‘Pray like it matters,’ Gaines encourages Southwestern Seminary, Awakening attendees

Gaines Chapel

Encouraging the Southwestern Seminary community and attendees of the Awakening National Prayer Conference held on the Fort Worth campus to “pray like it matters,” Steve Gaines, senior pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tennessee, opened the first session of the April 18 conference during the seminary’s regularly scheduled chapel service.

The conference was held in partnership with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC).

Calling Gaines a “wonderful friend and ambassador of Southwestern,” President David S. Dockery welcomed the two-time Southwestern Seminary alumnus, as well as conference speakers and attendees, to the seminary’s campus.

Before preaching from Daniel 9:23, Gaines asked the gathering, which included conference participants and students, faculty, and staff, if they “believe God uses prayer.”

Citing passages from the Gospels and New Testament epistles, Gaines said, “When we pray, He tells us things.”

“There are things God does for praying people that He doesn’t do for people who don’t pray,” Gaines noted. He observed there are things God does whether or not people pray, including the rising of the sun and the shining of the moon, but added “there are things God will only do if we pray.”

Acknowledging that “nobody completely understands prayer,” Gaines referred to the Old Testament prophet Daniel who he explained lived in a “pagan culture” and prayed three times a day for over 60 years. Calculating that Daniel prayed over 65,000 times in his life, Gaines said, “I would imagine if you prayed 65,000 times in your life, that you would discern the will of God in order to hear the voice of God. … Because when you talk to God, God talks to you.”

Gaines explained before the focal text in Daniel 9:23, the prophet had been reading the words of the prophet Jeremiah and realized the captives were only going to be in captivity for 70 years, which was impending at the time. He said Daniel then took “the promise of God out of Jeremiah 25 and he starts praying the promise of God back to the God who gave the promise.”

After Daniel finished praying, Gaines said, Gabriel came to the prophet and spoke the words recorded in Daniel 9:23. Gaines observed three things from the text.

First, he said, believers should “pray like it matters” because “prayer can move the hand of God.” Gaines noted that Gabriel told Daniel that “the moment” he began praying a “command was given.”

“He prayed – one man prayed, and God gave a command,” Gaines observed. “The prayers of one man and helped move the hand of God.

Citing the role of prayer in the lives of the men and women in Scripture, including Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Hannah, Elijah, and Elisha, Gaines highlighted the work of God in each individual’s life and the lives of others when they prayed.

Gaines also highlighted the role of prayer in the life of Jesus as He prayed at His baptism, over the small lunch offered before the feeding of the 5,000, and before He raised Lazarus to life. Gaines also noted that the early church “was not birthed in a business meeting or in a convention” but rather “the church was birthed in a prayer meeting – in a 10-day, white-hot prayer meeting.”

“Nobody understands prayer, but we all understand that it makes a huge difference,” Gaines said. Referring to the words of James in the fifth chapter of his epistle and his admonition that “the effective prayer of one righteous man can accomplish much,” Gaines said, “You can’t manipulate God through prayer.” He noted he has known “godly people who have prayed fervently in faith and yet their prayers didn’t turn out the way they wanted them to.” He explained the result did not mean they did something wrong or that God was mad at the individual.

“But sometimes God says, ‘Yes,’ to what we ask,” Gaines said. “Sometimes He says, ‘No,’ and sometimes He says, ‘Wait.’ But I just want to get in on it, don’t you?”

“Prayer also reveals the will of God,” Gaines said of his second observation of the text.

“God talks to people when they pray,” he said, adding that when a person loves someone else, they will talk with them. “If you love the Lord Jesus, you’re going to talk to Him. You’re going to talk not just to Him, but you’re going to talk with Him – that means you’re going to listen to Him as well.”

Gaines encouraged the gathering to spend time in God’s Word and be silent before the Lord as they “let Him do the talking through the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit.”

“When Daniel spoke to God, God spoke to Daniel,” Gaines noted. Based on James 4:8, Gaines exhorted the assembly to “draw near” to God as He would then draw near to each. He asked, “Have you drawn near to God today?”

“God talks to people who pray and when you don’t pray, God is not going to talk to you as much as He does to people who do pray,” Gaines observed. Noting that Proverbs 3:32 says God is intimate with the upright – “people who are talking with the Lord,” he explained, adding “I want God to be intimate with me.”

Gaines’s third point that “prayer blesses the heart of the Lord,” is his “favorite part” of Daniel 9:23, he said. He encouraged believers to “lay down before the Lord and start talking with Him” based on Isaiah 26:3. Simultaneously, Gaines encouraged Christians to “not do all the talking” but rather “listen” and they would “bless the heart of God.”

Gaines observed that Gabriel revealed God’s plan to Daniel because the prophet was “very precious to God.”

“People who pray are precious – not just precious, but very precious, highly esteemed, desirable for God,” Gaines said, adding that Daniel “cried out to the Lord” because “he knew that a day without prayer is a wasted day.” He told the crowd that “a day without prayer is a wasted day” and encouraged them not to “waste any day.”

Gaines concluded his sermon on a personal note, describing the role of prayer in the life of his mother and the prayers of a woman whose name he does not know. He explained when his mother was 24 years old neither she nor his father were Christians. However, his mother was diagnosed with double breast cancer. Gaines said after his mother’s first mastectomy, which was performed by burning the tissues with chemicals, she was placed in a hospital room with another woman, “a little Baptist lady,” who had the same procedure. He said while his mother was sedated, the second woman placed Gaines’s mother’s head in her lap and prayed over her for 12 hours for “my mother to be healed.”

The next morning, Gaines said, when the medics returned to begin the second mastectomy “they couldn’t find the lump.” He said they did an X-ray and “it was all gone.” However, Gaines said his mother was still sedated and when she woke up, she realized the second mastectomy did not take place. When she inquired, the second lady told her, “God healed you.” Gaines said the second lady explained to his mother that she had prayed for God to heal her. The woman also led his mother to Christ, he said.

“It’s great to have good theological things in your mind,” Gaines concluded. “But do you know how to get a hold of God in prayer?”

Gaines is a two-time graduate of Southwestern Seminary, having earned a Master of Divinity in 1984 and a Doctor of Philosophy in 1991. He has pastored churches in Tennessee, Texas, and Alabama and has served as the senior pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tennessee, since 2005. He served as the president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 2016-2018 and president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference in 2005. In 2013, Gaines received the Southwestern Seminary Distinguished Alumni Award. Additionally, Gaines serves on the recently formed Southwestern Board of Reference.