A Conversation with Steve Gaines about Prayer*


Dr. Allen: Dr. Gaines, it is a joy to host you on the campus of Midwestern Seminary and to visit with you here in the Spurgeon Room. We are surrounded by Spurgeon’s books and artifacts talking about topics that are dear to you, dear to me, and, indeed, dear to Charles Spurgeon himself. I want to talk to you today about prayer, especially prayer in the life of the minister and prayer in the life of the man of God. I know from conversations with you over the years and especially emphases in your ministry and from your pulpit, this is a topic that is dear to you. Let me broadly open this up with a word of greeting to you. Welcome! When we talk about prayer, what comes to mind?

Dr. Gaines: I think what comes to mind for me is that the Lord Jesus himself is the only expert on prayer. When you look at his life and ministry, he was obviously God in the flesh, and at the same time, he put a high premium on prayer. How do you explain that? I do not know, except he knew that communication with the Father was imperative. Obviously, he was God in the flesh but at the same time—it is really interesting to me—he prayed so much.

The Bible says that at his baptism he prayed, and in Luke’s gospel he prayed and the heavens were opened. I love that. One of the ways you open heaven is to pray. The heavens were opened and the Spirit of God came down upon him. What did he do right after his baptism? He went into the wilderness for 40 days of prayer and fasting. When he came out of the wilderness, he had the anointing of the Spirit, and it said he came out in the power of the Spirit. He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he prayed, and he came under temptation, but through prayer, fasting, and knowing and quoting the Scripture—which is the only protection any of us have with the same type of temptation—he was victorious.

Then, the Bible said in Mark 1 that in the early morning, after a very busy day and night before, while it was still dark (verse 35) he went out and departed to a lonely place and was in prayer. The language suggests that it was a protracted time of prayer in the morning. The Bible says later in Luke 5:16, he would often slip away into the wilderness and pray. When he fed the 5,000, he took the little boy’s lunch and he blessed it—he prayed over it—and there was an abundance. Jesus prayed constantly.

If you think about it, he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is really interesting that Judas knew exactly where to find him because it says in John’s Gospel that he frequently went to that place; and I am assuming, not just to meet, but to pray. He prayed fervently. That word is only used a couple of times in the Bible about prayer, but it is Luke’s Gospel again, in 22:44, it says he prayed fervently and his sweat was like great drops of blood falling to the ground. It was very intense prayer.

Then, the writer of Hebrews comments that he prayed with loud cries and tears, and he was heard because of his piety. He prayed on the cross too. Of the statements we have of Jesus, several of them are prayer. He prayed, “Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” Then he prayed Scripture at least twice out of the Psalms. He prayed Scripture when he prayed Psalm 22:1, which is all prophetic text about the crucifixion—“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” I believe that he probably prayed more of that because, again, one of the most vivid descriptions of the cross is Psalm 22. I have often said, “You would never have the shepherd of Psalm 23, if you had not had the savior dying for us in Psalm 22. Jesus prayed that on the cross. Then he prayed Psalms also when he said, “In your hands I commit my Spirit.” So, Jesus prayed.

Even in his resurrected state at Emmaus, our Lord would not put a morsel of bread in his resurrected mouth before he prayed over it. Then, Hebrews says in chapter 7 that he is the one mediator between God and men. Paul says it in 1 Timothy 2:5, but in Hebrews it says, “He ever liveth to make intercession for those who draw near to God through him.” I believe Jesus is praying right now. One of the most encouraging things I know of is that Jesus prays for his children.

I say all of that not to just give a lot of information. But if the Son of God, while he was on this earth, needed to pray, how much more do we need to pray? The early church—I am convinced of this, Dr. Allen—the reason they had the power they did was not just because of an age. I hear about the “Age of Miracles” and the “Day of Miracles.” I think there is a God of miracles. Some people say that the problem with the church today, the lethargy, the lack of power, the impotence is because we do not preach the pure gospel. We do not sing the right songs. I do not think it is the songs or the sermon. I really don’t. I think we basically preach that Christ was born of a virgin. Most evangelicals believe all of that. They believe that Jesus died an atoning, sacrificial death. Some believe he died only for the elect; some believe he died for everybody. I believe he died for everybody. He was raised bodily from the dead. We preach the basic gospel, and we call people to repentance and faith in Christ and that they need to call upon the name of the Lord. I think the sermons are the same and basically the songs are. Paul said to sing Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody in your heart. I think we do that now. To me, the reason we do not see the movement of God is because we do not pray like they prayed. We depend on a lot of other things, and we get connected with people. I like to say it this way. We get horizontal, but we do not know how to get vertical.

Dr. Allen: That is good. Let me prod you a bit, put you on the spot and ask you to be autobiographical. I hear an intense belief in prayer and passion for prayer. That is not just something you are saying to me today, that is something that has characterized your ministry. Rewind the clock. Has this been an incremental appreciation for prayer that has developed year-by-year, or was there a certain moment in your ministry where the Lord took you to a new level of intensity? Take us into your “prayer closet,” so to speak.

Dr. Gaines: There have been several times that the Lord has just moved sovereignly in my life in the area of prayer. When I was in college at Union University, well, going all the way back to UT Martin—where I really started living for the Lord—I really believe that God put me with some prayer warriors. You know, I want to go just a second, if I can, even beyond that.

The reason that I became a Christian is because my mother was in a hospital less than 100 miles from here—in St. Joseph, Mo. There was some procedure they were having back then. She was 24 years old. That was way back—just after World War II. She was having her breast removed because she had cancer. They had removed one—my mother was not a Christian—and they were about to remove the other and a little Baptist lady who had had a double mastectomy herself got up in the hospital bed of my mother, put my mother’s head in her lap, and prayed for her all night long that God would heal her. They came in the next day in St. Joseph, Mo. and the cancer was gone. When my mother came out from under sedation, the lady led her to Christ and said, “You go back to Central City, Ky.,” which is where she lived with my dad. She said, “You find a good Baptist church, and you get baptized. Tell your preacher what happened.” If it wasn’t for some praying woman—who I am looking forward to meeting someday—that just called out to God for my mother, that is how we got into church. Her dad knew she got saved; my dad got saved; we grew up in a Baptist church and that is how I got saved. My parents led me to Christ because that lady led her to Christ. So, I have always believed in Christ.

When I went to college at UT Martin, I got turned on to the Lord in the FCA there with a bunch of praying guys. I went to Union with George Guthery. I played high school ball with George. He was a quarterback, and I was a lineman. We prayed all the time. We memorized Scripture; we read the Bible; we would go soul-winning; but we prayed.

Then, when I went to Southwestern Seminary one of the first guys I met was a guy named Jack Taylor who was a famous guy who had written a book called Prayer, Life’s Limitless Reach that changed my life. He introduced me to a guy who was preaching at Southcliff Baptist Church named Don Miller. Don Miller has probably taught me more about prayer than anybody else. Don is out of Fort Worth, with Bible Based Prayer Ministries, and is a great guy. I have had him at every church I’ve been at.

But all through my life, I have just known that prayer is the secret to it all. I have always said I love to preach, but I have asked the Lord for years to get me to the point where I would really rather pray than preach. I think that what happens is that we cannot just talk for the Lord before we talk with the Lord. I say “with,” not “to” because God speaks to us. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.” Deuteronomy 13:4 says, “You will hear my voice.” Isaiah said, “You will hear my voice behind you saying this is the way whenever you turn to the right or the left.” I believe God speaks to us through the Word, through impressions, through the Holy Spirit, but the more we talk with the Lord, the more the Lord talks with us. I think what we are missing, Dr. Allen, is a passionate desire to pray.

I will say this and then let you ask me any question you want. I do not want to put a bunch of guilt on anybody. I think the reason people do not pray—they want to pray, everybody believes in prayer—they do not know how. They do not know how to keep a sustained conversation with the Lord going. We have all been in that awkward moment when you are trying to talk to somebody, and you just run out of things to say. It is awkward. It is really awkward when that person is the Lord. They say, “Lord, you saved me; I’m on my way to heaven; you forgave me and all; and I do not even know how to talk to you more than 10 minutes.” I’m telling you, most people do not know what to pray. I think the ultimate answer is to study what Jesus taught on prayer, specifically in what I believe was a good rabbinical document that he gave in a rabbinical way—the Lord’s Prayer. It downloads a pattern for you to follow. I do not think Jesus just wanted us to mouth those words before a football game or whatever. I think that God wants us to look at that and look at the praise at the beginning, the surrender of the will, the asking for forgiveness, the intercession, the petition, and the spiritual warfare. All that is in there is amazing. It is a pattern. I have used that over the years in my prayer life, and it has changed my life.

Dr. Allen: That is encouraging to hear. I have incorporated—many years ago and most recently today—a method of praying through Scripture and praying through Psalms. Not only routinely in some trite way, but engaging God’s Word to fuel, channel, and inform those prayers. For someone like me and you, who have full plates in life, it is easy for our minds to race to our to-do list, the phone calls we need to return, and the issues we need to engage. But having God’s Word there to bind my heart minute-after-minute to it and to inform those prayers has been so very helpful to me.

Let me shift gears a little bit. I want to talk about the man of God, or we hope, a generation of men of God that we are training here at the seminary. I preached a sermon several months back and wrote an article in conjunction with it called, “Where have All the Godly Men Gone?” You cannot be a godly man without being a praying man. What I want, as a seminary president, more urgently than training skilled preachers or gifted exegetes or the different skills and talents we want to see in ministry, I want people whose hearts are given to the Lord. You cannot have that unless prayer is a part of that. As I began to think about and pray through this topic, one of the things that became very clear to me is, one reason why we have fewer godly men is because we have fewer churches who actually want godly men. They want people who can tend to the youth and build a church and know the business side of it. But it seems like from the pulpit to the pew, we have fundamentally devalued godliness as a character trait that we cultivate through prayer in our preacher and in the pew. Do you share that observation, and do you see this as a present concern as well?

Dr. Gaines: I think that churches, for good or bad, usually follow the pattern of their pastor. Wherever his spiritual level is, they will never rise above that. I know you hear that a lot, but I believe that.

Dr. Allen: There is a trickle-down effect.

Dr. Gaines: Exactly, and I think that one of the temptations that pastors face as much as anything is just the busyness and the constant pressure to develop sermons, deliver sermons, lead staff, visit staff, visit sick people, lead the church, all of these things. And if you are not careful, you can get so wrapped up in the daily routine of ministry and think that it is really okay because, “I do not have to pray as much, I am doing the work of the Lord.” I am just telling you, Jesus’ example shows us that you cannot just do the work of the Lord. You have to be with the Lord.

Jesus, interestingly, when he chose his 12 disciples in Mark’s Gospel, it says, “He chose 12 that they might be with him and then that he might send them out to preach and to cast out demons.” I believe that is biblical because when I believe the first deacons came about—in Acts 6—the apostles said, “We will devote ourselves,” not to the ministering of the Word and prayer, but the order was, “prayer and the ministry of the Word.” “We will devote ourselves to prayer.” That whole phrase is in Acts 1:14. They were devoting themselves to prayer prior to the day of Pentecost.

By the way, the church was birthed in a prayer meeting, not in a preaching meeting. It was in a 10-day prayer meeting. I do not think it is wrong to say that they prayed for the vast majority of that time. Then Peter preached an hour or two hours—I do not know what he preached—but they prayed for 10 days, he preached for an hour and 3,000 got saved. You know what I am about to say. You have heard it so many times. We pray for an hour, and we preach for 10 days and we wonder why we do not have the same results. We reverse it. I think the church needs to get back with communing with God and then go out and do the ministry.

Dr. Allen: That is so good. Speaking of the church, when we think of Bellevue Baptist Church—you have been stewarding that church for nine years roughly, since the Lord called you there. When you look at the history of that church with R. G. Lee, Adrian Rogers, it is known as a church with a pulpit. You have certainly continued on that legacy—not just to flatter you—but you have. You are known as a pulpiteer as well. You also hear this parallel love and passion with prayer. I am curious as you look at a church, with a pulpit historically and presently and this prayer ministry that is built and thriving there, how have those things been integrated together? Let me just press pause on the question and explain myself further. In most churches, it is an either/or thing. A pastor is committed to preaching, enthused about preaching, and a church falls into that, they take a lot of sermon notes and become a preaching point. Then you have the churches that are more committed to prayer and that tends to be a dominating thing. But what I see and hear, and what folks that know Bellevue appreciate, is these two aspects of the ministry complementing one another so well. Tell us the feel of that and the shape of that on the ground.

Dr. Gaines: I cannot really speak for the pastors before Dr. Rogers. I did not know them. I heard Dr. Lee preach one time. I never heard Ramsey Pollard preach. They were great men, and I am sure they were great men of prayer. But I will tell you, Adrian Rogers was a man of God who walked with God and had a great devotional life. He prayed, and I think that he was very intense in wedding the two. He really had a strong devotional life. He loved, loved, loved the Lord. He is one of the sweetest people I have ever met in my life. He is one of the most Christ-like people I have ever met in my life. Adrian Rogers was one of these guys that was one-in-a-million. He was unusual. He was so kind, sweet, loving, and smart. He walked with the Lord, and he had that golden voice, yet he was very humble.

As far as me, I love to preach, but I just know that unless I pray the price—that’s what I call it—I am not just trying to log hours with the Lord to talk about it. I just know that when I not only prepare a sermon, but prepare the preacher by spending time with the Lord, as the Bible says about the early apostles, the Sanhedrin looked at them, and they recognized that they had been with Jesus. I do not think it is wrong to look at that text and say, “Not only are they acting like them, but these guys have been with him.” We need to be people who have been with Jesus. I am not talking about anything like becoming a cloistered monk. I am not talking about priorities.

I’ll tell you another thing that I have done recently. I have gotten off of Facebook and Twitter. Social media was just consuming a lot of my time and it is amazing how much more time I have had to do the things I really need to do. If I do not do anything else, I need to talk with the Lord every day and praise him, worship him, and listen to him.

When is the last time you heard anybody talk about meditating on something they were reading? I know you probably do it, but pastors are not doing it. Pastors are known as busy people, and I love pastors. I have been one 30 years this year in Southern Baptist churches. I believe with all my heart that busyness is one of the most dangerous things that can kill your walk with the Lord. It can kill your marriage, and it can kill your walk with the Lord. Not that you lose your salvation, but you lose the joy as David says in Psalm 51, of his salvation that he gave you.

I believe that prayer has to be a priority. I will go out on a limb. The litmus test, in my opinion, of your Christianity, is not how many books you have read—I am all for reading; I read all the time—but I read the Bible a lot too and spend a lot of time with the Lord in prayer. I am telling you, the power is in prayer, and there is a direct correlation of power and prayer. I heard an African-American preacher say this when I was young. He said, “Little prayer, little power; some prayer, some power; lots of prayer, lots of power.” I can just tell you, in my own personal journey, that is the way it has been.

Dr. Allen: That is so very helpful. I think about my journey as you have referenced yours. When my wife and I were first entering ministry, praying through ministry, and seeking to establish ourselves in Christ in ministry, we were running the race of ministry with a few other young men. We entered ministry together and it is interesting to look back more than 15 years later. None of them scandalously flamed out. As a matter of fact, most of the people that I know who are not in ministry now, did not leave with their secretary or commit something that really scandalized the name of Christ. They just withered away. Ministry became to them not what it once was because their walk with Christ was not what it once was. Their love for the gospel diminished; their love for ministry diminished; their sense of call to ministry withered. It just dried up. When you begin to trace those things back, so very often they go back to a devotional life that went stale—a lack of prayer, a lack of Bible intake and meditation. They wake up one day and do not recognize the man they are in comparison to the man they once were.

My passion as a seminary president—I cannot ultimately program people’s hearts—is to build a culture, influence, and expectation here that we would graduate students—men and women—who are people that at the very end of the day love Christ and they exhibit that. They would be men and women of the Word, men and women of prayer, men and women of the gospel, all as a pattern of life in ministry. Thank you so much for the conversation. You have been so very helpful, Dr. Gaines.

Dr. Gaines: Jesus’ disciples only said to him, teach us one thing, “Lord, teach us to pray.” They did not say teach us to preach, teach us to build great churches or whatever. They said, “Teach us to pray.” What is interesting is that they had just seen him praying, and it comes in Luke 11:1. Do you know what the last few verses of Luke 10 are? It is when Martha and Mary were at their home. Martha was banging the kitchen pans out there and working for Jesus, and Mary was sitting at his feet and listening to his Word. He said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things. Only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the right thing.” Then, right after he prays, the next verse is Luke 11:1—“Teach us to pray.” And he gives the Lord’s Prayer there as well. I think it is a priority. May we all make it our priority.

Dr. Allen: Amen. Thank you, brother, for sharing that with us.

Dr. Gaines: Thank you.


*Recorded 28 January 2014 in the Spurgeon Room

topicsSpurgeon Room Conversations

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