The Rt. Rev’d John Guernsey currently serves as Bishop in the Diocese of the Holy Spirit, a diocese in the ACNA. Previously, +John served as Rector of All Saints, Woodbridge, VA and has been intrumental in the development and leaderhship of SOMA serving as Chairman of the Board of Directors.
Long before it was made into a movie, I came across the book, The Blind Side, by Michael Lewis. It tells the fascinating and hilarious story of an inner city boy and the changing world of professional football. Michael Oher was the neglected son of a Memphis crack addict, who went on to play in college and, now, the Baltimore Ravens. Woven through Michael’s story—more in the book than in the movie—is the evolution of NFL football and the emergence of the importance of the left tackle. And it begins with a moment long-time Monday Night Football fans will remember: linebacker Lawrence Taylor’s blindside tackle that broke the leg of Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann in 1985.
As the passing game became the dominant force in professional football, the quarterbacks who could throw the ball with pinpoint accuracy became the key asset of every franchise. That was predictable. What surprised everyone in the game, though, was the new importance of a previously ignored position, that of left tackle. Since most quarterbacks are right handed, as they stand to throw the football, opposing players coming from the left are attacking them from their blindside—hence the title—and the blind side is where they are most vulnerable. So defensive coaches began to put their quickest, meanest, most aggressive, most athletic players on that side, to come at the quarterback from his blind side. And in response, offensive coaches realized they had to find players of enormous size, strength and agility and put them at left tackle to keep their multi-million dollar quarterbacks alive.
These left tackles are remarkable athletes, but unless you’re a real football fanatic, you probably never heard of any of them. They labor anonymously and without recognition; they are noticed only when they make the rare blunder and allow the quarterback to be sacked.
But here’s the fascinating thing: left tackles are the most highly paid position in National Football League after the quarterback. Not the dominant running backs, not the flashy wide receivers. Nope, it’s the anonymous left tackle who is the most highly valued.
It is my view that in the church, the position of left tackle is filled by personal intercessors. While the focus may be on the clergy, it is the prayer warriors who are truly fighting the battle on behalf of those leaders. The priest in the pulpit is under attack as surely as the quarterback in the backfield. And how we need the prayers of the saints to cover our blindside.
The Apostle Peter needed others to pray for him. Jesus said at the Last Supper in Luke 22:31, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.”
The Apostle Paul needed others to pray for him. In Romans 15:30, Paul wrote, “I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.”
In Ephesians 6:19, Paul wrote, “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
In Colossians 4:3, Paul said, “Pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message.”
And in 2 Thessalonians 3:1, Paul said, “Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men.”
Peter needed others to pray for him.
Paul needed others to pray for him.
And as clergy and lay leaders in the Body of Christ, we need others to pray for us.
But sadly, there is often a reluctance on the part of leaders to seek the prayer we need. Many of us clergy were taught in seminary to keep our personal needs private from the flock.
For some is arrogance: I don’t need their prayers.
For some it is fear: how might some abuse information I share about my problems or about my family?
For some it is a false humility: I’m the center of attention enough as it is. Why should people pray especially for me more than for everyone else?
Parishioners fail to pray most often out of ignorance. They simply do not understand how vitally important it is to intercede for leaders in the body of Christ. Added to that are lack of information about what to pray for, and lack of training in prayer.
In the best of times, clergy in America are in crisis. They experience burn-out, the result of years of trying to live up to unfulfillable expectations. Christian researcher George Barna reports that pastors in America have a higher risk of being fired than head coaches in the National Football League. Clergy are expected to be all things to all people at all times.
Clergy can be overwhelmed with feelings of ineffectiveness – there is tremendous pain in seeing individuals or even congregations stuck in the same problems, not changing, not growing in Christ, and feeling powerless to make a difference. Management guru Peter Drucker said, “Clergy are the most frustrated profession in the world.”
One psychologist called clergy a walking Rorschach inkblot. People see in their clergy whatever is bothering them and they project onto their clergy a lifetime of unresolved issues with parents and authority figures.
We are engaged in a spiritual battle and our adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Clergy experience attacks:
Attacks on finances
Attacks on health
Attacks on marriage and family.
Attacks of fear and doubt.
Clergy need prayer. Yes, we must be people of prayer ourselves. That is vital. But we also urgently need the prayers of others. As leaders, we need to view prayer cover the way the infantry views air cover. We have to fight the battle on the ground, to be sure, but we’d be foolish to try it without that canopy of covering in the heavenlies.
For too many years, I failed to grasp how important intercessory prayer cover is for my ministry, for my family, for me. But I have repented and I’ve become very intentional about recruiting and encouraging those who faithfully and sacrificially pray and fast for me, for my family and for my ministry.
Such prayer support is not just for clergy. In the parish I served as rector, we would urge everyone who took on a ministry or leadership responsibility to seek out personal intercessors who will commit to pray for them and support them in their ministry as a member of the Vestry or as a Sunday School teacher or as a short-term missionary or youth group leader—whatever their role. It really is OK to ask people to make an intentional commitment to intercede for you.
Those personal intercessors are our left tackles, that most valuable position on the team. Their prayers uphold us and encourage us and protect us.
We all need brothers and sisters in Christ to whom we can say, along with St. Paul, “I urge you…, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.”