Perservering in Prayer
About the Guest
Is God still good even if He doesn't answer your prayers? Of course! Today on the broadcast, Dr. Bryan Chapell, author and president of Covenant Theological Seminary, talks to Dennis Rainey about persevering in prayer.
Bryan ChapellDr. Bryan Chapell is highly regarded in the evangelical community as a preacher, teacher, and author. He began his ministry pastoring in churches that include Glen Ridge Presbyterian Church in St. Louis (1976), Woodburn Presbyterian Church in Woodburn, Ill. (1976-80), and Bethel Reformed Presbyterian Church in Sparta, Ill. (1980-1986). Bryan then joined the Covenant faculty fulltime in 1986 and has since served as a professor, Department Chair, Seminary Dean, and Executive Vice President. Fro...more
Is God still good even if He doesn’t answer your prayers?
Perservering in Prayer
Bryan: What she did was, when I did it the first two times, she told me how much she loved it that we prayed together, and for her to tell me that and encourage me in that, kept it going through the years.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, January 10th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. There is power in prayer, and for couples who pray together there is great benefit.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. I remember an instance that happened when I was in high school. In fact, it was one of those early God moments, where I learned something about prayer. My dad had been in the hospital, and things were not getting better, or so it seemed. And I had been praying for my dad that things would get better; that the doctors would be able to treat his situation, and somebody came along, and they said, "You need to change how you pray." And I said, "Well, what should I do?" And they said, "You need to understand God is at work, and you need to thank God for what He is doing and express trust in Him" …
Dennis: … rather than ask Him.
Bob: Rather than saying, you know, "Fix this, God." And so I thought, "Well, okay, I don't know any better, I'll try that and see if that works." And so I just – and it was awkward at first. I remember praying and thinking, "Lord, thank you that my dad is in the hospital?" That didn't even sound right, you know? And "thank you that you're up to something, and I don't get it," and I just expressed thanks to God. And the verse that this person had pointed me to is that first in, what, 1 Thessalonians 5 …
Dennis: … yeah, 16 through 18.
Bob: "Pray without ceasing, give thanks in all things." So I just started thanking God for what was going on, and the next day the hospital called and said we're sending your dad home, we've got things – and I thought, "Huh."
So, all of a sudden, in my high school mind, I'm thinking …
Dennis: Yeah, I get the picture where you're headed with this one.
Bob: I've got the new formula down, you know? All I have to do is do that, and then I'll get what I'm hoping for or praying for. And I found, as you go along, that it's not a formula. Prayer is sometimes a challenge and sometimes a mystery, but it's what God has invited us to in relationship with Him.
Dennis: It is, and in all of that, Bob, what we need is accurate instruction. Bryan Chappel joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back.
Bryan: It's good to be with you all.
Dennis: Well, you listened to Bob's story and, Bryan, he, as a young man, needed instruction. And I think that's true of the entire Christian community when it comes to prayer. We don't ever stop needing instruction. And it was because of that you wrote your book, "Praying Backwards," really challenging us with truths to transform the way we approach our Heavenly Father.
Bryan: Have you ever been devastated by unanswered prayer or by a "no," or by a "wait" – yes. Sometimes God intervenes in miraculous ways to my eyes. Other times, I don't see what He's doing, but God's hand is still – that's part of faith, isn't it? To believe that God is, and He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. He is still operating. How Paul the Apostle must have struggled. Think of it – he would, at times, have such power that he could raise someone from the dead; that mere claws that touched his body could be taken and heal other people. That happens sometimes. Other times, he could pray three times for removal of the thorn in the flesh, and God would say, "Hm, no. I want you to know that My grace is sufficient for you. My strength made perfect in weakness."
Other times he could have a helper, like Trophimus, and he could say, "You know, I had to leave Trophimus sick at Miletus and move on." Or Timothy – he said, you know, the great debate among evangelical Christians – take a little wine for your stomach's sake, you know? Now was it fermented wine or was it not? Well, it's not really the point. You think, "Why didn't Paul just heal him? Why didn't Paul just take away that stomach ailment?" Well, I don't know. At times, God knew it was right to operate miraculously to humanize, at other times, God knew it was right to withhold His hand so that faith would be promoted in other ways.
When we pray backwards, when we are praying in Jesus' name, what we're doing is, we are yielding to God's wisdom, and we are saying, "God, I am offering this prayer to you, trusting in Your goodness, in Your power, in Your hand, and I yield to what You desire."
Dennis: But, Bryan, when that wisdom is not what we were looking for, I think that's where the majority of people are. I think their hearts desire to pray. You know, when there's a crisis, they begin to pray, but they lose heart in praying because they go back – backwards. They don't pray backwards, they go into their own history of unanswered prayer or prayer that wasn't answered the way they wanted it to be answered, and they stall out in unbelief at that point.
Did you ever come close to stalling out in unbelief?
Bryan: I think where I have come close to stalling out is where I cannot even make my thoughts move forward because I am so worried about something. Now, I even grant you that my anxiety can be a sin. You know, that I can get so anxious and so unfaithful without belief that God can really take care of something that I virtually get paralyzed. And I talk about that in the book, of a time in my life in which the trial was so great that I just could hardy pray at all because even when I get quiet enough to pray, my thoughts would move forward to "How am I going to take care of this problem? How am I going to handle this crisis? What am I going to do?" And I couldn't make my brain move forward.
And the thing that helped me in that time was simply taking The Lord's Prayer and repeating saying I don't have more I can offer right now. I have to simply pray what the Lord gave me to pray, because when I rely on my own prayers, my thoughts can't track forward. Yes, I think of, "Lord, why are you letting this happen? Lord, why is this so hard? Why is my life so miserable right now?" Instead, I simply have to say, "Heavenly Father, may your name be holy even to my heart right now. Let your kingdom come, do your will, I don't know what it is," and just move through The Lord's Prayer and have God begin to instruct my heart because at that point I just couldn't pray anything else.
I talk about a young woman in the book who, for a time, lost a child. She'd gone to a yard sale, and the child had gotten out of the car and wandered away when she didn't know, and I thought – she just began to fear. She had driven away – you hear of people who drove away and didn't realize the child was out of the car, and then just a little ways began to discover that, came back, the child was missing, and she just – she could not pray. She fell down and just said, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus."
Now, ultimately, the police brought her son back to her, but I thought, here she was, unable to follow any formula of prayer I or anybody else could give her. All she did was she just opened her to God and say, "God help me. Oh, Jesus, help." Now, she was devastated that the child was gone, but she still knew where to go. She still knew that she had to give her heart to Christ now to answer the problem.
When there is devastation in our lives, listen, I'm not saying it's easy. This world, even the Bible says, can be a valley of tears, but it says the God who loves us has provided another world, another existence, a place where there are no more tears and even now He is giving us the assurance of His care so that we will turn to Him.
What do we say to families in Sudan right now – think of that. They are Christian families whose children are starving, they are starving. Do they say, "Lord, what are you up to? Lord, this is my child – provide food. You say pray for daily bread, where is it?" Jesus said, "My bread is to do the will of Him who sent me." And now Christians around the world are having to face the threats, the temptations of their own affluence, their self-centeredness and say all their Christians who are living for their faith in an African nation who need our help, need our prayers and somehow rally us from our own materialism, our own self-seeking, and, by their suffering, turn us to God again. Their lives are being poured out as a drink offering for us by a holy God who is taking them to Himself in eternal care but is caring for us eternally in our affluence and our self-centeredness in ways we can hardly imagine.
God's job is not easy. God's job is not easy to turn my heart to Him and to make my heart be set on Him, but one of the ways He does that is to teach me of the folly of trusting in the goodness of this world so that I will turn to Him and seek Him in prayer and trust His heart.
Dennis: You know, I'm amazed at how cluttered our lives can become, and the human heart is such it's going to find an idol. It's going to worship something, and you have to wonder if God in heaven doesn't shake His head sometimes at us. If what it takes to wrench our hearts away from attaching those hearts to things that we see, material, even family can become an idol.
Bryan: It can be.
Dennis: If it becomes the object of our affection beyond what God intended it to be, but He is wanting us to connect our hearts to His, and He has given us a wonderful privilege of doing that through prayer. And I find myself throughout the day, on days when I'm most acutely aware of God and what He's up to, I'll be praying throughout that day.
On the other hand, on other days when I'm acting more like a practical atheist, I hate to say that, but when you can go an entire morning and not have a thought about God and not be aware of His work, well, I think it's through prayer that God invites us to engage with Him.
Bob: Well, in fact, as you mention that, I'm thinking of an essay I read a number of years ago. You may have read this, Bryan – C.S. Lewis was asked the question, "If God is loving, and if God is sovereign, then why pray?" And his answer was, "Why breathe?" "Why eat?" He said, "To be human is to breathe and to eat. God knows you need air. God knows you need food, but you still breathe and eat. And God knows we need relationship with Him, and He invites us into that.
Imagine – I've thought of this – imagine getting married and saying, "We're married now. I'll talk to you anytime I have a really serious need, but, other than that, I won't have any real relationship with you." Some people treat their prayer life with God, Bryan, in that way. "I'll call you, Lord, if I have a need. Other than that, there is no relationship."
Bryan: I was taught, when I was in high school, by a wonderful man who was a carpenter. I was working on a church renovation project as a summer intern, and we were working away doing drywalling in this church, and the man dropped a nail. And we were trying to work fast, because another crew was coming the next day to do the painting and all that. We had to work fast, and he just stopped working to look for the nail. And I said, you know, "John, you know, shouldn't you get another nail?" And he said, "No, Bryan," he said, "I asked God in prayer to help me find the nail, so I need to stop and look for it." I said, "Maybe God has bigger prayers we ought to be offering than looking for nails." And he said this, he said, "No, Bryan, the Bible says in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving make your requests known to God in things big but in little things, too."
I've learned so much just in passing ways as the Lord, in His own school, has taught me things, and one was from a pastor who was reminding me at one point – all those people, you know, greet you at the door after church, and they say, you know, "Would you pray for my cousin," "Would you remember my aunt," and "I have surgery this week," and, you know, how do you remember all those things? And when I was a young pastor, he taught me this, he said, "You know, even while you're holding their hand, send an arrow prayer to heaven. Say, 'Yes, Lord, hear this prayer,' 'Yes, Lord, remember them on the day of surgery,'" and I got in the habit of sending these arrow prayers up to God.
I don't think the formulas are bad that we're supposed to pray, you know, adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication, that's a wonderful way to pray. But, at the same time, to be willing just to talk to God through the course of a day, so just say, "Lord, thank you for the wonderful morning." "Thank you that I found this room that I was looking for." "Thank you, Lord, for letting me come into your presence." "Thank you that I didn't get hit by that taxi." And just over and over again to be offering thanks.
It's not thanks for everything, because there are horrible things, but it is thanks in everything – that is the biblical language – so that I had this open line to God, and, in praying, I am having His presence in my life, a constant part of my thinking and interaction so that it is – you described it as the marriage relationship. I am conversing, I'm relating to my spouse so that she is just one with me. In the same way, if I am always thinking of God, He becomes part of my thoughts, and that's what I think it means to pray without ceasing. Not close your eyes, fold your hands – no – pray without ceasing.
Bob: Mary Ann was just gone for a couple of days, and in that context, she was out of cell range. We didn't talk for a couple of days, and things would happen that I would go, "I've got to remember to tell Mary Ann." Normally, I'd pick up the phone and call her or we'd just interact immediately.
Well, when she got home, we had a lot of opportunity to debrief, and I was unloading all of the things that had happened over a couple of days, and she was doing the same with me. What God wants us to do is not just store it all up for Sunday and hope we can remember it all, but when it happens, just converse with Him at the time.
Dennis: Yeah, and to do that as a way of life and not being, as I was talking about earlier, a practical atheist who can go all day without even thinking about who God is and realizing He is there.
Bryan, you've written a book, "Praying Backwards," and you've challenged our paradigms in terms of how we think about prayer. I want you to take us into two of the most intimate settings in your home. One is when you and Kathleen pray together, and the other is when you've prayed with your children. You have two sons and two daughters. What have you done right in terms of praying with Kathleen, and how has she prayed with you as well?
Bryan: I think the things that we have done right are, first, making prayer a part of our regular family life. Now, it may sound strange, but praying at meals can be rote habit, or it can be continual instruction to your children. Through the years, your children hear you pray, and just praying at meals – if it's not just a rote thing, but really thinking through the day, can be the simplest way of instructing your children – this is the way we think about God. This is how active God is in our life.
Now, I can't pray with everything that I need to be praying about with my children at the dinner table. So my wife and I pray in bed at night. That's when we pray for our children to marry Christian spouses; that's – as we put our heads on the pillow, the most frequent prayer I would say we have prayed through our marriage, is praying that our children would find a Christian spouse, and that's typically in bed at night that we pray before we hit the alarm clock with the "On" button and …
Dennis: Tell the truth, have you ever gone to sleep?
Bryan: Many times – without praying?
Dennis: Well, yeah, without but, no, while you've been praying.
Dennis: Because we have.
Bryan: I haven't done that. It's not a long prayer. I want to take away the sense of mystery and only privileged people can do this. Ours are usually short prayers about the things that are most on our hearts and minds at that moment. I would tell you, just because we are so concerned for the Christian marriages of our children, that's the most frequent prayer. I would say virtually every time we pray at night, we pray concerning the Christian spouses we want our children – but now we pray – I've got a son going to England to study, so we pray, "Lord, it's a real transition for them. Help them in all these transitions in their young married life to do that."
Dennis: How does Kathleen bring prayer to your marriage and to your family? I think we have a lot of women – they're wondering, "How do I engage my husband around this?" Has Kathleen been an encouragement to you in this area?
Bryan: Well, you've said the word I would have chosen. I think there was a time in my life when I was embarrassed to pray in front of my wife. I'm a pastor, and yet there is something you can do publicly, and yet when it gets to the intimate relationship of praying with your spouse, that feels uncomfortable. "Oh, she knows all my weaknesses, she knows all my sins, she knows we just had an argument, and now I'm going to pray."
What she did was, when I did it the first few times, she told me how much she appreciated that. She told me how she loved it that we prayed together, and for her to tell me that and encourage me in that kept it going through the years. So for her to day, "Let's pray about," or "Thank you for doing that," or I often say at night, "Time to pray for our kids?" And she just says, always, enthusiastically, "Yes, let's pray for our kids," or, "Yes, let's do that." And her sense of delight and encouragement in our prayer means more to me than her saying, "Let's do this because you know if we don't God will be mad at us or people will think we're not good Christians or something." It's her simply encouraging my heart with her joy in our having this routine.
Bob: There have been nights when it's been "Lord, thanks for today, amen." You know, because I'm just wiped out, and that's all the acknowledgment God gets at that point, but it's still an acknowledgment.
Dennis: That's right.
Bryan: Well, does it offend you all if I say some nights we don't?
Bryan: But I would say most nights we do, and we don't try to beat ourselves up because some nights we – you know, she has fallen asleep before I'm in bed or whatever. It's not this game that we're playing, and it's not some debt that we're paying off to God. You said it before – it's like breathing. To talk to God is a privilege, but I don't somehow say, "Uh-oh, I didn't pay off God enough prayer nickels today, so He's going to be mad at me." Instead I say, "This is a privilege I have. My wife's asleep. I'm going to let her go tonight." And that's okay, too.
Dennis: Yeah. You know, I have a real passion for husbands and wives praying together, Bryan, and I appreciate just the non-legalistic yet strong exhortation you've given us about what you've modeled here. In fact, I wrote a book on couples praying together to take that pastor who feels threatened to pray with his wife or that husband who may not be seminary trained and just write out some very simple prayers where he can begin the process, and it's actually 31 days of beginning the process of praying together as a couple personally. And I've said this many times on FamilyLife Today– I know of no spiritual discipline that will transform a Christian marriage or a family as much as daily prayer where God is acknowledged.
Bryan: Dennis, is it true what I said – you deal with so many pastors – that it's easier for them to pray in public than in private?
Dennis: Oh, I had to laugh, because we've had a number of pastors who have sheepishly admitted what you just said. You know, "I was seminary trained. I knew it backwards and forwards," and you said it well, I mean, you really did – "She knows me. She's aware of my Achilles' heels" – plural, and that's really threatening.
Bryan, I really appreciate you and your ministry at Covenant Theological Seminary. Thanks for your work on this book, and I pray that not only will this reshape and recast our thinking about prayer in terms of praying in Jesus' name, but that a lot of couples will benefit because of your words here. Thanks for being on our broadcast.
Bryan: Thanks for giving me the joy of being able to do it.
Bob: Well, and we hope you'll join us in praying that God will use the conversation we've had this week to help others with this subject of prayer, and we hope a lot of our listeners will contact us to get a copy of the book you've written called "Praying Backwards." It's available in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and it's a helpful, fresh way of thinking about the subject of prayer. Again, the title of the book is "Praying Backwards."
In addition to Bryan's book, we've got a book that you and Barbara wrote, Dennis, called "Two Hearts Praying as One." That is specific guidance for husbands on how to pray with their wives. You can find information about both of these resources on our website at FamilyLife.com. There's a button at the bottom of the screen that you can click on that says "Today's Resources," and that will take you right to the page where there is more information about Bryan's book and about Dennis Barbara's book, other resources we have on the subject of prayer.
Again, the website is FamilyLife.com, click the "Go" button at the bottom of the screen. If you order both of the books from us, we will include at no additional cost the CD audio of our conversation with Bryan, and you may want to listen to it again, listen to it together with your spouse, or pass it on to someone who would benefit from hearing this conversation.
Again, the website is FamilyLife.com. If you'd prefer, you can call 1-800-FLTODAY and someone on our team can help you get the order placed, and we can get the resources sent out to you, and we hope to hear from you. By the way, we heard from a lot of our listeners near the end of the year who contacted us to make a year-end donation to the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We really appreciate your financial support. We are listener-supported, and those donations are critical for keeping us on this station and on stations all across the country.
During the month of January, if you are able to help us with a donation to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today, we want to send you a thank-you gift. It is a two-CD set that was one of our most requested resources in 2005 – a week-long conversation with Dr. Emerson Eggerich about marriage, about the deep need in the heart of a wife to be loved well by her husband, and the deep longing in the heart of a husband to be respected by his wife. We'd like to send you the two CDs that feature our conversation with Dr. Eggerich as a thank-you gift when you make a donation of any amount in January to the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
If you're making that donation online, as you fill out the donation form, you'll come to a keycode box, and we need you to type a word in there so that we know that you'd like to have the CD sent to you, and you can pick the word – either "Love" or "Respect," you pick. Or if you're calling 1-800-FLTODAY to make a donation, just mention that you'd like the CDs that we were talking about on the radio, and we'll send those, again, as our way of saying thank you for your financial support of this ministry.
And we hope you can be back with us tomorrow. Elyse Fitzpatrick is going to join us, and we're going to talk about food and having a healthy approach toward food – not health food but having a healthy biblical view about food, about eating, and about how we can do that for the glory of God. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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