Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman of 9 Marks talk about why churches, and Christians, fail to engage in one of the most fundamental privileges and commands we have as Christians. Dever offers helpful guidelines and models in how churches can pray and keep them organized and focused on moving from immature prayer to mature prayer. This discussion is very helpful and practical for church leaders.
From the 9 Marks website:
This Sunday, a vast majority of evangelical churches will gather for singing and preaching and reading Scripture and perhaps even a few baptisms and the Lord’s Supper. There will also be some praying.
In comparison to everything else, though, there will be just a little bit of prayer—a transition as a few musicians scurry off-stage, a quick “thank-you” to God after collecting the offerings, a prayer for God’s Spirit to work on the hearers of the sermon.
All in all, you might pray for a few minutes, almost always as a passive observer.
That’s the norm, and, on the whole, the norm is shocking, abysmal, and embarrassing. When it comes to verses like Colossians 4:2—“continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving”—our present-day churches have mostly failed.
So, what should we do about it? To answer that question, consider this interview with Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman, in which they seek to diagnose and then address this problem of prayerlessness. We hope and, well, pray that it encourages us all toward more faithful obedience.
Dr. Richard Gaffin takes up Romans 8 in a short chapel message and applies it to prayer, encouraging us that though our prayers are faulty, we have two advocates praying on our behalf in the Son sitting at the right hand of God and in the Holy Spirit. The focus of these two advocates is not that they do anything to us in our praying, but that they come alongside of us in our weakness.
If you are a pastor, elder or worship leader, how much have you thought about the public prayers that define your Sunday morning service? If you have not, may I recommend this message by Terry Johnson, pastor of Independant Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Georgia.
Terry provides a very strong, and convicting, case for well thought out public prayer. He rightly states that our the state of prayer in most churches emphasizes the spontaneous prayer that is more often plagued by cliché and empty words. Prayer is more often caught than taught, and for that reason, the minister should offer a great deal of public prayer that is careful, saturated in Scripture, and distinct from our rambling, personal prayer lives.
On a more sober note, Terry suggests that the public prayer life of a church is reflects the true heart of the minister’s dependence upon God. Churches that have nothing more than a few token, thoughtless prayers reveal a leadership that is more dependent upon self than on God.
This message is not merely theoretical, it is full of ideas and suggestions that can easily be implemented. But the foundation for healthy public prayer is a sincere personal prayer life.
Johnson references Hughes Oliphant Old quite frequently, and recommends his book Leading in Prayer: A Workbook for Ministers. I have this book and frequent it myself, and I can recommend it from my own experience. It’s an excellent resource.
The 2011 Desiring God Pastor’s conference is now online for download. Speaking on subjects related to prayer and the pastor’s prayer life were Joel Beeke, Paul Miller, Francis Chan (that’s right) and Jerry Rankin. John Piper’s biography subject was Robert Murray McCheyne.
Francis Chan gives us some explanation of his recent departure from his church in Simi Valley, mainly motivated by the fact that he became a Christian celebrity so fast and wanted to guard himself from that mania.
By far, if you were to listen to only a few messages, I would recommend that you listen to both of Joel Beeke’s messages — one is on prayer, and the second is on family worship. Beeke is a man who lives above and beyond the common sensibilities of our age in an admirable way. And I commend that you carefully, and thoughtfully, apply the truths of both messages. I have listened to a number of Beeke’s messages on family worship over the years, and they have motivated me to revolutionize my leading in family worship. And this message is one of his best, primarily because most of his other messages on family worship have poor audio quality.
The panel discussion was particularly helpful. The discussion raised a lot of great points and allowed helpful interaction with the material.
Justin Taylor has found the messages that Don Carson delivered in Cambridge that led to his fantastic book A Call to Spiritual Reformation. This is a young Carson with powerful messages on prayer.
The conference messages are a good introduction to this book, and covers some of the same material. The book contains more material, and because it is such a phenomenal and important work, I highly recommend you read this book.
Paul Washer’s message on prayer is one of the best, and most convicting and re-orienting, that I’ve ever heard.
Washer turns to Jesus as his model and instructor of prayer. In fact, the disciples turned to Jesus about instruction on prayer. They didn’t ask him to teach them to preach, or cast out demons, or raise the dead. They asked him how to pray. Jesus not only teaches them, but his life is a living example.
One always comes to the question, “Why did Jesus pray if he was God?” The answer we usually get is that Jesus needed to pray because he needed to depend upon God in his humanity, and because he had so much to accomplish. Rubbish, according to Washer. Jesus prayed because he loved to be in communion with God the Father. Need didn’t drive him to prayer, love did. We are commanded to the same love, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart…”
We take prayer so flippantly we ignore the clear instruction of Christ to go into your closet. We must repeatedly pull ourselves away from our surroundings to a place where we can focus without interruption.
Washer also observes that it is so easy to initiate prayer with God. The difficulty comes in persisting in prayer. We don’t know what it means to wrestle with God persistently and not loose heart. He taught this by the widow who hounded the local judge to give her justice with her adversary. This ungodly judge didn’t answer her request because he was a good judge, he answered her because she was annoying. This was taught to teach us to pray with persistence. Yet, immediately after telling this parable, Jesus wondered that when he returned to the earth whether he would find faith on the earth — faith demonstrated by persistent prayer to a listening God.
Have you ever wrestled in prayer all night for a big decision? If you haven’t, Washer says you’re a better man than Jesus.
The free audio download at Christan Audio this month is an excerpt from Calvin’s Institutes. If you’ve never read the Institutes, this would be an excellent introduction. Calvin’s Institutes has always been intimidating to me. The book is big (2 volumes in some editions), and Calvin is old, and I assumed it would be a dry and difficult read. What I discovered to utter shock was that Calvin was entirely readable and incredibly pastoral — exactly opposite of what I expected.
So, here, you can be introduced to what is arguably the greatest Christian book every written. To get the audio book for free enter NOV2008 in the coupon box during check out.
From Christian Audio —
“Let the first rule of right prayer then be, to have our heart and mind framed as becomes those who are entering into converse with God.” So begins John Calvin and his treatise on prayer. These seminal writings are from his Magnus Opus The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Prayer as Calvin describes it is not giddy, and he goes on to give Scriptural definitions of proper thought, engagement, and attitude.