve him in return.

Help make this album happen.
Help make this album happen.

Whether it is a small financial gift or just the click of a share button on Facebook, take a moment in the next few days to help Pastor Chad accomplish this goal so that he can continue to use his gifts to minister to others.


[Update] As of this afternoon, Pastor Chad’s album has been fully funded! You can still chip in if you’d like to be a part of the production and receive some cool rewards.

Tim Duncan: Marathon Runner, Mutant, and Pastor

An Unexpected Inspiration for Long-Term Ministry from the NBA Finals

Over the last year, I have heard one refrain from my senior pastor countless times: “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Ministry is a sport of endurance. Scores of men have been in my position as a rookie pastor; far fewer last long enough to leave a true mark on the people they serve.

The true champion pastors, I have been told, tough it out in one place, plant roots, and leave a legacy through the new leaders they develop.

These are just ideals for me – something to strive for, not something I have accomplished in any measure.

But as I meditate on these goals, I do seek examples for inspiration. Of course many of these examples are actual pastors who have a track record of fruitful ministry. I read their books and read some more. Write down quotes from conversations. Listen to their sermons. I crave any word of encouragement I can find that might spur me on.

Sometimes I even find the inspiration when I am not looking for it.

Such was the case the other night as I watched Game 3 of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs.

Watching this championship best-of-seven series is an annual ritual in mybasketball home. In fact, with our anniversary always around the same time of the event, my wife and I can keep up with what we were doing different years according to who was playing in the Finals that year. The Celtics beat the Lakers during our honeymoon. The Lakers beat the Magic when we went on vacation with my family. The Heat beat the Spurs last year when we moved to Wheeling.

Basketball is a big deal in my house. In fact, my daughter’s first word longer than 2 syllables? “Basketball.”

All this to say, watching the game the other night was nothing unusual. I wasn’t setting out to find some special inspiration for pastoral ministry. I just wanted to enjoy a good game.

But with one fleeting comment from ABC lead announcer Mike Breen, who was probably just trying to fill air time as the game slowly closed out, I immediately thought back to all the conversations I had been having with my senior pastor about the long-term approach to ministry.

Tim Duncan: The Real-Life Superhero Movie

Commenting on the future Hall-of-Famer Tim Duncan, Breen pointed out, “When Tim won his first championship in 1999, [his teammate] Kawhi Leonard was in the first grade.”

What an amazing story and testament to the long-term greatness of Duncan. While the game continued, I started to dwell on just how long Duncan had been serving as one of the greatest, yet most humble players in the NBA.

I thought about what it would have looked like if 1999 NBA Champion Tim Duncan had shown up to little 1st grader Kawhi Leonard’s school for an NBA Cares event like the Spurs just did recently. I imagined what it would have looked like to see Duncan pick little Kawhi up on his knee to read a picture book. Would he have any idea that this little boy clinging to his baggy shirt would one day become his sidekick in another NBA Finals fifteen years later?

Tim Duncan is the real Wolverine. The mutant who never ages and watches his future X-Men teammates grow up, get old, and move on while he is still fighting more wars.

Then I started thinking about Tim Duncan’s career in relation to my own life.

In 1999, Tim Duncan won his first championship. I was graduating 8th grade and getting ready for high school.

In 2003, Duncan won his second championship.  I was graduating high school and getting ready for college.

In 2005, Duncan won his third championship. I was rescued from the fraternity lifestyle and called to pursue Christian ministry.

In 2007, Duncan won his fourth championship. I was graduating college and getting engaged to my future wife.

In 2013, Duncan goes to his fifth finals and loses for the first time. I was graduating from seminary and loading a moving truck headed for my first role in ministry.

In 2014, Duncan makes his sixth finals and is two games away from winning his fifth ring. I am wrapping up my first year as a youth pastor and living in my first house with my wife of six years and our two children.

My life has gone from one monumental life change to another in the last fifteen years. Tim Duncan is just doing what he has always done. He is still the same old Wolverine.

Same Old Tricks in the Same Old Place

What makes this even more impressive is the fact that he has done it all in one place.

Like a lot of pastors, NBA players usually make many changes between teams during their career. Michael Jordan played for the Wizards. Shaquille O’Neal played for the Suns, Cavs, Celtics after his glory years in Orlando, LA, and Miami. Garnett and Pierce went to Brooklyn. LeBron famously left Cleveland. Guys like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli who spend their entire career in one place just do not exist anymore.

In my mind, Tim Duncan is not just a great basketball player. He is a mutant superhero. He is a pastor.

He puts in the work day after day, year after year constantly serving the same congregation to which he was called in 1998. He hardly receives any public attention while guys who have never done anything near as noteworthy like Blake Griffin and Kevin Love get all the commercials and notoriety like a bunch of NBA Prosperity Gospel preachers.

He demonstrates true leadership by sharing leadership. He steps back so that other guys can step up and take ownership. He has made room for guys like Parker and Ginobli, and Leonard and Green to thrive and to reach their full potential. Instead of demanding to be the one who does everything, he has given up playing time and stats in order for other future leaders to establish themselves. His team is not the single pastor model. Duncan works with a plurality of elders.

David Robinson did it first for Tim when he was younger. Now, Tim is paying it forward to Kawhi. It is a modern day metaphor for the Apostle Paul’s ministry to Timothy and Titus who later passed on what they knew to other faithful men who would do the same.


So on days when I have no idea how to embrace the marathon outlook of ministry, on days I want to sprint and take an easier route, I am going to think about that dream elementary school classroom where six-year-old Kawhi is sitting on the great Tim Duncan’s lap reading a book not realizing that one day he is going to be carrying the legend to the cusp of his fifth NBA Championship.

I imagine that little boy would look up to the great athlete with eyes of wonder and think to himself, “One day, I am going to be like him.”

Me too, Kawhi. Me too.