Speaker Panel

Desiring God 2013 Conference for Pastors

Brothers, We Are Still Not Professionals: Reclaiming the Centrality of the Supernatural in Ministry

David Mathis: These are your questions. We have some directed at individuals, mainly Tope, and we have some directed for the entirety of the council. So I’m encouraging these guys, even if we direct the question to an individual, that we all chime in and be able to respond, and we’ll try to keep the dialogue moving and get as many questions as we can. Many good ones here. So we’ll start with Tope. Tope, one pastor writes, “I am more convinced than ever that I need to open my church to the miraculous gifts of the Spirit. What first step should I take when I get home?”

Tope Koleoso: Good question. What first steps? I will say in the right way and in the right context, let people know how you feel about the things of the Spirit having attended this conference. They can always argue with your theology, but if you have had something of an encounter, no matter how small, and describe it to them, don’t exaggerate it, that becomes a starting place. “Something happened to me. God has touched me. God has spoken to me.” That becomes, I think, a very helpful place to start, and then you can build on that. The main building block is for you to find the context where you can say, “Let us pray. Let us pray,” and begin to do that there. So I think I’ll start there. Let them know something has happened to you. That’s where I’ll start.

David Mathis: Anything else you brothers would add?

Jason Meyer: One of the things I found most helpful was something that Pastor John said to kind of alleviate the fear. What you were saying — somebody in the back that you don’t know could say something crazy — it feels a little bit more manageable to have your spiritual gifts be practiced in small groups. Have some oversight over that so you know the people that are part of that fellowship. It’s an open environment. You’re not going to immediately scare people, especially as they are in relationships — no character, things like that. So, I found that to be a very helpful distinction, a helpful place, proving ground for spiritual gifts. Practice rightly, decently, and in order.

Darrin Patrick: I would say too, the Corinth, where we have most of the instructions about these things. I mean, my study tells me it was a house church of about fifty people. I could be contradicted on that. I’m sure somebody would be willing to contradict me if they have a different opinion up here. So, it was a small group of people where these things were practiced and where they learned. And so, I would say do that for a few years before you bring it out to the big show. That’s what I would say.

Mack Stiles: In a church like ours where we have almost innumerable church backgrounds, it’s overwhelming at times knowing how to deal with these kinds of things, and one of the things that I most want to emphasize is the miraculous nature of what it means for people to come to faith and to be alive in Christ and how the great things, the great things of the miraculous are a changed heart. I mean, the biggest miracle we see is someone being born again.

I think that’s more stark for me because in a Muslim context, I thought that was harder, and I realized, “No, it’s not even harder. It’s the same hearts. It’s the same hard hearts there that are here.” And so, that to not lose the sense of the miraculous in everything we do, especially in a place where we are seeing things like visions and amazing ways that God is at work.

David Mathis: We have several questions related to, as Tope mentioned, discerning the Spirit. Here’s how one question reads, “It seems it’s so often superficial, human-centered, or emotional experiences are used to identify the work of the Holy Spirit, which works are then unassailable, and those who do question are viewed as quenching the Spirit. Please offer some help and wisdom on discerning the work of the Spirit.”

Tope Koleoso: Is this to me? I’ll start. I think like everything else, it starts small. For me, it starts with the importance of having a heart of integrity. I am not looking to catch anyone out, I’m not looking to let my emotions run wild, I’m not looking to let my insecurities feed into how I lead the people. And so, starting there I think is important.

And then for me, walking with the Spirit, walking with the Lord a few years now, I realized that, put it this way, there’s a way that he speaks to me. There’s a way that he will speak to you. And learning in the early days what that looks like, feels like, impressions, and learning not to discard them, but to press into them is critical. So that later on, so what I described in the sermon the other day, walked up to a guy — well, in a one-hour sermon, it makes it sound like it’s a miracle a day at Jubilee. It’s not, but the Lord gives those impressions that in those moments you realize, “I wasn’t thinking this. There is no way I would walk up to a visitor.”

And even while I’m walking, I’m like, “Lord, help me. Is this me? Is this you?” But there’s something so strong I cannot ignore it. So when Jesus called Peter and Peter says, “Lord, is that you?” Peter’s on the boat, “Is that you?” The Lord said, “It’s I.” He says, “Bid me come.” That is so critical that at some point you’re going to have to decide if you’re going to just talk to him from afar or take a plunge. And at some point, he took a plunge, but you take the plunge the whole time checking that your heart is right and you’re not wanting to get one up on someone.

And then you learn along the way. And I’ll tell you this, you will make some mistakes. Integrity demands that when that happens you’ll be like, “I probably got that wrong” or “I definitely got that wrong.” But refusing to let the fear gridlock you down, I think, is critical. The question is good, but when it comes to describing things of the Spirit, it’s like saying, “What does it feel like to fall in love?” I can tell you my experience, but until you feel it, we are groping. All the illustrations I might use, we’re groping, and all the illustrations fall down at some point, but at some point you just need to move out and step out.

John Piper: Coming at it just a little differently, trying to discern what that person really wants to hear with regard to help with discernment, and knowing that as soon as you try to encourage people to experience or express their experience with the Holy Spirit in a more open way, flaky people come out of the woodwork. They bring disrepute upon it and immediately make you want to despise prophesy and despise everything about the supernatural.

I think the most critical thing for me in discerning is seeing the professed supernatural thing. Like when they have a word for you or they’re chattering away over in the corner in tongues, all in D’s and T’s or whatever, is that you put that in the context of biblical maturity and biblical holiness. The Bible never puts spiritual gifts as a mark of maturity — ever. The most childish person in the world can have some experience. So, what you’re looking for in discernment is: Do they love the Scriptures? Are they growing in grace? Do they have love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness?

And if the only time they’re ever showing up, the only time they’re ever excited is when there is something supernatural happening, and all the other time with regard to the Scriptures, with regard to witness, with regard to anything that’s more robust and full and deeper and more mature, they’re disinterested, you know you’re dealing with immaturity, you know you’re dealing with something very inauthentic.

There are people kind of on the margins of Bethlehem who are coming to me regularly. Anytime I touch on the Spirit with something “big” for me, I don’t put much stock in it. They’re just not there through the thick and thin of the rough and tumble of real life and real ministry.

And so I think the principle there is view their expressions, their ostensible manifestations of the Spirit in connection with the wider holiness of their life, the wider maturity of their life. And if that’s missing, that’s what you want to counsel them. And I’ll say to this woman who’s always got a word for me, I’ll say, “I’ll pray about it, but you need to be in a small group with some other women studying the Bible.” And she generally resists that. And I say, “Okay, this woman is not healthy. She’s not healthy, and therefore I’m going to try to make her healthy rather than encouraging her in her guesses at what God might be saying to me.”

Jason Meyer: I think here’s where we really say subjective impressions don’t cause us to be less biblical but more biblical. So then you just start saying, “Okay, well, what are some texts about what the Holy Spirit does?” John says that he’s going to exalt the work of Jesus, lift high those things. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12 that you can’t even say Jesus is Lord apart from the Spirit of God. So is this spiritual work from the Spirit? Is it given to exalt Jesus? You can tell that fairly quickly. You can discern that kind of spirit.

And in the same way what Pastor John was saying, you can take texts like Ephesians 5 and see if you are being filled by the Spirit, what’s the result in those participles there? You’re going to be thankful, you’re going to be praising, you’re going to be having a healthy family, being a good husband. So those things we often just think of as sensational things and we forget about the fruits of the Spirit that should be coming out in those kinds of experiences.

Darrin Patrick: I also think it’s helpful to ask this question, “When does your discernment drop?” So for me, in the early days, it was anybody that was older because we had 20-year-olds, and anyone that was not white because we wanted to be a diverse church. So I tended to turn off my gut when anybody older or of any color would come in. And I think you’ve got to know that like, “When does your discernment drop? And who is that?” Because your tendency would be to not check some things with those types of folks. And it could be different for you, but figure out the answer. When does my discernment drop?

Jason Meyer: Maybe another point on: What are you after in spiritual gifts, spiritual experiences? I just read recently in a book on spiritual warfare where somebody said they were starting to speak in tongues, but every time they did it, they felt physically sick. And so he is trying to figure out what’s going on there. This person was able to discern this is a demonic spirit, and he was able to say, “What’s going on here?” Basically found out this woman had started praying just wanting experiences, wanting to experience things. And therefore, it became like an open door into — well, if it just has to be spiritual, then it can be anything. But if it’s going to exalt Christ, then that’s going to be something very different.

David Mathis: Next question for Kent. Thank you for starting us off so well on Monday night. This question’s about faithfulness and fruitfulness. “In light of your focus on faithfulness, please address the matter or imperative of being fruitful like John 15. Is there a via media between merely pursuing faithfulness and pursuing fruitfulness?”

Kent Hughes: Well, that’s a very good question. And when I just put it out there, you could have heard that faithfulness is just hanging in there. And in fact, we were discussing it together, and truly there are times when it is hanging in, when everything looks dark and so on. But the other part of it is that faithfulness is not just maintaining. It’s doing your ministry according to scriptural principles. It’s looking at the Scriptures, as I said. That’s key to it, seeing what the Scriptures have to say, and being creative and strategic and hard thinking.

So faithfulness is a much larger orb than just thinking of hanging in there. Although I think of John, you said to me that your father said that some men quit a year before they should have because revival was going to come. And so it is that perseverance and hanging in there, but it’s in the whole creative light of Scripture. And I would say too that when you’re talking about being faithful, this matter of fruitfulness, I think you got to say first of all, the fruit of the Spirit got to be present — all nine of them. Well, as best they can be, and you see that is the root of it and allow God to give the yield. So that would be my basic answer to that.

Mack Stiles: I think one of the things I love for me in the Scriptures when I think about fruitfulness and faithfulness in hard contexts is the contrast between Jeremiah and Jonah. Jeremiah preached forty years. He was treated horribly, put in stocks, thrown in the cistern, left for dead, dragged off to the very place, kidnapped to the very place he told people not to go. And as far as we can tell, not one person ever changed. There’s no record of Jeremiah ever having someone change as a result of his ministry.

Contrast that with Jonah. He goes to Nineveh, preaches eight words: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4). A hundred and twenty thousand people repent in sackcloth and ashes, yet he goes out and kicks dirt and sits under the tent. “I knew you were going to do that.” So when I stand before the Lord, I don’t want a Jonah attitude. I don’t want to be known for that. I want to be known for Jeremiah. That’s my desire: to be a Jeremiah for God, faithful. There is a call to fruitfulness, and Jeremiah is incredibly fruitful; we’re talking about them right now. You know what I mean?

That’s kind of fruitful, but especially for those of us who live in places where I know people who labored forty years faithfully, never saw anyone come to Christ. And yet once they left, later we found out they’d had an enormous impact. In fact, one of the reasons our church was given land in Dubai was because the sheikhs had all been born at the missionary hospital. In fact, the sheikhs call it the “Missionary Hospital.” Everyone tries to keep that quiet, but that’s what they call it. And they said, “You loved us before we had oil, and we knew that.” So through their faithfulness — no fruit — we’ve reaped enormous fruit.

Kent Hughes: We had the same experience at College Church where we had a couple of missionaries by the name of Kitty Newberry Cox that went out at the beginning of the century to Central America. They were persecuted, I mean, really paid the price, saw any converts, but now their descendants are out there seeing a harvest, and they’re standing on the shoulders of the faithfulness of their parents that went before. So it’s all of that. It’s not an easy answer, but there’s no faithfulness apart from being obedient to God’s word and being hardworking, creative, principled, doing the best you can possibly do.

John Piper: Just a clarification in terminology, David, the way that question was posed shows a betrayal of misuse of words. The question isn’t should we pursue faithfulness or pursue fruitfulness? You faithfully pursue fruitfulness. Those are apples and oranges. Faithfulness is how you pursue what you ought to pursue. So, of course, you pursue fruitfulness. Every day we are praying for fruit and preaching for fruit and witnessing for fruit. The question is what happens when it doesn’t go as well as you’d like it to go? That’s where the other piece of faithfulness is. You don’t just pursue it. You pursue it for a long time. You stay in there through thick and thin.

And then the choice of when to move from a ministry, say to Dubai or something, isn’t based on a heaviness that’s born of an inappropriate burden of having to make the fruit happen. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). Well, I planted for the sake of fruit, and I watered for the sake of fruit. So just a clarification on the terminology.

David Mathis: That’s really helpful.

Jason Meyer: Charles Spurgeon said, “If we’re really believing in a sovereign God, that we can’t produce conversions, but we can cry out for them and not be content when we don’t see them.” So, I just had just read that, and it had been a couple of weeks in our Sunday services where I hadn’t heard of any conversions. I just started crying out half the day, and the next day I got an email from one of our pastors talking about how someone had come to Christ in one of our services. So, we really do believe in the supernatural, and part of that is knowing conversion is supernatural and knowing that only God can do it. So, if we really believe that, we’ll pray accordingly.

David Mathis: Not unrelated to wrestling with faithfulness and fruitfulness is thinking about contextualization. Maybe the closest thing to a contradiction or tension between two of your messages were Darrin’s warning on the one hand that without contextualization you’re not a New Testament church, and Mack’s warning on the other hand that contextualization in the pursuit of relevance so often leads to heresy. I suspect you don’t disagree, but it may help us to talk it through.

Mack Stiles: We might disagree. I don’t know. We would’ve been good friends in high school. I would’ve sold you stuff. Just so you know.

Darrin Patrick: Wow. I would’ve beat you up and not paid for it.

Mack Stiles: No, our backs would’ve been up against each other. No, contextualization is what we do. Right? Everyone contextualizes. And I thought Darrin was wise to say over-contextualization. We have to contextualize. We’re speaking in English now. I have an English-speaking church in Dubai. That’s a contextualization issue. So, of course, we contextualize. The issue is when, and stop me here if you’re going to beat me up. But I think the issue is when the principle is lost, when the gospel is lost in the midst of our desire to contextualize for success, for me that’s an issue.

Now, this is a story of being careful of what you start. I helped plant a church in Lexington, Kentucky, Quest Community Church. It’s a wonderful church. A lot of people have come to faith there — about four thousand or five thousand people are there. We started with seventy people, and I love the pastor, Pete Hise. At the same time — Pete knows this — I have deep concerns about overt contextualization and pandering to culture and having to maintain this superstructure that has nothing to do with the gospel.

Again, we’re on the same team. For a guy who lives in the Middle East and if you preach the gospel, man, you’re my friend. And so I would hate to ever think that there would be some rift over something that small. I guess there are people who fight over smaller things. But anyhow, that’s how I would hope to say it. I recognize that tension was there last night as Darrin was speaking. Do we agree, or are you going to beat me up?

Darrin Patrick: Absolutely. I agree. And I think that, and this is just a simple definition, contextualization is not speaking on the world’s terms or doing church on the world’s terms or doing missions, but it’s with the world’s terms. Meaning that we use language, we use forms, we use cultural artifacts that help us communicate the gospel better. And that’s much different than trying to say our form, our structure, we got to water down here and there or people aren’t going to hear — that’s a much different deal.

And so what my statement was, if you’re not wrestling with these issues, you’re not a New Testament church because you should always be thinking, “Okay, are our forms and structure, my communication connecting to people? Am I making the gospel plain and understandable? Is my language obscuring the plain truth of the gospel?” I think that’s what I mean by wrestling.

Jason Meyer: A couple of points on contextualization I found really helpful. Tim Keller is one of the ones that made the argument in Center Church that we’re not just called. The contrast isn’t just between success or faithfulness, but also we want fruitfulness. And he gave a great analogy, I have to take his word for it that this is true since I don’t know that much about computers, but he said there’s hardware and software. So the hardware, the things on your computer, for us, it would be like our “Elder Affirmation of Faith,” our vision statement, things like that. And then the software, the programs that the computer — the hardware — runs.

But actually, in order for those things to communicate rightly and be able to read the programs, you need something called middleware, and that’s where you try, even in a multi-campus church like ours. We have to contextualize according to whether we’re in Lakeville, whether we’re downtown Minneapolis, or whether we’re in Mounds View, and doing the hard work of middleware is very valuable. But at the same point, I think we would start to over-contextualize at the moment that we start to trust in our contextualization where we think that if we do the work enough that that’s where the power is. The power’s not there. The power’s in the gospel.

From my academic background, I was really struck by a scholar named Eta Linnemann who is this radical Bultmanian influenced by Rudolf Bultmann. And she actually wrote a book, completely turned around, and she wrote a book entitled, Is There A Synoptic Problem? In which she’s saying there’s not one. What happened? Did she read some commentary? I mean, there’s some people in academia that think they’re a missionary to the academy. “I’m just going to outdo their scholarship. I’m going to contextualize to the point where I know the issue so well that I’m going to write a better commentary on this.”

It wasn’t any of that for her. Somebody I think from InterVarsity shared the gospel with her, and she became a believer, and all of her views began to change from that. So we have to fundamentally reaffirm the gospel is the power of God for salvation, not trusting in our contextualization.

Kent Hughes: I was just going to say, when you’re preaching, you need to know what’s going on in culture. You need to be reading the magazines, you need to understand where people are, and you need to be with your people. But one of the big temptations, if you say postmodern culture doesn’t listen to reasoned discourse, but they’ll listen to inner-directed stories, then you can say, “In order to reach these people, I need to tell inner-directed stories.” And it’s really true. You can have people restless, and you start talking about how you feel, and they get quiet, the babies get quiet, they want to know how you feel.

And that’s very seductive because then you can imagine preaching with telling several inner-directed stories, a little bit of humor, toss in some Scriptures, and you’ve got people that are just loving it. And that’s a contextualization that takes you away from the word because the word of God in its context is reasonable. I mean, you’ve got to communicate the word. So it’s to understand all those things but not be seduced by that kind of contextualization.

Darrin Patrick: I would just say, as a help, I think this is the best way to approach it because all of you’re sitting there at different points. So let’s say the perfect balance is right here because contextualization is here; under-contextualization is here. Which side do you lean? Which side do you fear more? And the way I say it is if you fear under-contextualization, you probably need to move more this way. If you fear over-contextualization, you probably need to move this way.

And here’s how you move. You get around some people that are strong in those areas, either biblical faithfulness and guys like Mack who have critiqued and have. You need to listen if you’re in danger of over. If you’re under, you need to get around some guys who maybe would push the edge a little bit, maybe a little extreme in your view to help you balance out. But that tension is the missionary tension that you’re always going to be in, which is the New Testament church.

Tope Koleoso: Well, I consider, David, why you put those two questions back to back because obviously the one leads into the other. And I think the way Dr. Piper, you talked about the use of these words. I think that’s very helpful because I agree with everything that was just said about the importance of faithfulness, but it’s not impossible that someone could hear that. Maybe because of my own background, you almost want to ask, “Are you scared of being fruitful?” I think it’s a good question to ask. “Are you scared of being fruitful?” I’m not scared of being fruitful. In fact, I pray to be fruitful, and in fact, he wants me to be fruitful. In fact, he wants the fruit to abide, and then to think, “Okay, what do we mean by fruitfulness?”

In our minds, I think by and large, the tendency certainly in the West is to project immediately to, “Okay, it’s numbers. Lots of people. How many people in your churches? Are they coming?” And then to begin to view where God is doing a work and there is growth to view it suspiciously. See, if we have a mentality that runs the risk of viewing fruitfulness as dubious, then God could be moving in a place, but you build for yourself ideas that make you stay away from it. And in doing that, run the risk of actually building around yourself reasons why we are unfruitful, but we’re going to call it faithfulness, clinging on.

So I love the statement: “We need to be faithful to be fruitful.” And I think that Jesus wants you to be fruitful. I think this is really important because it’s going to affect how you pray. If all your prayer is just, “Keep me hanging on,” it’s too small, way too small. I think you need to pray, “Let this be fruitful for your glory. Let people come and come to see the beauty of Christ.” And it’s not about just building a large church; it is about building large people though. And if you build large people by the grace of God, then the Lord will do what the Lord wants to do. Don’t be scared of fruitfulness; pray for fruitfulness. Say, “Bless me, Lord.” I know it’s not the kind of language the reformed person is going to use much. Sounds self-indulgent, “Bless me, Lord.” Pray it. Pray it.

David Mathis: A question for Darrin. Someone writes, “I’m feeling deeply convicted that my life is too far removed from contact with the lost. What intentional actions can I take as I leave this conference?”

Darrin Patrick: Hopefully, you’ve repented of that and that you’re trying to respond to that conviction. And what I mean by repentant of that is that you have seen where you have placed your priorities that keep you from relationships with lost people. And then I would just say study the Scriptures. And just like we walk through Acts 16 and just marvel at how many times, especially as we read the gospels in the book of Acts, that you’ve got all of these stories and just kind of renew your mind again and, “Oh yeah, God does this stuff.” And, “Oh yeah, these disciples, Jesus really worked in spite of them just like he works in spite of me.” So don’t make the apostles these superheroes because obviously God used them uniquely, but they were really normal. They sinned, all of them. In Scripture, we see that.

So renew your mind. And then one thing I would just encourage, everywhere you go, this pastor, a charismatic pastor that I knew years ago, he had this idea that every time he walked into a room, he would pray this prayer. So every time he would enter a new room, from the living room to the kitchen, car to restaurant, this is a prayer. “Jesus, what are you doing? What are you doing?” Remember Jesus said, “I only do what I see the Father do.” So he was just training himself, “All right, who’s here? And if not, I’m going to worship you no matter what. I’m going to connect with you as I’m going to think about the Scripture I’m memorizing if nothing but my eyes are open. Jesus, what are you doing?” Start there.

David Mathis: A question for John. “Given the importance of saying it freshly and seeing freshly, what is the role of old creeds and confessions in spiritual sight?”

John Piper: They’re one step removed from Scripture. It’s almost the same question as “What’s the function of Scripture?” I think translation should be boneheadedly literal. In other words, not fresh. Translation sticks to the Greek both formally and dynamically. So that’s my view of how to translate the Bible. So all that to say, I believe in static, never-changing verbal realities within languages that have English changes to Spanish, but okay. So one step removed from that is the creeds: Apostle’s Creed, Westminster Confession, or whatever. And they would have roughly the same kind of function.

When I said, “What is meditation?” It is taking a glimpse and rolling it around in your head until you see more and more and more. Those glimpses come from authoritative sources that never change from the Bible and from renderings of the Bible. So I’m not eager to have creeds adjusted into creative forms. It’s just another place where somebody has summarized what’s here, and the original and the summary function as the place where I do my gardening, where I plow and where I sow my seed of effort and where I’m living. And what I want to see is when it says, “What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” I’m going to linger over the word and for a year or two until I see ham and eggs. What does and mean?

So I’m doing the same thing with the creeds that I’m doing with the Bible. And the whole point of that talk was how do you do that? How do you take a glimpse, a sentence, or a word from the Bible or a creed or the moon at night or a sunrise or a smile on a baby’s face? What do you do with it? You look at it; it means nothing; you go to your text. Or do you linger on a glory, a glory in a creed, a glory in the Bible, a glory in the night sky? And in lingering, what do you do then? That’s the whole point of my talk. And my little one answer, and there are more than one, is try to say it some way. Try to put it into some words for your soul.

Say something about the stars, say something about the baby, say something about the sunset, say something about created for his glory and to enjoy him. Ponder. Enjoy. What are some other words? What are some other words? Enjoy is not doing anything for me right now. So that’s the point. Huge place for creeds. They’re just solid good repositories of the summary of authoritative Bible teaching where you can see what some wise people have said that Bible means. And now you can meditate there just like you do with the Scriptures.

David Mathis: A question for all here: “At the very heart of supernatural ministry is prayer. What happens when we lose our faith in prayer itself? How can I reinstate my belief in the power of prayer?”

Jason Meyer: I think losing your faith in prayer means losing your faith in God. I quote all the time to myself the hymn by John Newton:

Thou art coming to a King, large petitions with thee bring, for his grace and pow’r are such, none can ever ask too much.

If you see the King rightly, I think you’re going to pray in the right spirit. I was just thinking about this again, thinking about transitions and fearing a managerial mindset mode in which you face an issue. And if you have a managerial mindset mode, you immediately start thinking as a first impulse, “What can I do about this? Can I send an email? Can I call somebody up?” And I want prayer to be a first impulse, not a last resort.

And if that happens, if I just move towards that issue in prayer, I’m really calling to mind things about God. “Look, Jason, if God sits enthroned above the circle of the earth and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, and if he can call all the stars by name and because of his power, not one is missing. Do you think he can handle this? Do you think he can handle this transition right now? Jesus trampled the dead; death, he trampled it to death. Do you think he can handle this issue you’re facing?”

So just preaching to myself with truth, and I find that that’s what spurs me to prayer, a clear deep view of who God is, and suddenly I want to talk to this God. I want to know more of that. I want to call that more to mind. So that’s what I do when I start to feel my prayer fahrenheit going down.

John Piper: Two things. It’s scary, Jason, to say to yourself losing confidence in prayer is the same as losing confidence in God. And my guess is the people who asked that question are scared because they see where this is going. Call upon the name of the Lord and you’ll be saved. If you don’t believe in prayer, your salvation is just about over because calling upon him didn’t do any good. So it’s a scary thing to lose confidence in prayer. And we all — you can tell how you’re losing confidence in prayer by how little you do pray.

So here’s two things. I remember in the early days, and I haven’t done this as much because I got through all the books I cared about, I read a new book on prayer every November, December, getting ready for prayer week, probably the first ten years of my ministry. And out of that book, I would try to write a little guide for our people. Reading those books on prayer was just huge in restoring my desire to know him and to see him hear me and answer.

So that’s number one. Get some good old classics on experiential prayer. Read Arminians on prayer if you have to. Wesley Duewel was a Wesleyan, not because his name was Wesley, but I read all of Wesley Duewel’s books on prayer, and I was helped profoundly. So do that.

Number two is remind yourself that according to the book of Revelation, prayers are being stored in big bowls which are in the present right now, incense going into God’s nostrils, which he’s delighted by. And the day will come when, according to Revelation 8, those bowls will be thrown upon the earth with fire so that every single prayer that’s ever been prayed, “Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth,” will be answered.

And those bowls are not full yet. They’re going to be filled with billions and billions and billions of “thy kingdom come,” and we will see in the last day, not one of them was wasted, not one, because when they are full and the time is full, the angels will take those bowls, and the Lord will say, “Throw it on the earth.” And our prayers will bring the kingdom. They will. They will.

So you have never wasted a prayer. “Thy kingdom come.” And some of your specific prayers for salvation of somebody that have not been answered like mine for years are not wasted. They’re not wasted. And God has his way. He has his time. He loves it that you’re asking. He loves it. It smells good to him. It’s like toast in the morning in the kitchen. It’s like bacon.

God loves to smell your heart cry. So go there, those two things. Read really experientially solid books on prayer. And remember in the present, God is pleased by your praying, and in the end, none of them is wasted.

Tope Koleoso: I am hungry now.

John Piper: So is he.

Tope Koleoso: But I think really that was so helpful, and the bit about “hallowed be thy name,” everything will be answered. I think a pastor who feels, “I’m drying up, I’m scared, my prayer life is going down because my confidence is failing and I don’t want it to, but it is.” I think just from that clip on video would help people, certainly help me in hearing that. I think those two points are really helpful. Let me add a third one. And my third one is coming from when I first went to live in the UK over twenty-some years ago; prayer meetings would just be silent and just really cute, not like what I was used to at all.

And this was a little bit of a struggle for me. And then I realized it’s not just our church here or the church I was in. It was just in many places fervent prayer didn’t come easy. And whenever I would pray out, by the time I opened my eyes, everybody’s staring somewhat. And I tell you what happens over time if you don’t think, “How am I going to handle this?” Over time, somebody shifts, either they shift to become more fervent, or you shift to become cold. And I think for a while the shift for me was becoming cold. So once in a while, I will find some church where I may not agree with all their doctrines. I probably did not. But when they prayed, there was a fervency, and if I could just go there for a few moments during their prayer meetings, it did something for me just by awakening me somewhat. It did something for me.

So I guess I’m trying to say if you have some kind of area where there are prayer meetings where it is fervent, sleep in there, stay for a bit, pray, and I think you can just begin to awaken your affections. That’s the practical part. The real helpful bit is to see him for who He is and to know that this is not wasted.

Kent Hughes: I just say that one of the things you may hear when you think about prayer is petition, but prayer is exposing yourself to God. And so it’s not just what’s being answered; it’s what’s happening to you in the process of your prayers. You open yourself to him, and you think of his glories and you think of his creatorship and the atonement of Christ, the hardest thing ever done in the universe has done for you. And so prayer is a much more dynamic thing than petition. Nobody was suggesting it was just petition here, but the point is that we got to see it in a much more dynamic way than just asking.

Darrin Patrick: I would say one more thing. Whoever asked the question or is asking that question, go back and ask this question of yourself. When did God disappoint you? Because you’re disappointed. He didn’t do something that you thought he should or he allowed something that you thought was unfair and go back and ruminate on that. Maybe get some people involved, maybe go to counseling. Why is it that you’re so disappointed and what was that event?

Mack Stiles: I’ve been where you were. I appreciate Jason’s link between prayer and belief. For me, prayerlessness is always that little red flag that goes up about belief in myself, thinking I can do things on my own. But I remember at one point, this is probably 15–16 years ago, I’d come to this place where I was really, really confused about prayer. And so I did a silent prayer retreat for a weekend. I was just going to go with God. I was mad. I said, “I’m tired. You said your sheep know your voice. I can’t tell what’s your voice and what’s my voice.” And I cried out to God for the weekend.

As it turned out, I didn’t have enough time, so I rescheduled. It was a Gethsemani Abbey Catholic monastery and Thomas Merton’s old monastery close to my house. I went back, I spent a week in prayer wrestling, ended that and just really still felt unsatisfied. And then this was unusual, but the Abbott actually let me come back, and I had a two-week silent prayer retreat where I wrestled with prayer. Of course, what God wanted to do in my life was not what I wanted to do. He wanted me to deal with sin. I spent three days dealing with my sin, which was horrific.

And of course, at the end of that time I realized I didn’t have enough time. Of course, I realized then I would never have enough time. After a weekend and a week and two weeks, I just realized, “I’m not going to exhaust this.” And what I learned from all that is when you’re in despair about prayer, you need to pray.

Jason Meyer: Maybe one more thing, Pastor John was talking about reading books just to be vulnerable. One of the best books that helped me on prayer was Paul Miller’s A Praying Life. And the reason that book was so helpful is that I’d had the experience of reading a lot of books on prayer, and I would be a little bit encouraged, but actually a lot more depressed because I would see what the books were calling for and I would see where I was, and I didn’t know how to get there. And one of the things that book did for me was to really help me diagnostically think through why I don’t pray, if I really believe what I say I believe.

And one of his points in there was we kind of have to unlearn what it means to grow up. We get older and we’re supposed to be less and less dependent on our parents, grow up, be responsible. And in prayer you kind of have to unlearn that what it means to be more and more and more and more dependent on our heavenly Father. And not to treat prayer like a separate discipline that’s distinct or different than our relationship with God, so that you start actually thinking, you’re using communication for something.

And he used the example of being in your living room with your family kicking back, why do you use communication? Use communication as part of your relationship. You don’t go around wondering, “Have I asked them for enough things yet?” You just enjoy having fellowship, having communion, relating, being in relationship. And he did something that really kind of hit me in between the eyes. When I was trying to grow in prayer, I heard about ACTS: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication. And he said, “Those kinds of formulas are okay until they really just become formulas and we don’t relate to anybody like that.”

He said, “We don’t go home to our wife and adore her for a while and then confess her and then they make thanksgiving and supplication, whatever.” He said in the book, “My wife is from Philadelphia, Philadelphians boo their own sports team. She would’ve started mocking me had I done that.” And in the same way to view prayer not as a separate satellite in our relationship with God but as part of the center, that’s where it really started changing for me.

David Mathis: A question for John and Jason. “In your overlap at Bethlehem, what have you learned about handing off the baton to the next generation? In particular, the relationship between the outgoing senior and the incoming junior?”

John Piper: I’ve learned afresh that God is merciful. I’m trying to think of new things I’ve learned. It’s not what I’ve learned; it’s what I’ve experienced of God’s grace in this, that God has been kind. A year and a half ago, we did not have a clue how to do this. I just felt I need to hand this off because the scope of it is beyond my abilities and it’s time. And we didn’t have a clue. And so we call the elders to pray in a focused way because I said, “One of the things about the elders of Bethlehem is that they don’t always know what to do. They just know what to do when they don’t know what to do.” That’s what I said, namely, pray.

And God, at the end of those six concerted weeks of prayer, put three pieces clear, and we moved with those, and all three of them are coming into place. So I have tasted that God is kind, God is merciful, God is good. He loves it when you don’t approach this. We didn’t bring in a consulting firm; we didn’t bring in a headhunter. We brought God in. We did it in a non-professional, on-your-face, forty elders saying, “We don’t know how to do this. We don’t know who it might be. We can’t think of a solution right now. John’s been here a long time. It’s going to be hard to follow. God, what do you do?”

And here we are now a year and a half later, and we look back and we say, “You are amazing. God is amazing.” People ask me how I feel. I said, “I haven’t had time to feel bad yet because I just feel so thankful.” Everywhere I look, I see a reason for gratitude. And so that’s my overwhelming sense. I suppose learn would be pray. Pray hard. Lean heavily on the Lord. And then, I don’t know, maybe I’ll write it down someday and I’ll learn something specific. But right now we prayed and God put pieces together in a most, well, you saw them on the video and in Jason’s talk. But what have you learned?

Jason Meyer: I think what Tope said is really instructive at this point. The suspicion can be, oh, well, here’s how you grow a big church. Just get a once-in-a-century kind of voice like John Piper’s and church will grow. And you start wondering, “Is that what this is?” And you realize, at least I have afresh, no, that’s not what this is. You start to reaffirm your belief. God’s really in control, and you start to believe more deeply in the gospel. He sees more for us than we even imagine.

And so what you learn in transitions is what makes pastoral ministry what it is. Those things that Rich Mullins says, “I believe what I believe. It makes me what I am. I did not make it; it’s making me.” It’s the very truth of God, not the invention of any man. So you start to realize, I think afresh, we didn’t invent this, we didn’t control this. And so then it just becomes step by step, “Okay, you’re in this. Just keep leading. We’ll keep following.”

John Piper: Maybe an implication of those two comments is if you’re 60 years old or 55, I’m trying to remember how far back it went for me. Just start praying that God would get him ready. If you’re 45, pray Lord, he may be born this year, may be born this year. Guard him, prepare him, and bring him at the appropriate time. Pray that way.

David Mathis: Final question here comes out of Mack’s message this morning, but for all of you as pastors. “In particular for a pastor, any counsel that you would have for a pastor wrestling with a new, perhaps cross-cultural call?”

Mack Stiles: Pursue it. It will glorify God. A cross-cultural call is the way in many ways that we see Jesus. When Jesus marched to the temple, it’s only recorded this way in Mark, but when Jesus marched up to the temple in his last couple of days, he comes into the temple and he looks around that passage, he looks around. I’ve often wondered what it was. I’ve pondered that, what he’s looking for? But I suspect he was looking for what should have been his coronation, that image that had happened with Solomon.

He cleanses the temple and he talks about how you people have made it a den of thieves. My Father’s house was meant to be a house of prayer for all nations. I think all those things are tied together. I think they couldn’t see Jesus. they couldn’t see who he was, who he had come to them as the King because they had forgotten that the house was a house of prayer for all nations. So when we pursue cross-cultural ministry, and I don’t care where it is. Just across town or across the world, somehow in God’s amazing economy, we get to see more of him. We see him more fully.

So I would say if it’s happening, especially if it’s happening for cross-cultural ministries happening, you have opportunities for it, pursue it with all your heart, take your congregation with you. So I don’t know if you mean like you’re going to go on a short term or you’re going to go overseas or it’s cross-cultural in your congregation, but I say no matter, pursue it.