LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Weak prayer lives among God’s people have led to spiritual decline in churches across America, Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page said at a Great Commission Prayer Conference at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Page told the story of a grandmother who forgot to insert a check in Christmas cards to her grandchildren in which she wrote “buy your own present.” The humorous story illustrates the attitude of Christians in America toward non-believers, he said.
“By living a weak, anemic, prayer-less, lethargic Christian life in front of the world, in essence, what we have said to them is: We love you, but go buy your own present,” said Page, pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C. “‘Find your own way, figure it out on your own.’ Because of that, our nation is lost. Our churches are dying. Our young people are leaving in massive numbers, saying, ‘I’m not so sure I don’t like Jesus, but I know I don’t like the church.’ We are in perilous days.”
Joining Page at the conference — which was sponsored jointly by Southern Seminary and the Kentucky Baptist Convention — were Donald Whitney, senior associate dean of the school of theology and associate professor of biblical spirituality at Southern Seminary, and noted speaker and author T.W. Hunt, (“The Mind of Christ,” “The Life-Changing Power of Prayer” and “Disciple’s Prayer Life”).
Whitney, who has served as a pastor for 24 years and is the author of “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life,” said many genuine believers struggle with a sense of boredom in their prayer lives.
“Everyone who has the Holy Spirit desires to pray, whether they are 9 or 99,” he said. “However, for most of us prayer is boring. We know that true Christians pray. And we know that we can’t stop praying. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, giving us this desire to pray. If there is no known sin in your life that you are not seeking to deal with, then the problem is not with you. The problem is with your methods.”
Whitney said most people pray about the same things: family, the future, finances, work or school, church or ministry, and/or the current crisis in their lives. But Whitney said prayer becomes boring because people “pray the same old things about the same old things.”
The solution to the problem, Whitney said, is fundamentally simple: Let the Bible enliven one’s prayer life by reading through a passage and letting Scripture shape prayer.
“There is nothing that kindles my cold heart more than praying through Scripture,” he said. “It is not just that these words are fresh and different [from what Christians often pray], it is that they are supernatural words inspired by God and we are simply praying them back to God about the things going on in our lives.”
The Psalms, Whitney said, are particularly good for praying through because they express a broad range of human emotions on a wide variety of topics.
“Someone once said, ‘[T]here is a Psalm for every sigh of the soul,'” he said. “From exhilaration to great discouragement, from anger at enemies to feeling the love of God, from guilt to forgiveness, from contentment to anticipation. It is uncanny how if you consistently pray through the Psalms, you will be able to give expression to something that has been looking for expression in your heart.”
Using Scripture as the starting point for prayer also assures that one is praying according to the will of God, Whitney said.
“To pray through a passage of Scripture, we take words that have already originated in the heart and mind of God and we are circulating them through our hearts and minds back to God so that His words become the wings of our prayers,” he said.
“You are freed from the burden of thinking up everything that you are going to pray God. You let God initiate the conversation, you let God direct the conversation and then you respond to what God says in His Word through prayer.”
Hunt, focusing on the Kentucky convention in his message at the March 15 conference, said members of its churches must be obedient in prayer in order to see great revival.
“Are you willing in these crucial, crucial days to be obedient? It [being obedient] will involve Bible study, prayer, witnessing and sharing one another’s burdens,” Hunt said. “The only way to win Kentucky is to be obedient to God, no matter what He says, no matter where He wants you to go.
“You are not going to win Kentucky with courses or great buildings or preaching, and I love all of these things. But we can only win Kentucky if God does the work. To win Kentucky, you must pray.”
Garrett E. Wishall is a writer for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.