Prayer as a Way of Walking in Love: A Personal Journey
Desiring God 2011 Conference for Pastors
The Powerful Life of the Praying Pastor: In His Room, With His Family, Among the People of God
Notes taken during the session.
Being Amazed at Answered Prayer
Pastor John gave me the topic of prayer as a personal journey. In my life, prayer has even rivaled the Scriptures in stirring my affections towards God. I know that Jesus loves me because the Bible so—God, you love me that much! But I know he loves me because of the way he answers my prayers. Just five minutes ago backstage, pleading with God, “How do I share what you and I have been through all of the years!? How do I communicate that? Do you love everyone this much? I see it so much in how you answer my prayers.”
Whenever I have money in the bank, I want to give it to people in need. But this one time I wanted to take my family on vacation and I pleaded with God and made it known. And I prayed and waited. A few days later my wife called me at work and said we got a cashier’s check in the mail for $2,000. All it had on it was a Post-It note that said, “Spend it on your family.” Wow! God is so good in answering my prayers.
Another time, my wife and I were talking. She was saying how she just loves our life and loves how simply we live. But she said, “You know, I just want to be more generous.” We have always wanted to be the kind of people who just write checks to people. We just are not those people though, so we prayed for wealthy people to be raised up in the church who just don’t care about their stuff. We also prayed that God would make us wealthy to give it away. And just last year, we made about $2M off of sales from Crazy Love. None of it comes to us but to a fund and we get to write checks to people.
Prayer is a way of walking in love. I love God so much because of how God has answered my prayers. Sometimes even we pray the wrong thing and we are so grateful and amazed that God did not grant those prayers. But when you look at Scripture, don’t we see that prayer is what sets us apart from other religions? The story of Elijah, God is the one who answers prayer. He is not a block of wood. He answers the prayers of his people.
One thing I have done is writing in prayer journals. I write my prayers on one side and then go back and write on the other side of the page when God has answered that prayer. It is so good to go back and remember how God has answered prayer. We so easily forget what God has done. This is a serious power that we have here in prayer.
Another time I was cleaning out my garage. I didn’t want to do it. I wanted to do something that would last for eternity. So I prayed that God would help to do something eternal in it. So I was cleaning out my garage and my neighbor stopped by. He said he had been wanting to talk with me and asked that I pray for him. It was great!
Believing in the God of Power
Every time I experience answered pray, I am just in awe of God. Why do I do anything but pray? The only thing that ever differentiates between me and some other religion is that God is my God who answers prayer. When I talk to someone on a plane or somewhere, I pray that God would show up in power, otherwise I will just sound like one of these other religions. He has to work and do something.
When an unbeliever walks into your church, don’t you want him to walk away saying, “Man, that guy, those people, are connected to God!” Is that what they see? Is that what comes across in your church? Isn’t that what we want? We want to show how great God is through our connection with him.
Yes, God is sovereign and he could use an unbeliever to preach the gospel with authority. But don’t you want to be connected to God so people are pointed to God? Remember Sunday School as a kid? You would walk out thinking and believing that your God can do anything! You would read and hear about all these great things God has done and would believe it. But now that we’re older, we are no longer amazed by the miracles that God does. Instead, we’re amazed by a communication style and by knowledge.
Maybe we need to get back to preaching those great stories of God’s greatness in the Old Testament. We need to remind our people that our God can do anything. Do you still believe it? Do you still believe that God is able to do anything? We have lifted up Moses and Elijah as super heroes but they were just men like us. They have nothing on us. If they were here today, we may be in awe of them. But they are no big deal! We have a nature just like them. They prayed fervently. We could pray that we could do that.
Cry Out, He’ll Answer
I am now getting so used to God answering my prayers that I have to pause think about it more when he doesn’t. I have to think harder about why he doesn’t heal that person. I have to think if I’m praying with wrong motives or if I’m not treating my wife well or what is going on. I want to point you to Isaiah 58:5-9.
There were people who were pleading with God for certain things, but because of their disregard for his commands, of course he was not going to listen to them. But as soon as they start doing them, he says, “Here I am.” There are times when I marvel at the Lord because I don’t pray as hard and long as some people. I feel spoiled because of how he answers when I just pray quickly or just think about it. This passage says he will answer. Just cry out.
If you abide in Jesus, he will abide in you. This is probably my biggest failure. It is so easy to get busy in the ministry and my prayer life just turns into, “Do this. Do that.” It lacks abiding in Jesus. It takes faith though to sit and abide in God. I neglect the most important thing, which is prayer as a way to walk in love. I fail to just commune and talk with God.
I fear that many of you focus so much on the work of God that you neglect the person of God. If you abide in him, there is much fruit. Think about it. The great things that have happened in your ministry—were they a result of your great planning or strategy or did something just fall in your lap? It is always the grace of God. Just abide in God.
The One Thing
I have been camping out on this verse for the past several weeks, Psalm 27:4. What is the one thing you keep asking of the Lord? If I read a transcript of your prayers, what would I see is the one thing you keep asking for? Would it be, “Let me dwell in your house all the days of my life and gaze upon your beauty”? Is that what I would read? Joel said last night, “If you want to humble a man, ask him about his prayer life.” What would it be?
The context of this passage is danger and crazy things happening in the life of the psalmist. The Enemy wants us looking at all the things that are going around us and anxious about the future and all the chaos. If he can get us fearful and worried about the things around us, no one will be amazed by God. But the psalmist says that God is the stronghold of his life.
Other things become our stronghold. We rest on our great staff who can pull off anything. Or we look forward to a day off or vacation or a great conference like this as our stronghold. Maybe you come here not desiring God but you are desiring Desiring God. Or maybe you are desiring Piper. We begin to find our stronghold in other things beside God. But when you are alone with God and baring your soul to him, there should be sweet fellowship and abiding.
When you face the stressful and terrible things of life, you should be able to have a “Go ahead, make my day attitude.” You should have a confidence. Why? Because of the one thing you have asked of the Lord. Because you are in God’s presence, communing with him. Who will attack you as you commune with Lord? That’s ridiculous! Just dwelling with the Lord and things will be fine.
Think about it. If there is only one sovereign Being who is over all things in the universe, then if I just abide him all things will be taken care of. Right? We would say that we believe in the sovereignty of God, but the question is how is that fleshed out in your life. Does it result in a peace that surpasses all understanding? Even when it seems like there is nothing else going for you, you have the sovereign God who is your refuge.
Do you get to the point where you just want to stay with God and stay in his presence? That’s what this verse is about—just gazing upon his beauty and spending those sweet moments with him. It doesn’t have to be somewhere special. I spent two hours at an IHOP eating pancakes, communing with God. Sometimes in the middle of the night I will just count my breaths and be amazed that God has given me another breath. It should stun us that the God of the universe will listen to us in prayer. What is better than that?! He listens and hears and loves. Let this be the one thing you ask.
The Pitfall of Assumption
Everyone has been talking about me leaving my church in Simi Valley. I moved to San Francisco three weeks ago and everyone’s asking what I’m going to be doing there. But not one person has asked, “How is your prayer life?” It’s because everyone assumes that you’re doing that. I think people assume that I am doing that. Maybe they think it is silly to ask me if I’m praying. I wish more people would say, “I hope you haven’t started anything without praying first.”
We’ve all done that, right? We’ve made assumptions about staff people or congregation members. And then we find out later what they have been dealing with and wrestling with. So I don’t want to assume anything this morning. I don’t want to assume that you are walking closely with God right now. My prayer is that your boast is in God and that you are about God and that people see that in you.
It takes so much faith to abide in Christ and to dwell in the house of the Lord. I pray that you get there. That is what people want to see when they come to your church. They want to see a man of God who is connected. Elijah was a man just like you, just like me. He was connected to God. I want you to be connected to God like that.