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Praying: Men Who Struggle: John Yates

with John Yates | December 7, 2023
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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.

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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.

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Praying: Men Who Struggle: John Yates

With John Yates
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December 07, 2023
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David: Hey there! David Robbins here, President of FamilyLife®. Have you ever noticed that some of your favorite memories as a married couple are when you struggle together? Maybe it was in the early years, or maybe in the empty nest, or maybe it’s in the phase Meg and I are in, right in the thick of teenagers and all the challenges that come, and it seems like there’s hardly any time to process it.

You, likely, have endured some really tough times. Meg and I agree that some of our best times have occurred when we are sitting in the middle of a crucible, when the flames are rising, and the heat is turning up, and we just wanted to get out. Yet, oddly enough, God shapes us in those moments and [they] are the memories we cherish the most. Here’s the thing: in those tough days, God was faithful, and we love Him for it! And make no mistake: He is faithful to you, even when the heat feels unbearable.

You know, for countless people around the world, FamilyLife Today has become a trusted ally in their effort to establish a God-fearing home. I pray and hope that is your home included. As we approach the end of another year together, I am asking you to empower us to continue with boldness in the new year, reaching and engaging more homes with the timeless truth of God’s Word for marriages and families.

You’ve heard us talking about the exiting matching challenge. Now is the time to leverage your year-end gift. This incredible matching challenge means that your donation, no matter the size, will be automatically doubled! And every gift counts. And here’s the best part: God will use your gift to speak into the life of someone who is simmering in the crucible right now, and they want to crawl out. Together, let’s help families rise up with redemption stories to tell. Thanks for responding today at FamilyLifeToday.com.

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: 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.

 

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com.

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!

Dave: I can remember, when they were little boys, praying for their wife, whom [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.”

Ann: Yes.

Dave: So, now, it’s for our grandkids.

Ann: And I think, too, as people talk to us, 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, 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, but 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 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, and 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: 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.

John: Yes.

Dave: You were there a few years, right? [Laughter]

John: I was there 40 years.

Dave: Forty years.

John: They were exciting years; great [years]. And it was great to step aside now, following some new pathways.

Dave: You’ve got nothing going on in your life now, right? 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.

Ann: Yes.

John: We had five children; they got married. They turned out to be pretty fertile, because we’ve got 21 grandchildren now. [Laughter]

One of the great things is just being able to spend a little more time with them, being able to spend time with some of the young pastors that we’ve discipled over the years, and having more time to pray. Honestly, I don’t just say that because we’re talking about it, but life has slowed down just enough to give me a little more time to devote more time to prayer.

Dave: Talk about men and prayer. I mean, often, when you think about prayer, you think, “Women pray; men don’t seem to pray.”

John: Yes.

Dave: 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, 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—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 be friends with 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. I’ve never known a man who had a significant walk with God, or [who] 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 three or four men like this, and I thought, “I want to be like them.”

Ann: Tell us about them.

John: When we were young marrieds, we lived in Pittsburgh and had one of these big old Pittsburgh houses. Right across the street from us was a couple who were in their 70s. 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 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.

Dave: Yes.

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.

Dave: Right.

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 and 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 are 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.

Ann: Yes.

John: 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 got 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; 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. “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: It’s the last thing you feel like doing.

Ann: Yes!

 

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, 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.” And “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 to 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.”

John: Yes.

Ann: 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 are 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.”

John: Yes, sure.

Dave: 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 believe 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 about how God had answered prayers for your children, when I pull out one of these old prayer notebooks, and I begin to look at things—

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, right?

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; a close friend of John Wesley and George Whitfield, and 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.

Shelby: I love that he shared the little prayer notebook from when his kids were little. That just makes me so happy, to see how God’s faithfulness lasts from generation to generation. The proof was right there in that prayer journal. It is so cool to hear stories like that.

I’m Shelby Abbott. You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with John Yates on FamilyLife Today. John has written a book called How a Man Prays for His Family. This book is more than a placebo to make you feel better about your prayer life. John is going to show you, through his words, some tools to develop a powerful, consistent prayer life. You can pick up a copy of John’s book, How a Man Prays for His Family. Just head over to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on “Today’s Resources.”

You know, every now and then, Dave and Ann get these unexpected run-ins with real people on the street. Ann’s going to share one of those stories right now.

Ann: Last week, I talked to this beautiful 35-year-old mom, with two little kids, married. She came up to me, crying, and she said, “I just have to thank you for FamilyLife Today. I listen to it every single day, and I feel like I can’t get through a day without it. And you’ve brought me life and hope.”

Dave: You’re getting teary, talking about her.

Ann: Because it means so much. [Emotion in voice] We’re behind the microphones; but to hear how we are meeting the needs of people, that gets me excited.

Dave: Yes, and we get emotional because we’ve been there.

Ann: Yes!

Dave: I mean, you’ve got little kids running around the house.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: You’re exhausted; you’re screaming back and forth with your husband. I mean, the stress is on young families; we know.

Ann: And maybe you are at a point where you’re shaking your head, thinking, “I remember those days.” And now, you are in a different phase, and you have margin, and you can take a breath. Wouldn’t it be a great Christmas present to give back to this ministry that’s giving life to these young families?

Dave: Yes, we want to encourage you and invite you, “Join us! Become a partner; a financial partner.” I know you pray for us, but we get to speak life and practical help every single day into families like that. Your gift will make this possible. You can literally change a family’s life by making a gift today. Here’s the good news: [as] we’re moving toward year-end, your gift is doubled. Think of that.

Ann: That’s amazing.

Dave: That is amazing, because there are people who say, “We want this so badly, we will match any gift given.” You can be a partner with us today. You can change somebody’s life.

Ann: I’m just going to say, “We need you. We need you to impact families with us.”

Shelby: Yes! So, you can go online right now to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on the “Donate Now” button at the top of the page; or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. Again, that number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” If you want to, you can feel free to drop us something in the mail if you’d like to. We love hearing from you all that way. Our address is FamilyLife,

100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, FL 32832.

Now, it takes a lot of intentionality and discipline, but becoming aware of your family’s needs can help you be intentional about praying for them. John Yates is going to be back tomorrow with Dave and Ann Wilson to talk about just that. We hope you’ll join us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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