Speaker Panel with Beeke, Miller, Chan, Rankin, and Piper

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.

Francis Chan (FC), Paul Miller (PM), Joel Beeke (JB), Jerry Rankin (JR), John Piper (JP)

Francis, who are you praying for to win the Super Bowl?

FC: Green Bay.

Dr. Beeke, why has Puritan, reformed thinking not taken very deeply into the African-American church?

JB: I have noticed that and have noticed that there are not many black men at conferences. You  may know Thabiti Anyabwile, who is doing great things, speaking at conferences and helping develop it. I think in general, African-Americans tend to be more emotive, which fits well with the Puritans. But I’m not really sure why it hasn’t taken off more, but I think it is coming.

John, how has the message of the sovereignty of God in suffering influenced African-American church?

JP: It is a bit awkward to me for us to be answering this question without an African-American brother up here with us. I would say to go to Thabiti’s book The Decline of African-American Theology for an answer. The bridges for seeing this theology flourish in the African-American community are huge; that is what the Negro Spirituals are founded on.

I think the issues are mainly cultural and not theological. I try to keep a long list of African-American theological Web sites to check periodically and many are beginning to explode with Reformed theology. And then there are responses saying, “That’s not us!” We want to link arms, but we need to find our own forms.

PM: I worked in an African-American context in Philadelphia for years. The theology is in the hymns. Someone needs to essentially translate the theology into the insider language.

JP: Guys like LeCrae and Eric Mason are doing that very thing.

What is going on at the root of this prayerlessness that seems to be universal among our pastors and churches?

JR: This resonates with a theme in my own life. This is a matter of spiritual warfare. We have an enemy that wants to defeat us. And we don’t need to participate in carnal behavior but be discouraged to erode our resolve. We won’t be effective if we are busy. One has said “busy” means “Being Under Satan’s Yoke.” Our spiritual vitality is eroded.

FC: I think it is the way prayer is modeled. It is shown to be a rote thing. People don’t demonstrate excitement to pray. About 60% of the time I pray on stage, it is that prayerless praying; I’m distracted by a lot of things. I don’t always model true prayer. It is so easy to do because we are supposed to or have to.

JB: I visited a parishioner in the hospital and prayed earnestly for her. I told her I wished I could do something more and she rebuked me. She said I did more for her than any doctor could by praying for her. If you listen to a sermon online, you get the sermon, not the prayer—the sermon is understood to be more important. We don’t believe that praying is the most important anymore and that is what is so different between us and the Puritans and Reformers. We need to get back to the genuine spirituality.

PM: There is a double DNA problem. Because of the Fall we have an allergy to prayer. There is a double dualism with a dichotomy between the spiritual and physical world. We end up believing that the spiritual world is less real. There is another Neoplatonic element that also informs us to not pray for our physical lives but only the spiritual.

A lack of specific answers to specific prayers seems to be lacking for many pastors. So what do you say to the pastor who is convicted about prayerlessness and unbelief in regards to prayer?

FC: In our culture, we are very quick to put our arms around someone and say it’s ok. We don’t want to do that because the Spirit is convicting him. All of my belief in prayer comes from my study of Scripture and I often am confused by why there are not more answered prayers because of what I read. In the Scriptures, I see this answer to prayer.

So when I don’t get an answer, I first look at my life. I want to challenge you to really look at your life. I look at my relationship with my wife. I check my motives. I look at my personal holiness and faith. I look at my theology and check my heart. I am always looking at myself. And even things that I won’t so badly, like my daughter’s salvation, I have to surrender my will to God’s will, knowing he is good and sovereign.

JP: I think the note you just struck is pointed and should be focused on. Those parables about keep knocking are strange for a God who anticipates answering your prayers. I think every pastor should be saying now, “Whatever the past has been, I’m going for broke. I’m going to laid hold of God and pray for and expect for more.” I don’t know God’s timing, but I think Francis is right on. We need to search our hearts and put our faith in God. You need to keep knocking and keep knocking. And maybe next year we will hear of stories where things have turned around. Either God is real or he is not. If he isn’t, then just quit. If he is, keep knocking.

JB: Go home after this conference and think back over your life. Make a list of all the prayers you can think of where they have been answered. You may be surprised to see how many really have been answered.

I thank God for unanswered prayer. I learn more about God and myself through unanswered prayer, through the hard times. In the first three and a half years of my ministry I saw no conversions. And I look back, that was the best thing for me; if there would have been a lot of conversions, I would have become so boastful.

JR: Negligence in prayer causes us to examine our relationship with God. The far greater thing is an intimacy and relationship that comes from spending that time with the Lord.

FC: There are many things I have prayed for that did not get answered the way I had prayed for. The hardest was praying for my grandmother, who was a devout Buddhist, who would not repent on her deathbed. I don’t want to give the impression that everything I want God gives. But I wanted to show you when he answers so specifically that it would encourage your faith and belief.

PM: One thing to build on, those things Scott read are laments from your heart. And I want to enter into those laments. Come to my booth afterwards and talk with me. Jesus’ pattern was to look at people, feels compassion and then acts. Francis shared two laments, one for his daughter and for his grandmother. That is a first move, to grieve with you and pray for your praying. I would encourage you to pray that lament to God. You can begin anywhere.

In Jeremiah 2, God says twice in the passage that no one is lamenting to God. He wants to be engaged with what grieves your heart. Tell it to God. Consider all of the lament psalms. You don’t have to work up passion for prayer; you have those passions. Bring those laments to God and let God’s Spirit and Word speak to you. I would encourage you to pray that lament.

JB: I would commend The Portrait of Paul to you, which looks at Paul’s ministry. Also, Christians Get Depressed Too, which walks through with you that there is hope in Christ.

Can you address a view of the sovereignty of God that leads to a fatalistic mindset? How does prayer and God’s sovereignty work together?

JP: Are you going to go with your fallen reason or with the Bible? You are either a Bible guy or a self-centered, reason guy. You can reason that if God is sovereign, prayers are unnecessary. That is sophomoric. Bible people see that the Bible does not go there, so they think hard about what the Bible says. God rules all things, even the tiny piece of dust—the Bible is clear about it. The Bible is also crystal clear that you have not because you ask not—had you asked, the universe would have been different.

God knows you are going to pray or not. If they happen, they were designed to release all kinds of magnificent things. So, believe the whole Bible. If God grants you new, fresh faith in prayer, he planned this conference, this panel, this question, this answer, then that was his plan from billions of years ago. And the universe will be drastically different now.

If you want to be fatalistic, you are resistant to the Bible. You want to depend on rationalistic arguments. Be radically devoted to this Book. It is radically smarter than you are. That is not a call to anti-intellectualism. The smartest people who have ever lived have devoted themselves to understanding this Book.

Joel and Paul, both of you emphasized child-like prayers. What is the connection between that kind of faith and prayer and the role of more public, prepared prayers?

JB: Calvin said that we need to see God as our Father who is kindly disposed to us. He sometimes says no to us for reasons we cannot comprehend. Coming to him as a child does not mean your prayers are simplistic or not profound. Coming like a child addresses the demeanor in which you come. Just tell him everything. When you go to public prayer, you have to edify a whole group of people. You should structure your prayers more.

PM: We need both the child-like and formal praying. Think of all of your adult communication. You talk to different people differently. Your interpersonal communication is diversified and so should your prayers be.

On the issue of sovereignty, the book of Ruth shows us that Ruth was trusting in God’s sovereignty and yet was bold. We can have the same boldness because we are under God’s sovereignty. We can do crazy things.

Hudson Taylor claimed to have 100% assurance in prayer. Should we seek that kind of assurance in praying for missions? Also, is there a time we should “shake the dust off of our feet” because of a people’s rejection?

JB: Nothing gives us greater assurance in Scripture than of God’s ultimate victory over all things. When I think of Matthew 24:14, I tell new missionaries I fully expect them to be the last generation of missionaries. It is not through our efforts or strategy—it is going to happen. The challenge is to walk with God and have faith in him that allows us to lay down our lives for him.

As for personal involvement, I have a tough time with shaking off of dust from the feet. It would be tough for me to do that.

JP: In reference to Taylor’s confidence, one thing that has not been mentioned is the list of gifts in 1 Corinthians 12. Some get more miracles or faith than others. Not having faith to receive an answer to prayer may not be sin but the lack of the giving of a gift.

JB: There was a young man with leukemia who came for prayer at a church. The pastor called for those with the gift of faith to come pray for him. I think that applies to the missionary task as well.

What’s the role of confession of sin or obedience in God answering our prayers? Will he not answer if I have not confessed completely?

JB: I think God is sovereign and fulfills his purposes. He brings us to pray in line with what he wills to do. I don’t think lack of obedience does not deter God. God doesn’t need me; he is going to fulfill his mission. But through our lack of obedience, we forfeit the joy of being the instrument God intends to use.

JP: Francis articulated four texts that say if you don’t abide or obey, he won’t respond. That means God will often correlate his response to your obedience. That does not mean he cannot break that rule. God keeps covenant and answers prayers for a lot of sinners. But those texts Francis mentioned cannot be thrown out. When God doesn’t answer, examine yourself, your marriage, your word. He has set things up to withhold blessing from disobedient children.

JB: We cannot persist in low levels of obedience and have high levels of assurance.

PM: There is a very clear connection between purity of life and God answering prayers. I have seen that in my own life. I try to walk with a clear conscience, but when my conscience is muddied, it becomes like gangrene to the soul. It hinders my prayer life. There is an empowering of the Spirit that comes from a holy life.

Should we be having a daily quiet time or prayer time with our wives? How does it relate to family worship?

JB: I have prayed with my wife everyday of our marriage. We take turns praying. Even when we are not together, we pray over the phone. It is very enriching because women will pray things that men might not pick up on. It bonds a couple together. If you can do that, you can talk about anything together. It is very important.

JR: My wife and I are very consistent in praying together, but we keep a very regular, devout individual time in the Word. We then share what we have read and prayed about.

FC: I’m learning a lot from this conference and especially from Joel’s talk last night. I want to build up and so I don’t want you to follow my example. My wife and I don’t pray regularly together. When needs arise, we pray. I don’t have a regular family worship time. I spend a lot of time with children one-on-one. I’m thinking of Ephesians 4:29—I don’t want to say anything that won’t build you up, but I want to be honest with you. I look at what Joel was saying and I want that. I have issues in my life. But I almost feel weird sometimes talking about spiritual things with my family. Maybe it has something to do with my upbringing. When I do pray with my wife, it is awesome. I just have this weird block with praying with my wife.

PM: To encourage you Francis, it took my wife and I thirty-five years before we began praying regularly together. Many have said that is one of the hardest things to do in prayer because it is one of the most intimate things to do in prayer.

JP: I think you should not copy Francis and that he should go toward what Joel had said. It has to do with your background. It is not good to be all free and emotional and spiritual here and not at home. Our struggles should not liberate you. There are bigger things at stake generationally. Marriages have seasons. And seasons change.

Try this: go home, and if you never regularly pray with your wife, tell her you are going to try some new things. When you wake, roll over, take her hand, and say a short prayer before getting out of bed. Start there. Praying together is an awesome barometer of how things are going. If you can’t talk to God together, you can’t talk to each other. This is important for Francis and me and you to start doing this. Just take thirty seconds when you go to bed and commend both of you to the Lord. “Lest your prayers be hindered” should start at home. This is the most intimate relationship you have on the planet. Jesus is the most intimate vertically. If those don’t connect, there is something wrong.

JB: John, can’t you go home to your wife and say you have failed in this? And then force yourselves to do it in longer durations. Is that too simplistic?

JP: It is not too simplistic, but I want to be sensitive to the millions of specific dynamics in each different marriage. Yes, let’s try that, but if it doesn’t seem to fly, start basic. As many marriages as there are in this room, there are as many difficulties and peculiarities.

FC: We prayed a lot when we were dating. When we got married, she told me honestly that she thought we would pray and read more together. I was concerned for her walk and that everything was through me. I told her if I saw her praying and reading on her own more often, then it would be easier for me to do that with her. I have some great examples here and I’m going to go home and start trying this daily thing.

John, coming off of your leave, have you come back with any unique lessons on prayer?

JP: No, I don’t have any new nuggets. What I enjoyed was borderless devotions for those eight months. I had no moments where I had to stop, which was glorious. I just set my Bible on my lap and would read, pause, pray. My prayers were not very global but introspective. If you don’t have any planned prayer, you won’t have any spontaneity. You can aim for that kind of communion. For instance, on your day off, aim to spend leisurely time in the Word. Or do little retreats once a month or quarter.

The Lord taught me a lot about prayer and the effects on your life. The heart is excessively deceitful. At the sweetest moment of communion can become so easily a sinful moment. A band of brothers and community with others is so helpful. You need to build many watchdogs into your life so people will ask you about how things are going.

No one has mentioned yet Operation World—don’t be without this book if you want to cultivate a global mindset. If you get this into every home of your church, you will have accomplished a great thing.