What I Learned at the Desiring God Pastor’s Conference

Elizabeth and I attended the Desiring God Pastor’s Conference in Minneapolis, MN, this past week, and it was a convicting, encouraging and faith-strengthening time. The main speakers were Joel Beeke, Francis Chan, Paul Miller, Jerry Rankin, and John Piper. We learned so much over the three days, but several things stick out. I apologize for the stream of consciousness below…

I assume way too much as a pastor – I have failed to ask people the probing questions, to dig deep into their hearts. I don’t challenge sin and prayerlessness and complacency and apathy and coldness of heart and lack of Bible reading/memorizing/meditating/study as I should. Are you reading your Bibles? Are you praying? How is your relationship with the Lord? Do you set times to meet with God? Do you commune/fellowship with the Lord? Are you memorizing Scripture? Are you sharing the gospel with the lost? I have to ask myself these questions first, and it was convicting to see the answers this past week. Joel Beeke spoke of prayerless praying – praying that is just words, no heart, no sincerity, no intensity or desire for God. I loved how John Piper put it – asking these questions isn’t legalism, it’s desperation – for there is no other way to make it through life or ministry than in communion with God. He noted so helpfully that it’s only when we make time for disciplined prayer and study that we will be able to pray continually through the day, that our hearts will be tuned to the Lord. We must lay up a store of grace and God’s word for the day; we must give our eye the habit of looking upward all the day.

One speaker said, “To pray is to repent.” How true – to call out to God for grace and mercy to make me a man of prayer; to cry out from the heart that I am a prayerless pray-er, to ask forgiveness, to thank Him for the cross, to seek the Spirit’s power for prayer. Paul Miller put it beautifully – “Helplessness is the secret to prayer.” I really appreciated the way He applied the gospel of free grace to prayer. We believe that we don’t have to clean ourselves up to come to Jesus for salvation; then why do we believe that we do have to clean ourselves up to come to Him in prayer – we have to get rid of our distractions, our lack of concentration, etc. No! Come as we are to our heavenly Father – come with our weary and heavy laden hearts and minds, come with our distractions and our lack of concentration and our scattered thoughts, come as you are, and pour out your heart to Him. We bring nothing to God in prayer, we come with all our weakness. Come to ask – the temptation of Presbyterians is to have not because we ask not. It’s functional deism, said Miller; we must put it to death and ask boldly.

How has John Piper learned to pray? From great examples, great books on prayer, and great desperation for the people he loves.

Piper spoke on M’Cheyne – if you don’t know anything about him, go listen to his talk. All the talks are here.

Joel Beeke spoke on family worship, and if it’s something you’re not doing, or feel like you’re not doing it as profitably as you could be doing it, I strongly encourage you to go listen to his talk. He has some great practical helps, as well as Biblical and theological foundations. I was most convicted by the fact that I have not been praying with Elizabeth as I ought, just she and I.

Do we look for answers to our prayers? My favorite verse in this regard is Psalm 5:3, “In the morning, O LORD, You will hear my voice; in the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch.” Do I pray with an eye to God answering my prayers? Do I have faith that He can answer my prayers, that He wants to answer my prayers? Do I take seriously all the passages that speak of unanswered prayer as a spiritual problem within me (James 1:3ff.; I Peter 3:7; James 4:1ff.; etc.)?

Francis Chan was much better in person than in print, if any of you have ever read Crazy Love. He is the one who challenged me not to assume anything as a pastor; he forced me to ask the question of Psalm 27:4 – what is the one thing upon which I rely, which I seek? Is God my stronghold, or do I put my trust in other strongholds? Am I desiring Desiring God, or desiring Piper, or desiring God?

What about you – are you praying? are you dependent? are you helpless? are you desperate? are you walking with God in Christ by the Spirit, loving and being loved? I pray and hope that my preaching, my prayer life, my pastoring, my relationship with my family, my vision for the lost, for God’s kingdom, for what growth looks like, will have changed. I was convicted by the passion, the hunger for God, by the desire for God in Christ and godliness the speakers, and others I met at the conference, had. I want to know God better and better every day, I want to pursue Him, to experience His love being better than life itself. I want my kids to desire God more than they desire stuff. I want to spur my people on to love and good deeds. I don’t want to lose my first love. I don’t want to have a name that I am alive but really be dead. I don’t want to be lukewarm. I want to take up my cross and follow Him, I want to delight in Him above all things, I want to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death. May He make it so.

SDG,
Ezra

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jon Richards on February 6, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    great stuff. i went to a Piper conf several yrs ago up his minn. ‘igloo’. go to hear J.I.Packer, Mark Dever, etc.
    and thanks for link for conf, will have to listen to a couple.
    Jon, down in non-minn. duluth

    Reply

  2. Posted by Katy Brink on February 7, 2011 at 11:35 am

    So glad y’all were able to go!!

    Reply

  3. Posted by Elizabeth Sanford Smith on February 9, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Thank you SO much for sharing all of this! I was so excited you got to go, and I can’t wait to share this with Joey when he gets home. I hope y’all had a wonderful time!

    Reply

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