Desiring God Pastors Conference 2011
Dr. Joel Beeke: The Powerful Life of the Praying Pastor: In His Room, With His Family, Among the People of God
Dr. Joel Beeke: Leading Family Worship
Text: Ephesians 1:15-18
Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians is filled with insights that most of us miss unless we ponder the meaning of each word. Every Christian should bask in the riches of what is revealed here and make it a pattern of prayer for those we know and love.
I want to introduce this article by taking us back some forty-one years to the initial publication of what soon became an evangelical classic: J. I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (IVP, 1961). The book was an expansion of the address Packer delivered to The London Inter-Faculty Christian Union (LIFCU) on October 24, 1959, at Westminster Chapel. What makes Packer’s book so instructive for us today is the utter incredulity on his part, in 1961, regarding a theological perspective that today, in 2002, is widespread and pervasive in its influence.
Packer begins his defense of divine sovereignty in salvation by appealing to what he believes is, or at least should be, an evangelical consensus on the practice of prayer. He appears to assume that no one who embraces a high view of Scripture could possibly think otherwise. It is more than simply that we pray, but also how and what we specifically ask God to do that Packer believes supports his understanding of the activity of God in saving a human soul. Here is what he says:
‘You pray for the conversion of others. In what terms, now, do you intercede for them? Do you limit yourself to asking that God will bring them to a point where they can save themselves, independently of Him? I do not think you do. I think that what you do is to pray in categorical terms that God will, quite simply and decisively, save them: that He will open the eyes of their understanding, soften their hard hearts, renew their natures, and move their wills to receive the Saviour. You ask God to work in them everything necessary for their salvation. You would not dream of making it a point in your prayer that you are not asking God actually to bring them to faith, because you recognize that that is something He cannot do. Nothing of the sort! When you pray for unconverted people, you do so on the assumption that it is in God’s power to bring them to faith. You entreat Him to do that very thing, and your confidence in asking rests upon the certainty that He is able to do what you ask. And so indeed He is: this conviction, which animates your intercessions, is God’s own truth, written on your heart by the Holy Spirit. In prayer, then (and the Christian is at his sanest and wisest when he prays), you know that it is God who saves men; you know that what makes men turn to God is God’s own gracious work of drawing them to Himself; and the content of your prayers is determined by this knowledge. Thus by your practice of intercession, no less than by giving thanks for your conversion, you acknowledge and confess the sovereignty of God’s grace. And so do all Christian people everywhere.’
He also appeals to what he believes is the underlying theological assumption for our gratitude. Why do you ‘thank’ God for your conversion, he asks? It is, he says, ‘because you know in your heart that God was entirely responsible for it.’ You thank God because ‘you do not attribute your repenting and believing to your own wisdom, or prudence, or sound judgment, or good sense.’ Packer believes he is speaking for all Christians when he says,
‘You have never for one moment supposed that the decisive contribution to your salvation was yours and not God’s. You have never told God that, while you are grateful for the means and opportunities of grace that He gave you, you realize that you have to thank, not Him, but yourself for the fact that you responded to His call. Your heart revolts at the very thought of talking to God in such terms. In fact, you thank Him no less sincerely for the gift of faith and repentance than for the gift of a Christ to trust and turn to.’
Of course, today there is an increasing number of professing evangelicals who happily do precisely what Packer contends they ‘would not dream’ of doing. Packer’s incredulous ‘Nothing of the sort!’ is today’s ‘orthodoxy’. What Packer claims you would never attribute to the human will is the very thing advocates of libertarian freedom insist upon. What Packer says we would never tell God, indeed, that thought at which our hearts would revolt, is being preached and published at a dizzying pace in 2002.
In all fairness to Packer, one must assume that such language is intentional hyperbole, a writer’s way of jolting his readers into thinking through what he believes are the unacceptable implications of the theological system he opposes. But the fact remains that what Packer argues most certainly cannot (or should not) be the conscious intent of any thinking Christian is precisely that for most, if not all, open theists. Given the latter’s insistence on libertarian free will, what Packer contends we would never ask of God is precisely what open theists applaud as the essence of intercessory prayer.
I have yet to read an open theist who does not make much of the argument from prayer. Some would even appear to have embraced this theological model in large part because it alone invests in intercessory prayer a value and efficacy that warrant its practice. One often hears open theists declare that classical theism, in its affirmation of exhaustive divine foreknowledge, destroys the foundations of prayer and transforms otherwise meaningful dialogue with God into a sham. Greg Boyd is typical of most open theists when he says: ‘My conviction is that many Christians do not pray as passionately as they could because they don’t see how it could make any significant difference.’ Again, he writes, ‘I do not see that any view of God captures the power and urgency of prayer as adequately as the Open view does, and, because the heart is influenced by the mind, I do not see that any view can inspire passionate and urgent prayer as powerfully as the Open view can.’ The same sentiment may be found in David Basinger’s treatment of prayer as part of a larger concern with the practical implications of the open view of God. Continue reading
On today’s Dividing Line broadcast I brought a practical teaching on the personal prayer life of the Christian. A simple way to pray.
1976 (Transcribed by David Edgington)
If my people called by My name, shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
What’s involved in this? God expects us to pray!
But we must not forget what Jonathan Edwards said when he said to promote explicit agreement and visible union of all God’s people in “extraordinary prayer.” What do you mean by “extraordinary prayer”?
When you find people getting up at 6 o’clock in the morning to pray, or having a half night of prayer until midnight – that’s extraordinary prayer. When they give up their lunch-time and go and pray at a noon day prayer meeting – that’s extraordinary prayer. But it must be united and concerted.
It doesn’t mean that a Baptist becomes any less of a Baptist or an Episcopalian is less loyal to the 39 articles or that a Presbyterian turns his back on the Westminster Confession – not at all! But they recognize each other as brothers and sisters in Christ and they are prepared to pray together in concerted prayer that God may hear and answer. We haven’t reached that stage yet.
This national conference on prayer … is … unprecedented in some ways. It’s a sign of the direction in which we are moving. It’s what I call “extraordinary prayer”.
But you folk who are here – those who listen to my voice – must take it back to your churches. And when they are prepared to set aside time to pray for a spiritual awakening. That’s when God is going to answer.
Now some people say, “that means then its up to us.” Oh no we can’t say that either. Matthew Henry said, “When God intends great mercy for His people, He first of all sets them a praying.”
Even God is sovereign in this matter. But we must respond. He has chosen never to work without our cooperation. So whether your interpretation of revival is Calvinistic or Arminian – it’s a very simple thing. You must pray – then God will work.
May God help us so to pray. Amen.
Whatever our level of maturity as a Christian, most of us would admit that we could use some help in the matter of prayer. Endless repetition and distracted thoughts are constant enemies to an effective prayer life. Here is the biblical solution.
5 Methods for Fighting Half-Hearted Prayer
The Puritans were prone to give five methods for fighting our natural tendency to lapse into half-hearted prayer:
1. Give priority to prayer. Prayer is the first and most important thing you are called to do. “You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed, for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge to Satan.”
2. Give yourself—not just your time—to prayer. Remember that prayer is not an appendix to your life and your work, it is your life—your real, spiritual life—and your work. Prayer is the thermometer of your soul.
3. Give room to prayer. The Puritans did this in three ways. First, they had real prayer closets—rooms or small spaces where they habitually met with God. When one of Thomas Shepard’s parishioners showed him a floor plan of the new house he hoped to build, Shepard noticed that there was no prayer room and lamented that homes without prayer rooms would be the downfall of the church and society. Second, block out stated times for prayer in your daily life. The Puritans did this every morning and evening. Third, between those stated times of prayer, commit yourself to pray in response to the least impulse to do so. That will help you develop the “habit” of praying, so that you will pray your way through the day without ceasing. Remember that conversing with God through Christ is our most effective way of bringing glory to God and of having a ready antidote to ward off all kinds of spiritual diseases.
4. Give the Word to prayer. The way to pray, said the Puritans, is to bring God His own Word. That can be done in two ways. First, pray with Scripture. God is tender of His own handwriting. Take His promises and turn them inside out, and send them back up to God, by prayer, pleading with Him to do as He has said. Second, pray through Scripture. Pray over each thought in a specific Scripture verse.
5. Give theocentricity to prayer. Pour out your heart to your heavenly Father. Plead on the basis of Christ’s intercessions. Plead to God with the groanings of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26). Recognize that true prayer is a gift of the Father, who gives it through the Son and works it within you by the Spirit, who, in turn, enables it to ascend back to the Son, who sanctifies it and presents it acceptable to the Father. Prayer is thus a theocentric chain, if you will—moving from the Father through the Son by the Spirit back to the Son and the Father.
For John Calvin, prayer cannot be accomplished without discipline. He writes, “Unless we fix certain hours in the day for prayer, it easily slips from our memory.” He goes on to prescribe several rules to guide believers in offering effectual, fervent prayer.
1. The first rule is a heartfelt sense of reverence.
In prayer, we must be “disposed in mind and heart as befits those who enter conversation with God.” Our prayers should arise from “the bottom of our heart.” Calvin calls for a disciplined mind and heart, asserting that “the only persons who duly and properly gird themselves to pray are those who are so moved by God’s majesty that, freed from earthly cares and affections, they come to it.”
2. The second rule is a heartfelt sense of need and repentance.
We must “pray from a sincere sense of want and with penitence,” maintaining “the disposition of a beggar.” Calvin does not mean that believers should pray for every whim that arises in their hearts, but that they must pray penitently in accord with God’s will, keeping His glory in focus, yearning for every request “with sincere affection of heart, and at the same time desiring to obtain it from him.”
3. The third rule is a heartfelt sense of humility and trust in God.
True prayer requires that “we yield all confidence in ourselves and humbly plead for pardon,” trusting in God’s mercy alone for blessings both spiritual and temporal, always remembering that the smallest drop of faith is more powerful than unbelief. Any other approach to God will only promote pride, which will be lethal: “If we claim for ourselves anything, even the least bit,” we will be in grave danger of destroying ourselves in God’s presence.
4. The final rule is to have a heartfelt sense of confident hope.
The confidence that our prayers will be answered does not arise from ourselves, but through the Holy Spirit working in us. In believers’ lives, faith and hope conquer fear so that we are able to “ask in faith, nothing wavering” (James 1:6, KJV). This means that true prayer is confident of success, owing to Christ and the covenant, “for the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ seals the pact which God has concluded with us.” Believers thus approach God boldly and cheerfully because such “confidence is necessary in true invocation… which becomes the key that opens to us the gate of the kingdom of heaven.”
These rules may seem overwhelming—even unattainable—in the face of a holy, omniscient God. Calvin acknowledges that our prayers are fraught with weakness and failure. “No one has ever carried this out with the uprightness that was due,” he writes. But God tolerates “even our stammering and pardons our ignorance,” allowing us to gain familiarity with Him in prayer, though it be in “a babbling manner.” In short, we will never feel like worthy petitioners. Our checkered prayer life is often attacked by doubts, but such struggles show us our ongoing need for prayer itself as a “lifting up of the spirit” and continually drive us to Jesus Christ, who alone will “change the throne of dreadful glory into the throne of grace.” Calvin concludes that “Christ is the only way, and the one access, by which it is granted us to come to God.”
particularly the prayers of others. Robert Murray McCheyne’s words are often cited because they remain painfully true: “You wish to humble a man? Ask him about his prayer life.”
Our prayers reveal much about us. Prayers with little or no worship and focusing on our needs (usually health) reveal a distorted, Adamic bent. What they reveal is self-centeredness, what Martin Luther labeled homo in se incurvatus: “man curved in on himself.” Listen to prayers at the church prayer meeting (if one still exists). You will discover that the majority of prayers are “organ recitals”—prayers for someone’s liver, kidney, or heart. Not that we shouldn’t pray for medical issues, but a preoccupation with health is itself a reflection of how little we understand why it is we desire good health. We desire it so that the person we are praying for lives for Jesus Christ.
Prayer is “talking to God” (Graeme Goldsworthy, Prayer and the Knowledge of God, p. 15). Sometimes, perhaps too often, the “talk” is all about us. We’ve all had those annoying conversations that have been entirely one-sided, showing little or no interest in us. It’s all about them—their interests, desires, needs, and complaints. Prayer can get like that: we pour out our woes, become totally self-absorbed, and show no interest in dialogue that involves “listening” to what God has to say. God is patient and, in His grace, He responds. But it shouldn’t be like that. When Jesus taught us to pray, He showed us that prayer begins (and continues) with God: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matt. 6:9). Take a look at the structure of the Lord’s Prayer, and it will show you that at least half of our praying should be addressed to the praise and worship of God.
Many factors influenced Tertullian when he coined the term personae to represent the threeness of God, but he employed this term primarily because the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit “talk” to each other. They relate personally—to each other and to us. In other words, God communicates with Himself and with His people. It stands to reason, therefore, that prayer should consist of personal communion—talking to God with inquisitiveness as to His nature and His desires, and eagerness to learn about the things that please and displease Him.
The first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, among other things, reminds us that there must be a clearheaded focus on our part on who God is and what God is like. Theologians have reflected on how we come to know God and what it is that we know about Him. The answer has often come in this form: we know very little in answer to the question “What is God?” What we do know (because God has revealed it to us) is in answer to the question “What is God like?” God shows us what He is like by revealing to us His name. Continue reading