The Seven Deadly Sins of Ministry Podcast Series Part 5: Stale Prayer and Spiritless Priorities

Some sins feel easy for the average person who cares about the things of God to recognize - sins like financial mishandling, sexual sin, and pride. These are landmines that men and women alike step on in ministry. But the topic of today’s blog post is a sin that is often overlooked, yet equally powerful in its ability to derail our ministries.

That’s why I invited special guest Dr. James Merritt - Senior Pastor of Cross Pointe Church and author of a newly released book on prayer, The God Who Hears - for a conversation on how to guard against the sin of having a stale prayer life and being disconnected from the Holy Spirit's priorities. 

First, let’s define this sin: 

STALE PRAYER AND SPIRITLESS PRIORITIES: Doing God's work with human effort that is not empowered by desperate prayer and reliance on the Holy Spirit.

Why is this on the list of deadly sins?

While it might be tempting to think of this as a lesser sin than something like adultery, recognizing how deadly this sin can be is vital to our ministries. Something Dr. Merritt shared about his many years around ministry is the fact that pastors who fail morally, those who blow it and are either no longer in ministry or you can tell the Holy Spirit has departed from their ministry, without exception had a common trait in their lives. Before any sin of commission occurred there was the sin of omission - meaning they quit having a viable devotional life. They quit spending time with the Lord. Much like the often repeated wisdom that either the Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible, the same is also true about prayer. Either prayer will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from prayer. He has found that while you might be able to put on a good show in public, you will never truly be who you ought to be in public if you are not who you ought to be in private. Prayer is absolutely essential in our personal lives and our ministries.

How do we safeguard against this sin?

First, it is important to recognize what prayer is

  1. Prayer is not a monologue. It's actually a dialogue. 

There are two parts to prayer - speaking and listening. Yes, we actively talk to the Lord. We ask, seek, and knock. We bring Him all that leaves us frustrated, angry, and dumbfounded, knowing He's big enough for our honesty. And we pour out our praise to the Lord. But we also need to learn the art or the discipline of listening to the Holy Spirit. 

  1. Prayer is not meant to be spending all our time telling God what we want and need, only to leave His presence without really loving Him.

James pointed out during our conversation how our prayers can end up being more self-centered than God-centered. We come with our lists but spend far too little time focusing on God's greatness, grandeur, and glory. We fail to shower God with our love, affection, and devotion. 

Prayer isn't meant to be spending all our time telling God what we want and need, only to leave His presence without really loving Him. Psalm 100:4 reminds us, "Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!" We need to be sure we spend time each day praising Him for who He is and thanking Him for what He's done. 

Secondly, we must make prayer a priority. 

As leaders, we know that if we fail to plan, we plan to fail. I think there are a lot of spiritual leaders who have done a great job learning about preaching, strategy, vision, small group structure, church planning, and mobilization. But how much time have they given to a concerted prayer life before the Father? Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5) And the way we abide, the way we remain, is through the gift of prayer.

James and I discussed several ways we can play an active role in remaining spiritually connected to Him through prayer. One option would be to keep a prayer list where we pray over specific areas of our lives each day - praying for our loved ones, our churches and ministries, the lost, our government and leaders, etc. (I created a resource to help you create a prayer list. You can learn more about it and download it HERE.) Another powerful practice we can weave into our days is praying God’s Word back to Him. When we pray His Word and His will, we know that He hears us. One other important exercise is checking to be sure we are enjoying and savoring our prayer life. Paul makes the connection between prayer and peace in Philippians 4:6-7. When we enjoy the peace of God, we are going to be drawn to prayer. 

I’ll end today with this wisdom from Dr. Merritt: “You never graduate from the school of prayer. Nobody gets a Ph.D. in prayer, and I think we'll be learning how to pray from now until the time we get to heaven. That said, the biggest thing that changed my prayer life was when I finally realized that prayer is not so much trying to get things from God, it's more about giving things to God.”

Let's ask the Lord to revive our prayer lives and to open our hearts to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Want to learn more? You can listen to 7 Deadly Sins of Ministry Episode 5: Stale Prayer and Spiritless Priorities featuring Dr. James Merritt here. And make sure to subscribe to the Living Worthy with D.J. Horton Podcast to get the next two episodes.


  1. Where might this sin specifically show itself in your life?
  2. What precedes your struggle with this? In other words, what time, season, situation, or stress point usually triggers this in your life?
  3. Who could be best suited to watch your back on this?
  4. When you have experienced victory in this area, what helped you the most?