Over the last few years, J.D. Greear felt God pressing upon his heart the importance of prayer and the unfortunate propensity of many Christians to treat it as an afterthought.
It was from this place that the pastor of Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, felt called to create a "roadmap" for his congregation to help put prayer in the "core" of their spiritual lives and restore it as a "central" component of the church.
"Prayer was at the center of Jesus' life and the ministry of the early Church," Greear, the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, told The Christian Post in an interview about his latest book, Just Ask: The Joy of Confident, Bold, Patient, Relentless, Shameless, Dependent, Grateful, Powerful, Expectant Prayer.
"When God raised up Paul and Barnabas in Acts, it wasn't in response to a missions conference or a sermon on mission work — it was because of a prayer meeting."
Greear said his new book, designed for Summit Church members, is a "collection of insights" that God taught him and Summit Church in the last five years that he felt would be "profitable to share with others."
"Jesus said His house was to be a house of prayer for all nations, not just a house of preaching, worship and discipleship. Prayer is to characterize the Church," he said. "Jesus saw it as central. Yet, we've reduced it to the peripheral. I just want to be able to help move the needle back toward prayer being central."
"I found that my congregation was looking for spiritual, theological and very practical tools, like a roadmap, to help them pray," the 48-year-old pastor added. "So, for the next chapter of the Summit Church, and for as long as I'm able to serve here, I want prayer to be not just something that we have tacked on, but something that is at the core."
The pastor said that in his experience, many people are hesitant to pray because they aren't convinced it actually works — or they struggle with theological questions surrounding God's sovereignty.
Though acknowledging there are some "mysteries" regarding God's sovereignty and how it plays out tangibly, Greear stressed that Scripture is clear that "God's activity in the world is directly and causally connected to our intercession."
"I eat, and therefore I stay alive. I pray, and things happen in the world that would not have happened if I didn't pray," he said.
For example, the father-of-four pointed to Exodus, where the Bible says God changed His mind about destroying the disobedient Israelites after Moses pleaded with Him.
"It's not like God learned something from Moses that made him re-evaluate what He was about to do," Greear explained.
"In fact, God is the one who put Moses into a position where Moses could make the argument. He was letting him see and feel certain things so that he could then pray back to God and say, 'God, do this.' God changed His mind, but He was also the One who put Moses in the position and gave Him the insight to say the things that supposedly changed His mind. He's sovereign over all of it."
But perhaps the more prominent reason people fail to pray, according to Greear, is that they don't know how. The pastor dedicates a large portion of the book to practical tools for praying well. For example, he encourages believers to pray using the guideline of the Lord's Prayer found in Matthew 6:9.
"Jesus gives us an outline to pray, and then we can riff off of it and personalize it," he said. "I think about the places where I'm wanting to worship God and say, 'Hallowed be your name.' I think about the places where I need daily bread provisions for whatever it is that I'm facing or where I need forgiveness."
He encouraged believers to rest, set aside consistent prayer times in the mornings, use prayer cards and avoid social media distractions.
"I have a real problem with my mind wandering, so I develop prayer cards and attach Scriptures to them," he explained.
More importantly, Greear advised coming to God with childlike faith, stressing that every time Jesus teaches on prayer in the New Testament, He's pushing readers toward the comfortability of a child with their father.
"We need to be like children who come into their father's presence without the slightest thought of him rejecting us or not hearing us," he described. "The dominant metaphor Jesus uses is: pray like children coming to a heavenly Father who not only cares about you but knows what you need before you ask it and is ready to supply."
Moving forward in unity
In June, Greear ended his tenure as president of the Southern Baptist Convention after a three-year stint.
Reflecting on his time as president during a particularly tumultuous time for the SBC, Greear said he was "blown away" by how much relative uniformity there was among what he called "rank-and-file Southern Baptists."
"They just love the Scripture. They love seeing people come to Jesus," he said. "I just found the majority of people ... know that there's a lot of past trauma and issues that we're going to have to engage in healing and humility with each other. I was blown away by how relatively unified they were."
But at the same time, Greear said he was disappointed by how "loud and vitriolic" dissenting voices were.
"I was surprised by that, even though they represented a really small group. Whether that was the media's fault or social media's fault, I'm sure we're all to blame a little bit," he said. "But I always felt like they didn't represent a big group. They represented a group that had gotten a microphone."
Greear said he's not trying to gloss over differences within the SBC or say they don't exist — but stressed that "what you find in the Church is that people aren't always sophisticated, but when they have the spirit of God and they've been taught by the scriptures, they're ready to go forward on things like racial reconciliation and reaching the next generation."
"So, let's not listen to social media," he said. "Let's pastor people and not treat them like demographic blocks," he said.
At a time when churches — and denominations — across the United States are being divided by racial justice, COVID-19 mandates and other political issues, Greear urged Christians to move forward in unity for the sake of the Gospel. He reminded believers of Jesus' instruction to "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation" (Mark 16:14).
"Our enemy works to lessen the urgency of the Gospel in two primary ways: one is we just forget that eternity is real, and every human being will spend eternity in Heaven or in Hell," he stated. "Every other social thing in the world pales in comparison to the urgency of that message."
"Paul the Apostle's burden was less on political fixes and more on preaching Christ, knowing that when Christ was embraced, that the political fixes would flow out naturally," he continued.
"We do need good politics. We need good education strategy. We need good economic empowerment programs. I think those are all fruits of the Gospel. But ultimately, we preach Christ as the One who is both the power for those things and the One who reconciles with the God and reconciles us to each other."