Praying: Men Who Struggle
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Many men struggle with praying. John Yates discusses why men struggle, steps to help, and how it can affect their whole lives.
Praying: Men Who Struggle
David: This is David Robbins, president at FamilyLife®. As we plan and bring to you FamilyLife Today every weekday, we love imagining who is listening—whether that’s someone, tired, driving home from work; someone at home, with a kid hanging onto their leg; whether that’s someone, who’s feeling really isolated and really needing hope—we love bringing the timeless truths of God’s Word to the practical every day needs you have in your home. Check out one listener who shared her story.
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Ann: So we’ve shared here before, Dave, that you developed this great habit, years ago, that’s still a part of your life. You take every single Friday, for the last 35 years, and you fast and pray for our family. Talk about that a little bit: like how did that become your passion?
Dave: I actually heard it on a radio broadcast when I was/right before we were going to have our first son, CJ, who’s 35. This man was talking about a day of fasting and praying for his family. I thought, “I’m going to do that.” I actually thought I’d do it for a few years; and now, 35 years later, there hasn’t been a week that—I don’t think I’ve ever missed a week—sometimes, it’s not Friday. Usually it’s Friday; but sometimes, maybe, a different day. It’s just: “Don’t eat; and all day long, every time there’s a hunger pang, I’m praying.”
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
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Dave: I can remember, when they were little boys, praying for their wife, who [we] didn’t know yet, and praying that she would be a woman of God and making decisions about her life. Anyway, all I know is that—when I married all three sons, as their father, and as their pastor in our chapel—looking at that bride on her wedding day, knowing that I’ve been praying for her, was a tender moment, just like: “Look at what God has done.”
Dave: So now, it’s for our grandkids.
Ann: And I think, too, as people talk to us—and they’ll say, “Oh, it’s so cool what God has done,”—and we know that we’ve made so many mistakes; we know that we have failed miserably, but we also know that there is power in prayer.
Dave: Yes; and it’s fun today, because we have a friend in the studio with us. John Yates, welcome to FamilyLife Today. We’re really glad that you are here.
John: It’s great to be with you, Dave and Ann. It’s been too long; thanks for letting me be with you.
Ann: It has been too long.
Dave: John, you’ve spent a large part of your life helping men, especially,—and I know women as well—but helping men embrace and understand this discipline of prayer; right?
John: Yes, that’s right.
Dave: I don’t know how many years ago you wrote a book called How a Man Prays for His Family. You probably know; how many years ago was it?
John: It was a few years ago. [Laughter] But you know I, over the years, I wanted to be with men. I’m a pastor—I’ve just retired; I’ve been a pastor for 50 years—but I wanted to be with men. It was great to be with the women and the children—every Sunday, I’d be preaching away—and I’d think, “I have so much I’d like to say if it was just men here, but I’ve just got to be careful.”
So finally, some men—we were talking one day—and they said, “Why don’t some of us men just get together, and let’s talk about life and faith.” So that started something that went on for many years. One year, they said, “Teach us about prayer.” So for the whole year—I just reviewed, thought, tried to think through why prayer was so important in my life—and shared it with the men. That’s how this book came into being—that’s the basis of it—teaching those men that year.
Dave: So of course, many people know this—and some don’t—that you were the pastor of Falls Church Anglican in—
John: —Falls Church, Virginia.
Ann: And you founded this church.
Dave: You have a couple of grandkids; how many?
John: Yes, we’ve got a bunch of grandkids. I married a wonderful woman 52 years ago—
Ann: —Susan Yates. I bet a lot of our listeners—
John: —Susan Yates. She’s written a lot of books that a lot of women have read. We had five children; they got married. They turned out to be pretty fertile, because we’ve got 21 grandchildren now. [Laughter]
Dave: Talk about men and prayer. I mean, often, when you think about prayer, you think: “Women pray; men don’t seem to pray”; is that true?
John: Pretty much. I think, in a lot of cases, it just seems that women have a more highly-attuned spiritual nature than men; or men, somehow, turn it off when they’re young.
But over the years, I’ve found many men want to grow close to God/they want to know how to communicate with God, but they have a lot of mistaken ideas about what a prayer life is about. They don’t realize that prayer is just keeping company with God; it’s walking along with Him and turning to Him, throughout the day, and trying to listen to Him. It’s learning how to have a relationship with Him that is normal, and natural, and honest.
Many men think that/well, they wonder: “Is prayer real?” “How do I know that God is listening to me?” It’s a little difficult, because prayer is not the most objective thing in the world. Prayer is pretty subjective, and you never really know exactly what’s happening when you’re praying. But you know, whether you’re a man or a woman, if you can just get honest with God, and share with Him what’s on your heart, and try to be real with Him, then He’s real with you.
Ann: John, there’s such a depth to you; because it’s apparent that you’ve been spending time with God. So when we’re with you—and even for our listeners, I wish they could pull up; and that’s what they’re basically doing today—is they’re pulling up beside us, and we’re going to review this book that you wrote, years ago, but now you’re passionate about. Why now? Why has this reignited your heart?
I was laughing about what you said about why you brought it back out.
John: Oh, yes. [Laughter] I was telling Ann, before we started, that Susan came to me, not too long ago, and she said, “You need to do a re-edition of your book on prayer.” I said, “Why? [Laughter] There’s lots of good books out there on prayer.” She said, “But yours is really good.” I told Ann I pulled it off the shelf—the old one—and I read it, and thought, “Well, it is pretty good. Maybe we should do this! [Laughter] It’s better than I remembered!” [Laughter]
But I’m glad Susan and I have been able to just be friends to you all. You all, we have, in turn, always looked up to you. It’s really helpful—isn’t it?—if you have a couple of folks along the way, who are older/who are a little bit further along in life. I think that’s one reason why I have, for so long, wanted to pray/wanted to be a man of prayer; because I had some models when I was younger.
You know, Dave, I’ve never known a man, who had a significant walk with God or was living a significant life of service to God, who wasn’t a man of prayer. When I was a young man in my 20s, I met 3 or 4 men like this; and I thought “I want to be like them.”
Ann: Tell us about them.
John: When we were young, married, lived in Pittsburgh—and had one of these big old Pittsburgh houses—right across the street from us was a couple, who they were in their 70s; and they had been missionaries in Africa for years. They had retired; they came out of retirement and came to Pittsburgh to be with a bunch of us. They started a new seminary for our little Anglican movement.
As I would look out the window, early in the morning, across the way at Alf and Marjorie’s house, there was a little room up in the top of the house that was Alf’s study. Every morning, when I got up and went back to my little study on the back corner of our house, the light was always on in Alf’s room. It might be dark outside, but the light was always on. I knew what he was doing; that old man was on his knees, praying. I knew that because I used to meet with him every Friday afternoon. We’d have a cup of tea and cookies, sitting in the garden; and he told me stories about how God had answered prayers—40 years in Africa—one story after another, after another, after another. I thought, “I just want to be like you.” [Laughter]
Dave: Well, are you that man now? I mean, as you think about—we respect you and Susan—one of the things I respect, obviously, is you are finishing well. I mean, I’ve seen so many of my colleagues—and I know you have as well—that started well, maybe even ran well in the middle, but not so well at the end. You’re finishing—you’re not done—but you’re/we’re both sort of on the last quarter.
John: It was a sobering thought, a year or so ago, when I was thinking about my mentor Alf. I thought “Gee, now I’m older than he was then.” [Laughter] That really shook me up.
John: I don’t think anybody can guarantee that he’s going to finish well. You just don’t know what’s going to happen.
John: But you pray that you will; and you try to maintain relationships with friends, who will tell you if they think you’re veering off.
One of the things we did, as we were getting ready to retire, was we asked five or six other couples, who are all in their 60s/70s, if they’d like to begin meeting together: “How can we encourage each other to stay effective in our lives for God as long as we live?” We call it the Oaks Group, because we want to be oaks of righteousness: you know?
Ann: —like the trees.
John: Anyway, I don’t know how I’m doing to tell you the truth; but I’m very grateful for this time in life: when I am able to be with grandchildren more, able to be with our daughter churches more, able to be with family, and able to study, able to pray more.
Ann: I think every woman, listening, is hoping and wishing that their husband will listen to this. Because I think, as women, we long for our husbands to be passionate about this area; but there’s barriers. What do you feel like the barriers are for men?
John: I think men are/they don’t often feel equipped. When a man opens his mouth to pray aloud, he’s stepping into a vulnerable place. He’s afraid he’s going to be judged or he’s going to say something stupid. He doesn’t mind talking about sports; [Laughter] but if he has to say something about God—or to pray, God forbid—that’s a really risky thing. You know, the only people they hear pray are the pastors on Sunday, and the pastors pray these long great prayers that they’ve written out in advance: “I can’t do that.”
I think, mainly: they just don’t feel capable; maybe they don’t feel worthy; maybe they feel like, “Who am I to try to lead my family in prayer?” They don’t quite realize how much the wife—she doesn’t care if he stumbles; she doesn’t care if he doesn’t really know what he’s doing—all she wants is to hear him say: “You know, honey, life’s kind of challenging these days, and raising this family is not all that easy. I’m realizing more and more that we need God’s help. I don’t know—we haven’t done this much—but I’m thinking maybe we should pray together, as a couple, sometimes. It couldn’t hurt; could it? But I don’t quite know how to do it.”
Ann: Yes, yes.
John: I don’t know a woman in the world, who would say, “Oh, that’s a bad idea.” [Laughter]
Ann: I have to tell you that, in our book, we talk about that too. In Vertical Marriage, we talk about: “This could be one of the greatest gifts that you give your wife but [also] to your marriage and your family.”
I get this text from this friend; she said, “My husband said to me, ‘Let’s pray together.’” She said, “We got on our knees,” and she said, “I couldn’t stop crying.” She said, “It was just simple. We just—it was a few sentences—but it was the most intimate act that we could have had together of this praying together.” She said, “It filled me up for a year.” My husband was like, ‘Why are you crying?’” She said, “Because this has meant so much to me. I feel so connected and bonded to you and to God with us doing that together.”
But I think you’re right; Dave, have you felt that?
Dave: I was just going to ask—you’re the only woman in the room—[Laughter]—“What is it a wife feels? Why is it so intimate to a woman?”
Ann: I think going together before the Father—I think, spiritually, we can feel alone or isolated from one another—and when we join our hearts, spiritually together, it’s a mysterious thing that we’re doing and a vulnerability that connects our souls together. I mean, like physical intimacy connects our bodies together; but spiritual intimacy, through prayer, connects our soul. It’s one of the most beautiful but vulnerable things. As a woman, it makes me feel like I’m not in it alone; like you’re my partner. We’re battling together for our children, for our family, for the world, for the church.
John: It’s a unifier; isn’t it?
Ann: Yes! That’s what it is.
John: Every time/every time you and Dave pray together—every time—it’s like it adds another little layer of bonding between the two of you. This probably was your experience, too—somebody told us, before we were married—“You should pray together every night with each other.” On our honeymoon, before we went to bed for the first time, we got down on our knees and prayed.
Ann: We did too.
John: And Susan said the next day/she said “You know, I really liked that. I think we should do that every night.” Boy, you talk about something [Laughter] that forces you to stay together. If you promise God you’re going to pray together with your wife every night before you go to bed—there’s some nights when that’s the last thing in the world you want to do/—
Ann: Isn’t it hard?
John: —the last thing you feel like doing—
John: —but it requires that you come back together, and you understand each other as best you can, and you reaffirm your love for one another and your love for God.
But there’ve been many nights when we—you know you talk, and you still don’t have things really worked out/you’re still upset with each other—but if you can then just say, “Well, we’re still upset, but we need to go to sleep; so let’s pray.” “You know, Lord, You know what’s going on here. You know what a mess we are. You know that we need Your help. We’re sorry, Lord. We ask Your help, and guide us through this time.”
Ann: I think, if we could see the spiritual dimension, I imagine the enemy Satan is trembling when we’re praying together; because there’s so much power in that. I think it’s easy to just stay divided in the midst of our conflict and not come together; I feel like the enemy could think, “I’m winning.”
There’s something powerful, but I want to get back to some of those barriers.
Dave: I’ve had this thought—Ann and I’ve talked about this—as a man, and I’m sure women have this same thought—there’s times when I’m like, “Okay, does prayer really do anything? Because here I am, talking to God, and there’s a billion people talking to God right now.” You go into the intellectual thing, like, “How does this work? Can He really be intimately involved in my life, here, in Orlando?” So that’s the kind of thing you go through. Talk about that; I know men struggle with that.
John: No kidding; exactly. I don’t know if women struggle with it or not, but I know we do; I have. I’ll tell you what I do when I start doubting like that and questioning: I just always think back to Jesus Christ and what I know to be true about Him. In the New Testament, we have what was written by the apostles; and they’re telling us what they believed to be true about Christ. They were with him; they had no reason to lie, and we know that what we have today is what they wrote.
I remember one, that He prayed almost incessantly; and secondly, He taught the men and women around him to pray. He talked about this over and over again; He said, “Men ought always to be praying.”
I think about that; and then I think back, over the years, to when I’ve seen prayers answered. You know, if you just pray general “Lord bless the world,” kind of prayers, you’re not going to really see God answer prayers; but if you learn to pray specifically, God may not always say, “Yes”; but many times, He does. I think back to those times—the unexpected or unusual ways in which we have seen God work in answer to prayer—you know, because you’ve read the book, that I’ve often written down specific things that I’ve prayed for.
As you were talking about your son’s wedding, thinking abut how God had answered prayers for your children—when I pull out one of these old prayer notebooks, and I begin to look at—
Ann: Oh, John’s pulling out his notebook; it has pictures in it. Are these prayer requests and prayers to God?
John: This is a little prayer notebook that I kept like in the mid-‘80s, I think. It’s full of photos, and it’s full of things I’ve prayed. I was looking at it a little earlier, at some of the things that I was praying for my children, back when they were in elementary school or high school. When you realize how faithful God has been, over the years, then it encourages you to keep believing.
John: But Dave, I don’t know if that little element of doubt ever goes away. There was a pastor in England, who lived in the 1700s, named William Grimshaw. He was an amazing man, close friend of John Wesley, George Whitfield. He had wonderful impact up in the Yorkshire Hills. He said, every once in a while, Mr. Doubt would walk into the room. He would have to rebuke Mr. Doubt and run him out of the room or else he couldn’t pray. And it still happens, I think.
Bob: I love hearing John Yates’ candor/his transparency; and yet, his heart to want to be a man who prays effectively for his marriage and for his family. I think it’s easy for us to push prayer aside and to be busy with other things. When we do, we neglect what’s often the most important thing we could be doing as we go before the throne of grace and ask the God of the universe to bless us, to bless our family, to care for specific needs. God has given us this gracious invitation to come before Him; and it’s something we need to do regularly. As men/as leaders of our household, this is a part of our assignment.
And the good news is John helps us with this. He coaches, us as someone who has made this a practice and a discipline in his own life; he’s written a book called How a Man Prays for His Family. It’s a book we have available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can request your copy when you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number.
Again, John Yates’ book is called How a Man Prays for His Family. This is a great book, by the way, for guys to go through with other guys in a small group setting. This book will really help you with that. Order online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, here in the last week of 2021, I know many of us are thinking this is one of those years that: “I’m ready to move on from”; right?—hoping for a new year to be a brighter new year/a fresh new year for us, personally, and for us as a culture. Here, at FamilyLife, we are hoping this last week of the year is marked by generosity. We’re asking FamilyLife Today listeners to be as generous as you can possibly be so that, by the end of this week, we can take full advantage of a $2.3 million matching gift that has been made available to us. Whatever amount you give is going to be matched, dollar for dollar, up to that total of $2.3 million.
We’ve received gifts, all month, toward that matching-gift fund. We’ve made progress toward that goal; we still have a way to go. This week is going to be critical; so that’s why we’re asking you, today, to go online or to call and make as generous a donation as you can possibly make. Help us move forward into 2022, ready to tackle the challenges that are in front of us as a ministry.
And when you donate, we’re going to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a copy of Dane Ortlund’s devotional from the book of Psalms. It’s called In the Lord I Take Refuge, and it’s our thank-you gift to you when you make a yearend donation. Again, donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. Please pray for us that listeners will be generous, here in the last week of the year; and that we’re able to take full advantage of the matching-gift opportunity.
And I hope you can join us, again, tomorrow when Dave and Ann Wilson will continue the conversation with John Yates about men praying for their family. They’ll talk about why prayer is so vital—so important for us, as men—why God has given us this assignment. I hope you can tune in for that tomorrow.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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