Leaders Train Their Soul

Ryan SkoogBy Ryan Skoog5 Minutes

Excerpt taken from Lead with Prayer: The Spiritual Habits of World-Changing Leaders by Ryan Skoog, Peter Greer, & Cameron Doolittle


Chapter 2

Leaders Train Their Soul

Pray … with all kinds of prayers.
Ephesians 6:18

As an NFL chaplain with the Miami Dolphins, Terry Boynton has worked with some of the greatest athletes alive.

The football players he mentors are constantly looking for a training edge, whether it’s consuming precise amounts of protein within a prescribed time frame after a workout, bench-pressing with laser timers to track explosiveness in microseconds, or finding their ideal weight for the apex balance of power and speed—anything to give them a slight advantage in competition.

Athletes adopt a technique, refine their training, and find the sweet spot of their body’s personal response. Then they repeat the process, over and over. They are constantly training their bodies, but Terry encourages the athletes he mentors to apply that same level of discipline to training their souls in prayer. It’s profound for these athletes to think of pouring that much effort and intentionality into their prayer lives. With Terry’s help, they’ve started approaching prayer and discipleship with serious focus and commitment, creating a plan for their prayer lives as they would for their physical training.

It isn’t just athletes who benefit from that level of intentionality in their prayer lives. As we spent time with praying leaders around the world, we witnessed and heard about commitment and a purposeful pursuit of greater depths in their relationship with God. These leaders shared and lived the words of King David, “My soul followeth hard after thee” (Psalm 63:8 KJV, emphasis added).

With creativity and focus, prayer was woven into leaders’ days, weeks, and years. They experimented with different prayer rhythms and practices, adopting a variety of techniques and approaches to cultivate a personal rhythm that included morning devotions, prayer retreats, prayer meetings, evening prayers, prayer lists, and ancient prayers. They were committed and practicing all of the above.

If this sounds a bit extreme, one of the most respected biblical leaders went even further: He was willing to die for his prayer rhythms.

Daniel was a young Jewish man, taken into captivity in Babylon. Recognized for his wisdom, he went on to become the chief of staff of the largest empire the world had ever seen. His responsibility wasn’t just over a country, but countries. But then jealous colleagues came up with a plan to orchestrate his demise, using Daniel’s dedication to prayer against him. As the Bible recounts, Daniel chose a den of lions over modifying his prayer practices (Daniel 6).

In a dramatic story with actual ravenous lions, we can easily miss the intensity of Daniel’s leadership pressures and his commitment to his prayer life in his personal schedule. Had he just chosen to pray on his morning walk silently to himself, there would have been no lions to contend with. But all of it—the routine, the posture of kneeling, the frequency of getting alone with God multiple times a day—was so important to Daniel that he would rather die than lead without his particular prayer rhythms.

Both Daniel and the leaders we interviewed model what has for centuries been known as a Rule of Life. It’s a concept born out of fourth-century Christianity and practiced by hundreds of millions of Christians for more than 1,500 years.

As a very old concept, there are many definitions, but author Marjorie Thompson offers this helpful framework: “A rule of life is a pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness.”¹ Stated simply, it’s a training plan to grow closer to Christ.

On the importance of a Rule of Life, one leader wrote, “The devil defeats most praying before it happens because we didn’t make a plan.”²

Another praying leader described his Rule of Life this way: “I set my prayer life, then I organize the rest of my life around it.”

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