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

Pastor John gave me the topic of Prayer as a Way of Walking in Love: A Personal Journey, and I love that topic. I want to be careful how I say this. In my life, prayer has even rivaled the Scriptures in stirring my affections toward God — the way God answers my prayers. As a kid, I sang that song, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” And still that is absolutely true. Does that happen? Yeah, there are days I’ll read something and I’ll just think, “Oh, God, I can’t believe that? Do you like me that much? Do you love me that much? Are you kidding me?” I get that. I know Jesus loves me because the Bible tells me so, but I have to say, at this point in my life, I could also sing, “Jesus loves me, this I know, because the way he answers my prayers shows me so.” I’ve seen it.

There are so many times when I’ll just break down and cry. Just five minutes ago I was back there as I was getting ready to talk to you guys. And I was praying, “God, is there any way I can communicate what we’ve had for these 40 years that I’ve been alive? I feel like, ever since I was a kid, the way you listen to me and the way you hear me is unreal. I love you so much, and I just want anyone who doesn’t experience that or know that to have that.” But how can I share this personal journey? How can I share everything that God and I have been through together for all of these years? There are times I really question and I look and think, “God, do you love everyone this much? The way you answer my prayers is unbelievable. I love you, I love you, I love you. I don’t know what more you could do to show me your love.”

Answers to Prayer

I see it in the Scriptures, but I’ve also seen it in the way he answers my prayers. It could be silly things, little things, tiny things. There are times when my wife and I will just look at each other and we’ll just start crying, because we’re going, “God, how can you even care about that?” I understand the big things. I understand the spiritual things. But sometimes it’s even little silly things.

I remember one time driving and just talking to the Lord, just silently in my mind, and I was saying, “God, I’m struggling with something right now.” I thought, “There’s no answer to it. I’m just telling you my struggle.” I said, “Every time we have money in the bank, I want to just give it to someone who’s in greater need than we are.” And I said, “I’m struggling, because I want to take my family on vacation, but every time I think about that I think that I can’t spend it on a vacation. There are people who are in need, and I have to give it to them.”

And I said, “God, I’m not complaining. I’m not even asking for anything. You just tell me to tell you my desires. That’s just what I’m feeling right now.” A few days later, my wife calls me while I’m in the office, and she just says, “Hey, honey, we got this weird check in the mail.” And I go, “Really? What is it?” She goes, “It’s a cashier’s check. A cashier’s check has been sent to us for $2,000.” And I thought, “Really? That’s a lot of money. It’s $2,000? We don’t know who it came from? There’s no letter with it? There’s no explanation?” She said, “Yeah, there’s a sticky note that’s taped to it, and it just says, ‘Francis, spend this on your family.’” I’m in my office, just beside myself. I said, “Honey, you don’t even know what I prayed a few days ago. I just prayed and said, ‘God, there’s no answer to this one, because there was no physical answer. If you give me money, I’m going to spend it on someone else.’”

But no, God says, “I’m going to give you a check, and you’ll feel guilty if you don’t spend it on your family, because that’s what this note will say.” And I just said, “Honey, why does he even care about that, the little things, the silly things?”

An Unexpected Honorarium

I shared at the Desiring Conference about the time I was bothered because I was playing golf with my friends and they were out-driving me because they all got new drivers, those big ones. And I hated that. I had this little tiny thing, and even my friends that were terrible at golf were out-driving me. I thought, “I’m going to buy a driver. I have to save up money, or I have to ask for it for Christmas.” And then I thought, “I can’t do that, Lord, that’s a waste” — not that if you did that it was wrong of you. But I was just like, “Lord, I don’t feel good about that. Oh, well.”

The next morning I was speaking at a church, this little church plant, and they said, “We heard that a lot of times you won’t take an honorarium if it’s a little church” — I’ll take one from this — “so we didn’t get you an honorarium; we bought you this driver.” It was the very next morning. I still remember that ride home. I was just laughing. I thought, “God, this is silliness. This is ridiculous. You don’t get a driver for an honorarium the day after you just struggled with all of these thoughts.” Everything in our lives is just this crazy, supernatural answer to prayer. My life just does not make any sense.

Raising Up New Wealthy People

Even a few years ago, my wife looked at me and she said, “Honey, I love my life.” She said, “I love being married to you. I love the simplicity of our lives. I’m happy living off of whatever God gives us. I’m happy to live humbly. I’m happy to have nothing. But the one thing I always wished though was that we could be generous. Ever since I was a kid, I thought, ‘Gosh, I would love to be the person that could just write checks to people. If you’re in need, here, let me write you something.’” I said, “That’s awesome, honey, but that’ll never be us. That’s a great desire, but that’s going to be for other people. I’m a pastor, and this is the way we’re going to live, and that’s just awesome that you think that way.”

Then even a couple of years ago, I was praying for the wealthy. I said, “Lord, I have a lot of wealthy people in the church. I have wealthy friends, and God, I see them give, but I think that they have a lot and they’re just giving 10 percent. I don’t know. Just in my mind, I thought, “God, could you just raise some new wealthy people, people that really don’t care about their stuff?”

I prayed, “It’s one thing to have a little and say, ‘I’ll give it all to the Lord,’ but God, raise up people who have a lot and go, ‘I really don’t care. I just love Jesus. And so the stuff, here, just have it all.’” I said, “God, and if you’re not going to do that, make me rich. Make my friends rich that don’t care about stuff,” having no clue what God was going to do. As Pastor John said, Crazy Love has been crazy successful, and I had no idea, no desire to make money off of it.

So I thought, you know what? I don’t even want to touch the money. If it comes in it goes straight into a charitable gift fund. I don’t want that temptation in my life. So if it comes in, then I can write checks to charities, but I can’t touch it myself. And man, just last year we made about $2 million off the thing, and I’m just looking at my wife going, “Are you kidding me? This is what you always want to do, isn’t it? You just wanted to be able to write checks and say, ‘Oh, you’re in need? Here. This ministry is in need? Here.’” So I thought, God, this is ridiculous. My life is ridiculous. The way you answer these prayers makes no sense.

Our God Hears Us

I was coming on the stage, and I was just thinking about my childhood. I was thinking about everything in my life. I thought, none of this makes sense. Why am I walking on the stage? Why are people listening to me? Why are you just showering me with all of this stuff, and all of these opportunities, and your presence, and the way you answer my prayers?” So what about Prayer as a Way of Walking in Love? Man, I love God so much more because of these answered prayers. Some prayers he didn’t answer, like Joel said last night, how God will give us exactly what we prayed for, or exactly what we should have prayed for at the times when we pray the wrong thing.

In fact, my wife and I recently moved to San Francisco, so we packed everything up and we were cleaning up these boxes. She found this old journal of mine from when I was in high school, and she was bursting with laughter in the other room. It was a prayer journal. My youth pastor taught me to just write down your prayers on one side, and then write down when he answers them on the other. Then you have something to look back on and go, “No way,” because you’ll forget. You just forget. I’m just throwing out a few things I remember, but you just forget. But my wife was just laughing hysterically. She even called my oldest daughter, “Come in here. Look at what dad prayed when he was your age.” And I am embarrassed to even share what some of that was. But we thank God. We thank God he didn’t answer some of those prayers or a lot of us would have married Farrah Fawcett.

It’s that growing though as a child. You learn that’s not really what you asked for and different things like that. But when you look at Scripture, isn’t prayer the thing that differentiates us from the rest of the world? Our God listens to us. Wasn’t that the story of Elijah? He could just mock the Prophets of Baal” He said, “Go ahead, cut yourselves, scream out. No one is listening. No one answers. Now watch what happens when I pray. Let me show you what happens when I pray.” The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he’s the one that listens. He’s the living God. He’s not a block of wood that you made up that’s not going to answer you. My God answers me. He listens to me.

The Outcome of Intercession

I was telling you about that prayer journal, but I’ll go back to my very first prayer. I told the Lord I was going to start going to church early. I was like 15 years old. I thought, there’s a park across the street and I just want to tell these people about Jesus. So I wanted to share with some people, as I went out there and played basketball and just hung out with them. And then I wrote down that I met this guy named Squeaky. That’s the name he went by. I wrote, “I’m praying for Squeaky. Save him, Lord. Save him, Lord. Use me.”

Then I looked at the answer and it talked about how, weird thing, I was walking up to the youth group and I heard a bunch of screaming and swearing downstairs. So I looked over the edge and there was Squeaky. He was surrounded by these guys, and they were about to get into this big-old gang fight, and I went running down the stairs. I’m just this kid going, “Squeaky, what are you doing, man?”

He said, “Man, this guy said this about my brother. I’m going to tear them up.” And all these people were around. I was like, “Let’s just leave all of this. Forget all this. Come upstairs with me. We’re having a Bible study. We’re having a youth group. Let’s go,” and he literally went. He walked up the steps with me, went to this Bible study, the youth pastor was speaking, and he gave his life to the Lord. I just wrote that down on my prayer list.

I was just thinking through the prayers as I prayed for people in ministry. I remember one time I was praying for this gal, because I was leading a college ministry and we had this gathering on a Friday night, and there was this one gal that wasn’t there, and I just thought, “Oh, man, I think she’s drifting away from you, God.” I just remember leaving the gathering and walking around the block to pray for her.

I said, “God, I just lift her up to you. I lift up Jen to you right now. Would you just get her attention somehow right now? Right now, God, right now, get her attention, because I want her to love you.” I got a phone call the next morning, and Jen was in the hospital. She said, “Francis, you’ll never guess what happened. I’ve been praying all night. I was driving last night, and suddenly my gas pedal got stuck. I don’t know why. The accelerator got stuck and I ended up running into a house, into the living room of a house. And I lived, but all night I kept thinking, ‘God, I’ve heard these messages, and I just don’t know, if I had died, I don’t know if I would’ve gone to heaven. I’ve never really followed you as the Lord of my life.’” She said, “I’m so scared. I’ve just been praying all night. I don’t even know what happened. How could my gas pedal get stuck?”

I said, “Jen, I prayed for you last night right then.” She said, “Well, it works. All I’ve been doing is praying all night long here in the hospital bed.” I said, “Man, that’s awesome.” Then her mom called me and yelled at me. She did. She got so mad. She said, “How do you pray like that?” And I was just learning my theology. I said, “I don’t think he would do it unless it was right. He’s sovereign. He’s in control.” But it was that same thing you were talking about last night. It’s almost like, wow, this is a serious power we have here.

Manifestations of God’s Power and Grace

I remember being in Colorado, and I had to rent a car. I was at a friend’s house, so I was looking through the phone book. I don’t know if it was Enterprise or something where they sent a guy out. I said, “Oh, great, could you send him over to my house?” I put the phone down. I just got on my knees, and I said, “I don’t know who this guy is, coming to pick me up to take me to the car lot. Would you just amaze him with your grace? Would you just show him your power? Would you just give me an opportunity to tell him how great you are?”

He came and picked me up at this house. No exaggeration. I would say, within one minute, this man was bawling his eyes out, just weeping. I had just looked at him and said, “How are you doing?” He just started crying and telling me about how his life was falling apart. I said, “Hang on, let’s sit down. Let’s forget about the car.” We ended up going to coffee the next day, and I was hanging out with him, talking about a relationship with God. I took him to a church service the very next day at some local church that I found out there. I thought, “God, this is the stuff that has to happen.”

I remember cleaning out my garage one day and going, “Lord, this is not eternal. There’s nothing eternal about cleaning my garage. I hate that I’m going to be spending two hours doing something that has no eternal value, but I feel like I have to do it, otherwise I’m a bad testimony, or something. But I want to do something eternal. I don’t want to just sweep and clean and move boxes.” And as I was doing it, my neighbor across the street came over with tears in his eyes. It was a guy I’ve been wanting to talk to for so long. And he just said, “Will you pray for me?” I’m thinking, “God, this is ridiculous. It’s ridiculous, just the ministry opportunities and everything I ask for.” I just ask if I can be a part of something that he’s doing.

Turned Back from Wandering

This may be the craziest one. There are so many, but there was this one time something happened. Have you ever dreamt about someone and you had a bad dream? Maybe you got in a fight with them and then you see them in the morning and you’re angry with them and you’re not even sure why. Then it occurs to you. See, it happened to me at my church one time with one of my staff. I saw him one morning walking by the office, and I just had these negative feelings toward him. I was like, “Lord, what was that? Why am I bothered? What happened yesterday? What did we do?” Then I realized, “Oh, it was just a dream.”

And so I went over to him and I said, “Wow, the weirdest thing just happened when you walked by my office. I was totally angry at you. I was thinking, ‘God, why am I angry at him?’ And I realized that I had a dream about you last night. I dreamt that you were a homosexual and that you were arguing for it and you were fighting against me, and you were trying to persuade people to go that direction. Isn’t that the stupidest thing? And so when I saw your face, I was just mad. That was so weird.” He just walked away.

He came back the next week and he said, “Do you remember that dream you had? That was from God?” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Francis, you scared me so bad when you said those words to me. I knew at that moment, ‘Okay, God, you’re trying to say something to me.’ You had no clue.” And I said, “I had no clue whatsoever.” It would be like me coming up to any one of you. It was the farthest thing from the truth, that’s why I could joke about it and bring it before him. He said, “That is the struggle of my life, and I feel like I’m going to head the other direction. I was just about to enter into this thing. That was a prophecy.” I remember walking away, just stunned by what he said in the office, and going home and just looking at my wife, saying, “Honey, you’ll never believe what just happened.”

There are those moments where you just go, “God, I know you’re a powerful God, but every time I experience that answered prayer, it just makes me in awe of you again.” I just think, “God, why do I do anything other than pray?” I’m just in awe thinking, “God, what are you doing? There were these supernatural things.” Then after a while, because my wife was stunned and I was stunned, I said, “What is that verse? It says the old men will dream dreams, the young men will have visions? Or wait, which one is it? Is it the old men that have visions? Was that a dream or a vision then?” And we got all off track.

Speaking in the Cemetery

Every time I share with someone, a stranger on the plane, or whatever, I just say to God, “God, the only thing that’s going to differentiate me from the Jehovah’s Witness, or the Mormon, or the Unitarian, or the Muslim, or whoever it is, is this time right now.” I have to pray. You have to do something, otherwise I’m going to sound like some religious freak, some fanatic, some cult leader. You have to make it known to them that my God is the real God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Peter, Paul, and Jesus. Let them know that Jesus is Lord. Somehow you’ve got to do that in their lives.”

So I depend on this for every time I talk. I think, “God, you have to speak to them or else they’re going to walk away and go, ‘Ah, it sounds like that guy, or that guy, or that guy.’ No, God, when I speak there better be a power. It’s not my job to convince them. I can’t change their heart. It’s like going to a cemetery and saying, ‘Come on, get up, get up, get up.’ It’s just pointless. No speech is going to do that. God, you have to do something. You have to show them your power. As I present the gospel to them, there needs to be a power in that where they hear that message and go, ‘Wow, that’s like nothing I’ve ever heard.’”

Think about this, when unbelievers come to your service, picture what it’s like for them. Try to put yourself in the shoes of an unbeliever who is maybe seeking, or something, and he comes to one of your services. What’s he looking for? What do you think he wants to see up there on the stage? Does he want to see a polished speech? Maybe. That’s helpful. Does he want to see a brainiac that can just show him that you’re more intelligent than him? Or does he want to see a comedian to show him, “Look, I have a great personality?”

What does that person want to see? Don’t they want to walk in and hear a guy and go, “Man, that person is connected to God. He has something I don’t have. It’s like God listens to him; God doesn’t listen to me like that. There’s something about that guy. I can’t explain it, but he had a connection with God and I want that. He knows this God that I don’t know. I know there’s something there, but man, when I heard that guy speak, I was convinced that he knows this God and I want that.”

A Powerfully Compelling Life

Isn’t that what they’re after? And when they hear you teaching up there, is that what they see? Is there this jealousy of, “Oh, man. Do you see that guy? I want what he has.” I’ve been attending different services on Sunday mornings, or just throughout the week, just going to different churches, different services, and sometimes I sit there and just try to imagine myself as an unbeliever. I try to think, if I was searching for God, would I find him here? What would be my impression here? Would I look up there and go, “Wow, that guy knows him? I have to get with him.” Or would I think, “These people, here in this room, they know this God. They have something that I don’t have.”

I understand the gospel is powerful and God could use an unbeliever to preach the gospel, because there’s power in the gospel itself. I understand that, and I understand God is a sovereign God, and he is going to draw people to himself, but I also see in Scripture that we have a responsibility. It’s not even necessarily just a responsibility, isn’t it a desire? Don’t you want to be that guy?

Don’t you want to be that guy that people look at and think, “Wow, you’ve got a connection with him. Your God listens to you. He doesn’t listen to me like that?” Do you still believe? That was the final point of Joel’s message last night. Are you still believing that God answers prayer? I love the childlike faith that Paul was talking about. Is that still you?

The Faith of Children

How many of you guys grew up in church, grew up going to Sunday school, or church? Wow. When you were a kid in Sunday school, what was your favorite story? Jonah? That’s because it was every other week, but what else? You got to cut out the whale. But what else? Try to think back and shout out your answers.

David and Goliath? What else? Mount Carmel with Elijah? Yeah, I love that one. What Else? Daniel and the lion’s den? Yeah, you can still see the pictures on the felt. What else? Jericho? Yeah, they were marching around, blowing the trumpets. What else? Yes, the Exodus, the fiery furnace, and David’s mighty men who were just killing everyone. But think about this. Don’t you remember as kids when you would walk out of Sunday school, thinking, “My God could do anything?” We were just so amazed by the power of God. We see it in our kids now, right? When they walk out of church they’re just going, “Yeah, my God can do anything.” You just love hearing that.

Somehow, it changes. There’s this weirdness that sometimes I have felt awkward preaching some of those Old Testament passages and stories as though it was too childish. That’s what we did when we were kids, and we used to walk around as kids amazed by these stories, amazed by the miracles of this almighty God. But then, as we get older, we’re no longer amazed by those stories.

We’re amazed when someone up front said, “Hapax legomenon.” We’re like, “Whoa, did you hear that? Did you hear him? The way he parsed the verb?” It changes, and we’re amazed by intellect. We’re amazed by the communication style. We’re amazed by these different things, and it’s like, “What happened to those days when we were just stunned by God himself?”

Maybe we need to start preaching David and Goliath more often. Maybe we do have to preach Jonah every other week. Maybe we have to get back to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and just look at our people and say, “Man, our God is a mighty God.” It’s always been about this. It’s always about him answering our prayers and how that’s real today. And we give everyday illustrations, saying, “That’s still my God. My God can do anything.” Let’s have that childlike faith to believe like children. Do you still believe?

Do You Still Believe?

We know what James 1 says. He says, “You doubt. That’s why you don’t receive it. You’re not going to receive anything. You’re a double-minded man, unstable in all that you do.” Have we lost the faith in our God that can do anything? James 5 was mentioned last night too. That’s my favorite verse, James 5:17. I never really even understood it, but it was my favorite. I didn’t realize it. I never saw that, the praying, the way you mentioned it. I can’t even explain it now. I just always loved that thought that Elijah was a man just like us. Elijah was a man with a nature just like us.

See, as a kid, I lifted up David, I lifted up Elijah, I lifted up Moses as these superheroes, and that’s why I fell in love with that verse. I thought, “Wait, he’s a man just like me?” I love that. That means Elijah has nothing on me, and I’m going to pray like that. See, I believe if Elijah were in this room, some of you would just be in awe like, “Wow, you’re the prophet Elijah.” I can say, big deal, I’m Francis Chan. He’s just a man and I’m just a man. We’ve got the exact same nature, but the way he prayed had this fervency about it, and I could pray like that. I’ve got a nature just like his. You could pray that. Let’s quit putting these guys up on a pedestal. That’s why that verse is there. He prayed fervently. That’s why it didn’t rain.

Man, I had a friend call me in tears one time because he prayed for rain in Southern California in the middle of August, and it rained. He was on the phone as the waters were coming around. I didn’t know what was wrong with him. He couldn’t even talk because he was amazed by the grace of God. He said, “You’ll never believe what I prayed last night, because of this fire and everything that’s going on. I’ll tell you the whole story later. I just can’t even believe it. The water that’s hitting my windshield, it’s not in the forecast. This isn’t supposed to happen. Why did God hear this prayer? I’m just amazed.”

Wow, even now? He’s just a man just like us. Do you believe that? Honestly, you have to really look in your soul and go, “Do I really believe that I could pray and, if need be, if I were in that situation, I could just call down fire from heaven? Could I have that type of confidence?” If David was here, would I think it’s no big deal? He’s just a man with a nature just like mine. In fact, I could maybe even argue that I have one up on him with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

We say we believe that whoever believes in him will have eternal life, but do we also believe that when he says, “Whoever believes in me will do the things that I do, and even greater things than these?” (John 14:12). It comes back down to that belief. Man, is it still there when you pray?

There are times now when I’ll pray for someone who’s sick and I’m just blown away because I go, “God, I don’t get it. Why didn’t you heal them? How come you didn’t hear that one? I think I confessed everything. I think he confessed everything.” Now I’m getting more and more used to him answering prayers, that when something doesn’t get answered, I think, “That is really weird. I’m going to really have to think about that one, Lord.” Do you believe in the prayers?

Is God Listening to You?

It’s true. The Bible says there are times there aren’t answers where maybe there is doubt. Other times, like James 4 that was mentioned earlier today, we may be praying with the wrong motives, and there’s a selfishness there. We’re praying in the wrong way. Maybe it’s a first Peter 3 thing, that I’m not honoring my wife as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that my prayers may not be hindered. I think, “Have I been treating Lisa okay?” I’ll call her and say, “Hey, I love you.” And I go pray again. I want to think these things through, but I want to point something out to you. I know you’re familiar with Isaiah 58. The Bible says sometimes your prayer and fasting is a waste of time, right? He said, “I’m not listening to that. Your motives are wrong, whatever else. You’re not treating your wife the right way. You’re doubting.”

Isaiah 58 says, “You’re not caring for the poor.” You have that there in Isaiah 58:5. It says:

Is such the fast that I choose,
     a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
     and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
     and a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
     to loose the bonds of wickedness,
     to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
     and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
     and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
     and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
     and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
     the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

I love Isaiah 58:9. This is what I want to point out:

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
     you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
     the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness . . .

The Only Way to Bear Fruit

There were people who were pleading with God for certain things, but because of their disregard for his commands, to have this concern for the poor, God said, “I’m not even listening to that. In fact, you’re oppressing the poor. Of course I’m not going to listen to you.” But then he says that when you start doing these things, he says, “Here I am.” It’s this quick response. I look at this passage, and I have to say, there are times when I marvel at the Lord. I say, “God, I don’t pray as hard as some people. I know people that’ll spend hours in prayer, and God, I almost feel bad, but it’s like I’ll just throw something up there, or I’ll just say something in passing, or sometimes I don’t even have to pray it, and you just answer. You just do, and I feel spoiled.”

Then I look at this passage. I look back and I think, wow, it is the times when we just pour ourselves out in obedience where I see this in his word and I’m going to go after this. God says, “When I see you doing that, you just say the word and I’ll say, ‘Here I am. What did you want?’ You just cry out to me. I’ll take care of it.”

It’s very similar to John 15:5, where he says:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

In John 15:7, he says:

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Again, it’s this idea that it’s not necessarily because I’m the one that prayed the hardest. It’s because, when you’re abiding in Jesus, when you’re just pouring yourself out for the poor, there’s just this sense in which God says, “What do you need? What do you want?” It’s because you’re abiding in him and his words abide in you. And as a pastor, I will have to say that this has probably been my biggest failure. There are times when I get so busy in ministry and a million thoughts come into my mind at once, and I have so many good ideas of what I can do for the Lord, that immediately my prayer life goes to, “God, do this. God, do this, God, do this. God, do this. Bless this, bless this, bless this, bless this.”

It changes from that relationship that’s just abiding in him. Rather than me just pursuing God himself, I’m pursuing these things and these actions. And Jesus says, “Just abide in me. Do you want to bear a lot of fruit?”

Pursue God, Not Strategies

It takes faith though, huh? It takes faith to say, “I’m just going to sit here. I’m just going to abide in God.” And so many of my prayers, 90 percent at times, are just, “God, do this, do this — of course, for your glory — but do this, do this, do this,” and I neglect the most important thing, which is prayer as a way of walking in love, and just communing with my God, and just being with him and abiding with him and just saying, “God, you’re so good. Look at everything you do for me. Look at my life. Look at who you are. You’re wonderful. You’re wonderful. You couldn’t pay me enough to stop speaking to you” — as we learned last night — “there is no amount of money, I love just being close to you.”

My guess is that many of you guys struggle with this. You’re so focused on the work of God that you neglect the person of God. There’s so much pressure, so much criticism, and there are periods, in this pursuit of all of this fruit, we forget that if we would abide in him, it’s a guarantee there. We’re going to bear much fruit, but it takes faith. Because it does feel, like it was mentioned earlier, like I’m doing nothing when I just pray.

And yet look at your ministry, look at your life. The greatest things that have happened, did you really plan those out? Was that your strategic planning, and those hours and hours of planning that you put into it? Or were they just things where something fell in your lap, and you just go, “I couldn’t have done that.” But then you’ll write a book about it and pretend you came up with it.

But the truth is, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just abiding in him and just trying to be faithful. And look at what he did. It was supernatural. All the greatest things in your life are unplanned by you, and the greatest things in your ministry were unplanned by you. Just abide in him.

This One Thing

I’ve been camping out on this one verse the last couple of weeks. Psalm 27:4 says:

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
     that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
     all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
     and to inquire in his temple.

What’s the one thing you keep asking of the Lord? If I could read a transcript of your prayers for the last few weeks, what would I see as the one thing that you just keep asking for? Would it be, “God, just let me dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. Let me just gaze upon your beauty and inquire in your temple? Let me just meditate in your temple. Let me just gaze upon your beauty. God, it’s you”?

Is that what your transcripts would say to me? I love the quote. I forgot who you quoted last night, Joel, but when you said if you want to humble a man, ask him about his prayer life. Well, let’s look at these transcripts. What have you been praying for the last few weeks? Is it, “One thing I asked the Lord that will I seek after”?

The last couple weeks, I’ve been saying, let me just try this for a week. Can I do this? Can I just pray for this one thing? Can I just desire this being in your presence, gazing upon your beauty? God, can you just let me see how beautiful you are today? Can you show me more of your beauty? I just want to stare at your beauty. I just want to brag about your beauty. I just want to sit here and adore you for your beauty. That’s all I really want. That’s the one thing I ask for that I will seek after. I’m not just going to ask for it. I’m going to pursue this. I’m going to go after this, God. Here’s this one thing, that I would dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.

No Matter Our Circumstances

When you look at this verse in context, it’s in the context of danger. It’s in the context of a man living a crazy life at that moment. And this is his one request. See, the enemy wants us to get afraid. He wants us to start looking at all the things around us, and in all the things that might scare us, and all the things we have to do that take away our peace. He wants us to be anxious about the future. I believe one reason is because in Philippians 1:28 he says:

Not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.

He is saying, “When we’re not frightened in anything by our opponents, this is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.” See, when we can walk around, striving side by side for the gospel, unafraid, not frightened by anything, he says, “Then out there, they’re going to know, ‘Wow, you really are saved, and I really am going to be destroyed.’” So if Satan can get us fearful, anxious, and worried about the things around us, guess what? It’s not much of a testimony to anyone. So he says, “That’s why I want you guys striving side by side together for this gospel, and I don’t want you to be afraid of anything.”

That’s the context of Psalm 27:4. That’s the context. Psalm 27:1 says:

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
     whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
     of whom shall I be afraid?

The Stronghold of Our Life

And I have to ask you, is he the stronghold of your life? Is that where all your confidence is? Can you look back in your life and go, “God, you’ve always been there for me. You’ve taken me through so many ridiculous situations. There’s nothing I have to be afraid of.” I found that at other times, maybe my staff becomes my stronghold. I can think we can pull this off, because I have a strong staff. We can pull this off; we had a good offering. We’ve got a good budget. Other things become our stronghold. Or maybe we say, “Ah, man, I’m feeling weak right now, but I have a day off coming up. That’s my stronghold.” Or maybe we say, “You know what? I’m going to have a vacation showing up in a couple of weeks. I’m going to go to Hawaii.” These things become our stronghold rather than God himself.

Or maybe it’s even this conference. You’re saying, “I’m getting worn down, but Desiring God’s coming up.? Man, I want to be careful on how I say this, but I get concerned that sometimes maybe you come here not really desiring God, but desiring Desiring God. It’s a danger. Or maybe you’re desiring John Piper. If I told you, “Wow, you know what? You could have lunch with him today,” you’d be like, “Really? No way.” It would just be this excitement. I used to be that way.

Now I’ve had lunch with him; it’s really not that great. It was fine. But I’ve been in those situations where I’ll get reliant and my stronghold will be in other things, my excitement will be in other things. They’re good things. They’re fine things. I enjoy the fellowship. I enjoy people praying for me. I get encouraged by these things. I get encouraged by the messages I’ve heard, but nothing compares to when you’re alone with God, and you just bare your soul to him, and you just enjoy being in his presence, and you just say to him, “I don’t want to leave here. I just want to be here.”

There’s a fearlessness when you look back in life and think, “God, you took me through that, so what am I going to be afraid of? You’re my life. You’re my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid?” I love Psalm 27:2. He says:

When evildoers assail me
     to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
​​     it is they who stumble and fall.

He is saying, “People want to try and tear me up? They’re the ones that are going to get it.” It’s that go-ahead-make-my-day type of attitude. You’re going to come against me? Go ahead. Come against me, but it’s going to be ridiculous, because my God is protecting me. You can’t do anything to me. I’ve got my God. He’s always taken care of me, even when it gets worse. Psalm 27:3 says:

Though an army encamp against me,
​​     my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
​​     yet I will be confident.

Just to Dwell in Your House

Why? It’s in that context that he says, “One thing I’ve asked the Lord.” Why? It’s because of the one thing he keeps asking of the Lord, just that he could be in his presence, that he would just dwell in his house, because there’s safety there. As he’s just gazing upon him, he’s not going to let anything happen to him. He’s in the house of the Lord. He’s in the Lord’s presence. He’s saying, “You’re going to try to attack me while I’m communing with the Lord? Are you crazy? Get me apart from him, yeah, then attack me. But really, you’re going to try to attack me as I’m communing with the Lord right now? You’re ridiculous. You’re going to come up against us?” And that’s why he says, “Lord, just let me dwell with you?”

It’s simplistic, isn’t it? He just says, “God, I just need to be with you and everything will be fine.” It’s simplistic, but do you see the obviousness in it? Well, of course. If I believe that there is only one sovereign being, if I believe there’s one being who is in charge of everything, the only ruler, the only sovereign, then isn’t it obvious that as long as I am close with him, abiding in him, that’s all I really need to do? The fruit will come. The protection will come. Everything else will happen. It’s obvious, but it takes faith, doesn’t it? Let me just get close to him.

The Sovereignty of God in Everyday Life

See, we believe in his sovereignty. I love that circle drawing you did. We would say we believe in the sovereignty of God. This is the Desiring God Pastors Conference. We believe in the sovereignty of God. We believe in one being who’s in control of everything. The question is how does that flesh out in your life? Does it give you a peace that surpasses all comprehension because you say, “You know what? Come against me. My God is sovereign.”

Does it flesh out? That was so sad to see that statistic. Ninety percent of it doesn’t flesh out to that point. You may believe in the sovereignty of God, but what does that look like in your life? Does that mean that you have this peace that surpasses comprehension and people go, “Man, I want to have what you have. You’re so sure, just because of God, that’s it? It doesn’t seem like you got anything else going for you.” And you say, “That’s all I need. I’ve seen what my God’s done in my life. So you know what? I’m just going to sit here. I’m going to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”

Do you ever have those moments when you just don’t want to leave? Do you have that intimate time with God? It doesn’t have to be at the beach, or on a mountaintop, or anywhere else. The other day I was alone at IHOP, just having pancakes, just there with my Bible, studying, reading, and praying. I was there for probably two hours, just going, “God, I don’t want to go anywhere else.” I know they need this table. I can’t eat any more pancakes. It was all-you-can-eat too. But that’s not why I stayed. I just had one helping. But there are those moments where you think, “God, I don’t want to leave this spot? I’m having these impulses. I’m enjoying this time with you. I love your word. I just want to stay here.”

So I look at this first, and I think, yeah, that’s what he’s talking about. I just want to dwell in your house, Lord. I just want to sit here and gaze upon your beauty. That’s what I meant by the time when the word of God disturbs my affections, and you just say, “Wow, God, you’re so beautiful.” You’re so wonderful. How could I love anything else? Why do I long for these other things? I have those moments.

Our Breath in His Hands

I remember one time, just a couple of months ago, where I was praying in the middle of the night and I was thinking about 1 Timothy 6, where it talks about how God is the only sovereign, as we talked about, the only immortal, and how every breath comes from him. I couldn’t sleep, so I just started counting my breaths. With every breath I said, “God, thank you for that one.” Wow, there’s being in heaven that gave me that. I said, “God, you gave me that. That wouldn’t have happened without you. God, thank you. You’re in total control. God, you gave me that one too.” And I just started just thinking about how in someone’s grasp my life is, and I was just thanking him. And then I start thinking, “And you love me? And you’re the one that answers my prayers?” I start looking at life and I think, “Wow, we’re in love with each other, You and I. I’m in love with God.”

And I felt those giddy feelings I used to feel when I first met my wife. You know when you first fall in love and you can’t even sleep because you’re beside yourself? You say, “I can’t believe this person loves me.” And I started feeling that toward God. I thought, “God, this is wonderful. I want to be giddy the rest of my life. I want to just gaze upon you and be in love with Jesus Christ, and realize Jesus Christ is in love with me right now.” The God of the universe, isn’t it just the most amazing thing when he answers prayer and you think, “I just spoke to God. God just listened to me and he answered me.”

Is there anything better than that on this earth? Man, what’s better than that? We’re talking about me, this little human, this little screw-up, this one that doesn’t even pray as hard as the other guys, the one that doesn’t know as much theology as some of these guys. I’m trying everything else, but I fail, and I fail, and I fail, but then, God, you heard me? You listen to me? You love me? This is the one thing I ask.

Pressure to Perform

You guys, there’s so much pressure to perform, as many of you know, and as Pastor John mentioned. I really believe the Lord was wanting me to move on from my ministry in Simi Valley last May, and I really believed he wanted me to go to another city and just start another work, and let the elders who were there take the church along with other godly men.

I thought, “You know what? This could even cause people to focus more on God than Francis. So this could be good for the church. It could be good for whatever new work the Lord is leading me into.” And three weeks ago I moved to San Francisco, believing that’s where the Lord wanted me. And everyone has been asking, “So what are you doing there? What ministry are you doing there? What’s next for Francis Chan?” Not one person has asked about my prayer life. Not one. And I have a guess as to why. I think people assume, “Of course you pray. It would be silly to ask that. I don’t need to ask. Of course, you’re not going to start a ministry without walking the streets and praying and begging God to direct you and lead you. So I don’t need to ask that.”

So then suddenly, all the questions are like, “What are you doing? Did you do this yet? Did you do that? Do you have a church? You got a building? You got this? You got that?” And then suddenly you start feeling this pressure, “Oh, man, so in three weeks I better have a building. I better have a pretty serious ministry going on, because everyone is expecting this.” I guess I wish more people would just say, “Hey, I hope you haven’t started anything yet without seriously praying.”

But I think a lot of it is due to the fact that they assume that I am, and people may feel silly asking the author of Crazy Love whether he prays and seeks God and is still seeking God. But I know better than to assume people. We’ve done that, right, of congregation members? We just assumed they were doing fine, and then you get shocked, don’t you? You’ve assumed it of the staff. You’ve assumed it of elders.

And in hindsight you think, “Why did I not probe? Why did I not get into his life deeper and really ask these questions? Why didn’t I not share my own struggles and say, ‘Come on, let’s do this’?” And so this morning, I assume nothing of you. I know this is the Desiring God Pastors Conference. I don’t assume you’re walking with the Lord. I don’t assume that you know of this love that I’m talking about. In fact, I was just praying back there saying, “God, please, I want them to know how good it is to walk with you, that they don’t find their strength in being a part of a conference, a denomination, having the right theology, but that their boast would be in knowing you, understanding you; that they would boast that they would just be dwelling in your house, gazing upon your beauty, meditating in your temple.”

Unrelenting Devotion

So are you about him? And do people see that in you, that you’re a man or woman who you just can’t get enough of God? Or have all the expectations, the criticisms, and all those pressures that we’ve talked about taken it away. I feel like we’re a broken record, saying it over and over again. We’ve got all those things coming around us, and they’re there to distract us and get us afraid, to get us discouraged. We think the answer is working harder and faster, hiring the right people, and everything else. It takes so much faith to just dwell in the house of the Lord, just to abide in him, just to walk in love and say, “Jesus, I’m just going to abide in you and pour myself out for those who are in need, and fruit everything else is something you’re going to have to take care of that.” And then just trust that, and believe in that.

Man, I’m just praying that you get there, because that’s what people want to see when they come to your church. They don’t care how slick your message is. They don’t care how intelligent you are. Maybe some of them here or there care a little bit about that. The bottom line is that people want to walk in and they want to see a man of God that’s connected to God. Wouldn’t you love to talk to Elijah? Wouldn’t that be cool? Wouldn’t it be cool to say, “How are you so confident? You just knew? You knew the whole time?” Don’t you just want to talk to him? Don’t you want to talk to Moses and say, “Man, tell me, what was that like on that mountain? You gotta be kidding me.” See, we want people to react that way to us. We want people to say, “Help me understand something. You talk to God, and he just does these things?” And you say, “Yeah, let me help you.” I want to be one of those men. Elijah was a man just like you and just like me.