Prayer in America
Subject: Rick Warren
Interviewer: Alison Rostankowski
The segments included in this interview* excerpt were recorded in Fall 2006, as part of Prayer in America, a look at the history of civil liberties in America and the controversy surrounding the USA PATRIOT ACT. The documentary is a production of The Duncan Entertainment Group, Iowa Public Television is the presenter and flagship affiliate for the PBS system. Warren is the author of the best selling book, The Purpose Driven Life. He is the founder and minister of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest California and the leader of the Purpose Driven Network of Churches.
(* This transcript has been edited due to length.)
What is the role of prayer in your Purpose Driven philosophy?
You know, over 20 times in the New Testament, Jesus commands us to ask. He says, ask and it shall be given, seek and you'll, find, knock and the door will be open; he says, whatsoever you pray for, believe that you receive it and you'll receive it; he says, ask in my name. And over and over he tells us that God wants us to ask. Now, prayer is conversation with God, it doesn't have to be fancy language, it's simply talking to God in your heart. In fact, God likes it when we pray passionately. He wants to hear our emotions. And when you read the prayers of the Bible, particularly the Psalms, David, many times he's mad at God, he says, God, I don't like this. Life sucks, life stinks right now. And God can handle that. He made us emotional people because God has emotions. Many people don't realize that. And prayer is an emotional response to God. It can be thanksgiving, it can be, panic, it can be anger, it can be joy, every emotion known to man can be actually seen in prayer.
So, maybe you can establish before I get into some of your differences with him, just who was Walter Rauschenbusch and what was his philosophy about salvation, atonement, the kingdom of God, the role of the church in society?
Well from a historical perspective, at the turn of the 20th Century, Protestantism split into two wings. And I, to simplify it, one said, we're going to care about the body and the other said, we're going to care about the soul. Really, it was a little more complicated than that, but, a lot of the mainline denominations took what was called the social gospel that Walter Rauschenbusch started with, but many others also wrote about it too, and many of 'em even took it further than he did himself. In which they basically said, we don't need all this personal salvation, we don't need Jesus Christ on the cross and, dying for our sins in an atonement, what we need is to redeem the social structures of society.
And, really, in many ways, it was simply Marxism in Christian terms. Many people had been influenced by the socialist writings that had come out of the previous century and they were saying, we need to care about issues like justice, poverty, racism, and redeeming the social structures. And part of their vision was that if we could just make society better, then the world'll be okay.
Well, I really don't know many people who believe that anymore. There's actually a magazine that came out at the turn of the century called, The Christian Century, which is really pretty pompous, if you ask me to say, I don't know anybody who, looking back on the 20th Century, wants it to be called the Christians century with all the Holocaust and two world wars, and a lot of other genocides and things like that. So it, the whole idea that people were going to bring in the kingdom of God by human efforts has been pretty much discredited.
On the other hand, the reaction to that, were the fundamentalists and the evangelicals who said, well, we'll just pull away from that and we'll just focus on personal salvation and personal morality. And so they began to focus on issues like the sexuality, family, and things like that, and they split. Well, which was right. Well, the truth is I personally believe they were both right. I think that it is a combination message, that Jesus cared for both the body and the spirit, he cared about not just personal salvation, but he did care about injustice and inequalities in the world. And, one of my goals would be to help see those things reunite again in a more holistic approach to the gospel, more holistic approach that Jesus cared about it all.
How would you summarize the major similarities but also the big difference between what you're doing today with the church versus what Rauschenbusch and others were doing with the social gospel?
Well I think what some of the social gospel issues really did think that they could bring the kingdom in through political means. And I just don't have that much faith in politics. I think politics is really downstream from culture. That if you're really going to influence culture, you've gotta start further upstream. By the time you're making a law about something, I'm sorry, it's already in the water stream. And you, I've learned that you can't change people by a law. No law is gonna change a person's heart.
And so, this is why I believe that the salvation message is not just social salvation, it is personal salvation. That, until you have changed lives, you're never gonna have a changed society. If I didn't think that I'd be something else beside a Pastor, I'd be a politician. But I happen to believe that it is the changed lives that changes society.
Is this what you mean when you talk about the total gospel as opposed to the social gospel?
Yes. I wouldn't even use the phrase social gospel because it carries so much baggage today. What it tends to mean is big programs, often centralized, either by the church or the government, expecting other people. I happen to agree with many of the passions of liberals, even though I'm a conservative theologically, because I do care about the poor, I care about the marginalized, I care about the oppressed. I just happen to disagree with their answer. Their answer is often a program by the government for poverty, for disease, for illiteracy. And I honestly think that it's the role of the church.
I think that, at the local level, that pastor, that priest or for that matter, a rabbi, or imam, is gonna know more about their village than any government will ever know, because that local religious leader is marrying and burying, they're there in the stages of life, the seasons of life, they're there at the bedside. I've been in this valley, where I pastor here in Orange County, 26 years, I know far more about this community than any politician would, because I've listened to people for 26 years.
So, where does prayer fit into this? And we mentioned early Rauschenbusch published widely, his prayers around these issues. What role does prayer play in programs and the direction that you're heading?
I believe that without prayer, you really can't do anything. Jesus said, without me you can do nothing. To me, prayer in essence, is a declaration of dependence. It's saying, God, we're gonna do our best, but you're gonna have to take it the next step and make it happen. And that I find that when I pray, I find a greater sense of strength, a greater sense of power, a greater sense of intelligence; I find that I get ideas when I pray that I would have never thought up on my own. Prayer to me is a constant, as I said, a constant conversation with God.
I don't actually pray long, long prayers. What I do pray is constantly throughout the day. In an hour I might talk to God, oh, 20, 30 times, just about what's on my heart. What do you think about this. One of the questions I'm always asking God is, what's next. What's next, what do you want me to do. I do this as I'm doing my schedule, because I have a pretty packed schedule. And so I just want to be sensitive to interruptions, that maybe God has an interruption he wants to bring in that wasn't on my agenda. And prayer keeps me dependent, it keeps me, it's a spirit of humility that says, this is not about me, it's about you and your will.
So, while I believe prayer is asking, it is petition, it's also about what happens to me inside. Does prayer change things? Can prayer change circumstances? Can prayer change history? Absolutely. But, the number one thing it changes is me. It changes my attitude, it make me more sensitive to people's needs, it gives me all kinds of things that I would not have on my own, abilities.
You've identified in your work now, what you call five global giants. Can you briefly summarize what they are?
I went with my wife to South Africa a few years ago, and she was studying, churches, on how they were dealing with the HIV/AIDS problem, because the African churches know far more than we do. And so, while we were there, I did what I do, which is train leaders, we did a simulcast across the African Continent to 400 sites. And when it was through, we had trained about 80,000 leaders. And I thought, well this is what I came to Africa for. But, sometimes God's sneaky (Laughter), he has a way of getting you in the place he wants you to be to teach you what he wants you to learn, not what you thought you were going to do.
And, as we went out into a village, I said take me out, I want to see a typical church. And we went out into the village, way out in the middle of no where, and we came up on this church of 75 people in a tent. All they had was a tent, nothing else. It was 50 adults and 25 kids orphaned by AIDS. Here's a church caring for their own children, plus 25 orphans, and they're growing a garden and feeding the kids, they're using some school books to teach the children, and the children are actually sleeping in the tent at night. And I thought, you know, this church is doing more to help the poor than my megachurch, my big church in America. And something clicked in my heart and said, I will care about people like this.
And, the young African pastor came around the corner and he saw me, and, of course, I didn't know him and I didn't, he didn't know I was coming, and he said, I know who you are. Now I'm in the middle of nowhere. And I said, how do you know who I am? He said, you're Pastor Rick. I said, how do you know who I am. He said, I download your sermons every week. I said, wait a minute, you don't have water or electricity in this village, how in the world do you get my sermons every week. He said, well, they're putting the Internet in post office in South Africa, they're called PITS, Public Information Terminals. He said, once a week I walk an hour and a half to he nearest post office, I download your free sermon, and then I walk an hour and a half back and I teach it to my people. He said, you know, Pastor Rick, you're the only training I've ever had.
Well something caught in my heart that day and said, what else am I missing. And I went down and I sat down on the ground under the African sky that night, and I prayed. The whole PEACE Plan came as the result of a prayer. I said, God, I know that leadership training's been a big issue. I've been doing this for years, I've now trained over 400,000 pastors in a 163 countries, and I know AIDS is a big issue, which I didn't know, but I know it now. What else am I missing, what are the problems that are so big everyone has failed at them?
I call them the global giants, the global Goliaths. They're problems that effect billions of people, not millions of people, but billions. And as I thought of all the countries I had traveled in, I kept seeing the five problems over and over. Each of 'em effect billions. First is spiritual emptiness. People are looking for meaning and purpose in life. I think it's one of the reasons why Purpose Driven Life was the best selling book in the world for three years, and actually became the best selling hardback in American history. It's not because I'm a good writer, it just happens to be a theme that everybody's interested in. What on earth am I here for. And they're empty spiritually.
Second, is egocentric leadership, which is often corrupt leadership, but it's leadership that thinks, people serve me instead of me serving the people. It, instead of service, it's serve us. And that causes a lot of other problems; the third one is poverty, half the world lives on less than $2 a day, a billion people in the world live on less than a dollar a day. In Rwanda we're working in a country where the average income is .68 cents a day. They grow coffee but can't afford a cup of coffee; the fourth, major global Goliath is pandemic diseases. This year 500,000,000 people will get malaria. That's unconscionable. I mean we know the cure for malaria, we figured that out in the Teddy Roosevelt Administration. It's not rocket science, it's a bed net, it's a little quinine water, it's remove standing water, maybe spray a little DDT. And so it's not rocket science. And we know the cure for measles, mumps, malaria, yellow fever. The number one killer of children is diarrhea. That's just bad water. Thirty thousand children die everyday from preventable diseases. That means we have a tsunami in the world every eight days. And the world doesn't care about it; the fifth global Goliath is illiteracy. Half the world cannot read or write. And even if the world is flat and we have a globalized economy, if you can't read or write you're left out. Now these problems are so big, the United Nations has failed, the United States has failed, no one has been able to solve these issues.
I spoke at the Davos World Economic Forum this last year, and I kept hearing people talk about what they call public and private partnerships. And what they really meant was, we need government and business to work together to solve these major issues. And I said, well, you're right, but you're not completely right, you're missing the third leg of the stool. A two-legged stool will fall over, a one-legged stool will fall over, and the reason why we have still today, poverty, disease, illiteracy, trafficking of children, and all of these major issues, is because you haven't added the third leg of the stool. Government has a role, business and NGOs have a role, and local churches, congregations have a role. There's a faith component, there's a public component, and there's a private component; faith sector, private sector, and public sector. And, each of these have a role that the other cannot do. There are roles that the government has the churches can't do, and the businesses can't do; there are roles that businesses can do but government can't do and churches can't do.
But the church has three things that government will never have and business will never have: Number one, is we have universal distribution. I could take you to 10,000,000 villages around the world, but the only thing in it is a church. The church was global 200 years before people even started thinking of globalization. There are 2.3 billion people who claim to be followers of Christ. That's one out of every three people. That makes the church bigger than China. The church is bigger than India, it's bigger than China and India put together. And so nothing has the reach of the church. In fact, I could take you to thousands and millions of villages that don't have a business, don't have a clinic, don't have a school, don't have a post office, but they got a church
And so, if we're going to deliver resources, whether it's, if we had the cure for AIDS right now, or we had the medicines even to treat those with AIDS, we couldn't get them to the people because the network has been ignored. The second thing that church has, is it has the largest pool of volunteers. Hundreds of millions of people volunteer every week through local congregations. And if you take people of faith out of the world, you've taken out most of the world: 2.3 billion Christians, 1.3 billion Muslims, 800,000 Hindus, 600,000 Buddhists, if you, the actual number of secular people outside of Europe and Manhattan's quite small.
Well the social gospel is a reaction to a certain set of conditions historically. What's going on in the United States right now that your church is reacting to?
The Bible calls the church the body of Christ. And, in my opinion, for about the last 50 years at least, the, the legs and the arms, and the hands, and the feet of the body of Christ have been amputated, and all that's left was a big mouth. We're better known at, at speaking than doing. And usually we're known more for what we're against than what we're for.
I feel it's quite dangerous for Christianity or the church to be co-opted by any political movement, right or left. I think that we have to stand beyond that so that we can speak the truth to both sides, or all sides. And, historically, every time the church has gotten too political, or politics has gotten too churchy, you got a problem. So I personally believe in the separation of church and state, but that does not mean that Christians, or Jews, or Muslims are not at the table. I believe in the pluralistic society where everybody in a free market has a chance to share their ideas, and may the best idea win. I do not believe in coercion, I do believe in persuasion. And I believe that you have a right to try to persuade me of the right view, and I believe I have a right to try to pursued you. As long as it's done with civility and, and kindness, and, and treating each other with dignity.
Today there are a lot of waves, spiritual waves that I see talking place, not just in America but even around the world. And the first is a renewed interest in spirituality. There's no doubt about it. When you look at the kind of books that sell, the kind of movies that attract people, the way that people, talk today, there is a longing and a realization that we're more than just material, that we're not just bodies, that we're made to know God, we're made to last forever; that there is a spiritual dimension of our lives, and it's not just about making money, retiring and dying. That's an important trend.Another important trend is the failure of government to solve problems. And we have seen this around the world. As governments become more and more bloated, and more and more, if you could solve problems like poverty, disease, and illiteracy by simply throwing money at it, we would have solved it a long time ago. The west has put about one and a half trillion dollars into Africa in the last 50 years, and it's worse off. The economies are actually worse than they were 50 years ago. And if we could solve with money, there would be no poverty in America, we've done trillions of dollars in poverty programs here in America. People don't need a hand out, they need a hand up. And there is a spiritual motivation and component to issues like poverty, and disease prevention, and illiteracy, and things like that. And study after study has shown, that wherever churches come into, the economy rises.
That, for instance, guys who have been drunks now all of a sudden get sober, they start treating their wife with respect instead of beating. There are physical affects of faith in the economy and in all these other areas. Well, Paul told the church, in the New Testament he said, thought and purpose. But we're never gonna get all of the believers in the world, or just all the churches believers in the world to agree on doctrine, to agree on worship style, to agree on a lot of things like that. But we can agree on some common purposes. And there are issues out there like poverty, disease, illiteracy, that are not religions problems, they're human problems. And our stance at Church has been that we'll work with anybody if you wanna work together on issues of commonality. We don't have to agree on everything in order to work with you, and we don't have to agree with everything you believe in order, for us to have a partnership. If you can only work with people you agree with, then you've ruled out the entire world, because nobody agrees with you 100%, I can't even get my wife to agree with me a hundred percent, or my kids. So you have to work with people you don't always agree with. And there's a difference between what I call being an allay and what Francis Schaefer called being a co-belligerent.
In other words, you might be a co-belligerent with somebody in a certain area without accepting their entire agenda. For instance, I'm a co-belligerent with feminists when they oppose pornography and the objectification of women, I'm against that. I don't agree with all the feminist agenda, and they certainly wouldn't agree with all of mine. But I'm on their side when it comes to that issue of treating women with respect and not objectifying them as sex objects. I don't agree with my gay friends on all that they believe, and they don't certainly agree with all of what I believe. But if they want to work together on AIDS, I'll work with 'em. And, I could go down the list with every group on the right or the left. And, to me this requires, what I call a coalition on civility, where we say, we're going to treat each other with respect even though we totally disagree with each other. And, in many ways, our civilization has lost its civility. And it's become quite rude. Our culture yells at each other, and we have become very politicized, very polarized, and, and the attacks have become quite personal. I think this is wrong, it's bad for our society, it's bad for the common good of all Americans or all people in the world.
One, thing I saw quoted when you kind of stood up and took a stance on this, critics on the right called you a Benedict Arnold to the gospel. What do you say to those critics?One, thing I saw quoted when you kind of stood up and took a stance on this, critics on the right called you a Benedict Arnold to the gospel. What do you say to those critics?
The moment you put out a shingle, someone is gonna throw rocks at it. And, the only way to not be criticized, say nothing, be nothing, and do nothing. If I did this for the praise of men, then I'd worry, be worried about the critics. But I don't do what I do for either approval or disapproval. I don't do it for the cheers or the jeers, for the popularity or, or the negativity. In fact, fame is quite fleeting. One minute you're a hero, the next minute you're a zero. And the truth is, even God can't please everybody. Somebody right now is praying for it to rain and somebody's praying for it to be sunny at the same time. And it always stuck me as kind of a little silly how people at a football game are both praying for the opposite team. And so even God can't please everybody. So, it'd be only a fool to try to do what even God can't do.
People have different motivations for their criticisms, some of them are personal motivations, some of them are philosophical motivations. But Jesus was criticized enormously by the religious right of his day. They were called the Pharisees, and he just didn't keep the law the way they wanted it to be kept. And so they called him everything from a demon, to a blasphemer, to at one point they called him a drunk and a glutton. Jesus was called all kinds of things, and Jesus said, if they treated me this way, they will treat you this way too. The key thing is to just keep on loving like Jesus. To respond to criticism, or respond to evil, or respond to rejection with love. This is what Martin Luther King understood, it's what all of the great reformers throughout history understood.
That, in American history, it was evangelicals who brought most of the social change. They brought about the abolition of slavery, they brought about woman's right to vote, they brought about child labor laws. It was evangelicals, it was pastors who led the Civil Rights Movement. And so historically, it's Christian pastors who led the movements. This obviously brings about change. And when we've struck out, kind of the middle ground between, we're not radical right, we're not radical left, then we get a lot of criticism, because we get it from both sides. And I'm very comfortable with that because I'm trying to live for an audience of one; what does God think about this.
Well, you mentioned a kind of spiritual awakening that you've seen strong signs of. But a flipside of that is worship over wealth, there's been this gospel of prosperity. How do you account for its popularity?
Well, there's no such thing as American culture, there are American cultures. And evangelicals happen to be a major section, about 30%, so that might be the biggest subgroup, but there are thousands of subgroups of cultures in America. And none of them represent the country in total. And, just as there are men who do things that I would disavow as a man, but I'm still a man and they're a man, and just as Americans often do some things that I would disavow, but I'm an American and they're an American, there are Christians who take certain positions that I think are absolutely stupid, but they're a Christian and I'm a Christian. And so you can find secular kooks, atheist kooks, religious kooks, there are nuts, nobody has a monopoly on people who don't have all the lights on there.
Well what about, one of the books that's been most cited as an example, is the Prayer of Jabez, So what was that prayer actually saying?
People took that prayer out of context, and they thought where Jabez says, Lord I want you to enlarge my borders means that, God, I want you to make me rich. Well that's not at all what Jabez was praying, not at all. In fact, we know that because Jesus said, a man's life consists not in the abundance that he possesses. So the greatest things in life aren't things. And scripture after scripture teaches us that it's not about what you own that matters. It's, who owns you, it's who's in charge of your life that matters.
I would say that, just as important prayer, is the prayer of Agur. And the prayer of Agur is in Proverbs 31. And in that one he says, Lord, I don't want you to make me too rich, because I might forget you, and be dependent on myself; and, Lord, I don't want you to make me too poor, because I might curse you and walk away from you. Just give me enough that I need. Well I know a lot of people who pray the part, don't make me too poor. I know very few people willing to pray the prayer, don't make me too rich. But I think that's a good balance to the Prayer of Jabez.
There are lots of prayers in scripture, but they all have different seasons. There are prayers for when you're tempted; there are prayers for when you are facing an enemy; there are prayers of comfort; there are prayers of consolation. And all of them have a place in life.
You've traveled extensively. So is this a uniquely American phenomenon? Or is that an unfair criticism?
I used to think that the prosperity gospel as it's called, was a unique American phenomenon. But I have found it has been exported with great success to both Asia and to Africa. And I found that, the only people who tend to prosper from the prosperity gospel are the people who teach it. That the people who listen to it aren't necessarily prospering. But it's the value behind it, what people are looking for is hope. And they're looking for hope out of their despair; economic despair, emotional despair, relational despair and things like that.
But the Bible teaches very clearly that the greatest things in life aren't things, that your value has nothing to do with your valuables, that your net worth has nothing to do with your self worth. In America we see these bumper stickers, he who dies with the most toys wins. That's a purely secular viewpoint, that's not a Christian or Jesus viewpoint. I wanna make a bumper sticker that says, he who dies with the most toys still dies because he does. And your pile may be that high, but the truth is this, you brought nothing into the world and you're taking nothing out of the world. And so, really, God just loans it to you for a certain period of time and you get to use it. It wasn't yours before and it won't be yours after, it's on loan.
And so, someday I'm gonna write a book that has the sentence, whether you think you own is really on loan. And we are actually stewards, is what the Bible says, and we are, the steward is the old English word for manager. It's not mine, but I am managing. And life is a test, and life is a trust, and life is a temporary assignment, and God is watching to see what I do with what I've been given here on earth. And so one day, I'm gonna stand before God, and he's gonna say, what did you do with what you were given. So if I'm given a little but I do what I can with it, that's all that matters. If I'm given a lot and I do a lot with it, that's what matters. And this is an important lesson that, I think prayer and generosity have a lot that go together. Because many times we're the answer to the prayers you pray. God says, I want you to be the answer.
When the tsunami hit in southeast Asia, and a year later when Katrina hit in America, and then when the Pakistan earthquake happened, many times people will look at this and they say, God, when are you gonna do something about this. And I can see God saying, well I'm asking you the same question. Okay. I gave you hands, I gave you feet, I gave you resources, you are to be the answer to that prayer.
Well you previously talked about the stewardship of affluence. What do you mean by that?
One of the things I've had to deal with in the last few years is what I call the stewardship of affluence and the stewardship of influence. And that came from the success of the book, Purpose Driven Life, it sold tens of millions of copies. That brought in enormous amounts of money, and it brought in enormous amounts of attention. Neither of which I really wanted. I'm a pretty simple person, my value system is not how much can I get. And so, when you write a book and the first sentence of the book is, it's not about you. Then when it makes tens of millions of dollars, you gotta figure the money's not for you.
And so I began to pray about, what I should do with the money, and what I should do with the fame; what I do with the affluence, what I do with the influence. And this was a serious prayer of my heart. The answer to my prayers came in two scripture versus. And I often find the answers to my prayer in the Bible. That I'll pray for wisdom, or guidance, or knowledge, and then as I write, read scripture, God, I speak to God in prayer, and then God speaks to me through his word. And I found a verse, set of versus in the New Testament of what to do with the money, and a set in the Old Testament of what to do with the fame.
In First Corinthians Nine, Paul is talking to pastors, the Apostle Paul, and he says, those who teach the gospel, the good news, should make a living by it. In other words, it's okay to pay your priest, your pastor, your minister. But, he says, I will not accept that right, because I want the freedom of serving God for free so nobody can say I'm a slave to no man, nobody can say I'm a slave to anyone. And when I read that, I thought, that's what I wanna do. And so Kay and I made five decisions on what to do with all of this money that was coming in from the best selling book in the world. First we said we're not gonna change our lifestyle one bit. And so we still live in the same house we've lived in for 14 years, I still drive a six year old Ford truck that I've driven, we don't own a guest house, we don't own a boat, I don't own a plane. And we live pretty simply. We said we're not gonna change our lifestyle.
Second thing we said, we are not gonna spend the money on ourselves, so I stopped taking a salary from the church; number three, I added up all the church had paid me in the last 25 years and I gave it back, because I didn't want anybody thinking that I do what I do for money, because I don't. I would of done it for free all along if I could of. In fact, I honestly have never met a pastor who does it for money. Really, I haven't. And I've talked with hundreds of thousands of pastors. That is a myth. If I wanted to make money, there's a whole lot easier ways to make money than going to the ministry. Which, you're like a doctor on call 24 hours a day.
So I added up all the church gave me and I gave it back, because I knew I was being put under the spotlight and I didn't want anybody to question my motivation. Fourth thing we did is we set up some charitable entities to help people with AIDS, to do leadership trying, and to help the poor, what we call the PEACE plan, which is a partner with churches, P is Partner Customers; E is Equip Leaders, servant leaders; A is Assist the Poor; C is care for the Sick; and E is Educate the Next Generation. And we've been funding this, through our ministry here at the church and with other churches.
And the last thing we did is Kay and I become reverse tithers. When we first got married 31 years ago, we began to give 10% of our money, to charity, or throughout church as a tithe, as the Bible calls the tithe is 10%. And so we, right off the top, 10% goes to God, just saying, I'm grateful for what you've given me and I know you're gonna take care of me, it's just putting you first. At the end of our first year of marriage we raised that to 11%, the end of our second year we raised it to 12%, end of the third year to 13. Each year of our marriage we would raise it by at least a percent. And you say, why'd you do that. We never told anybody for nearly 30 years. Every time I give, it breaks the grip of materialism in my life. People can say, I'm not materialistic. Well show me how much you give. You can say you're not materialistic, but the only way to break materialism is through giving, because materialism is all about getting; get, get, get, get, get. Get all you can, can all you get, sit on the can, and spoil the rest.
We buy things we don't need with money we don't have to impress people we don't like. That's materialism. But every time I give my heart grows bigger, every time I give I become more generous, every time I give, I become more like Jesus Christ. So, after 31 years of marriage, we now give away 90% and we live on 10%, and that's a whole lot of charter prayer. God, what do you want me to do with this influence. Because, I don't think that God gives you either money or fame for your own ego. In fact I'm sure of it. It's not so you can be a fat cat. You know, if I had wanted to after the book came out, I could have gone and bought a Pacific Island and laid on the beach every day of the week and have people serve me drinks with little umbrellas in them; but that's not the purpose of life. We serve God by serving others and significance comes through service.
So, as I was reading through the Old Testament, the Hebrew scriptures, I came to Psalm 72, and it told me what to do with the influence. It's Solomon's prayer for influence, and Solomon was the King of Israel at the apex of its power. Had more wealth, more fame, than in any other time. And in that he says, God, I want you to give me more influence, I want you to give me more power, I want you to bless me, I want you to give me more, I want you to spread the fame of my name to many countries. It sounds like the most egocentric, self-centered, prideful prayer you can imagine, very selfish sending, until you read the whole Psalm. And in that prayer he says, give me influence so that the king may support the widow and orphan, care for the sick, defend the defenseless, assist the poor, speak up of the oppressed. He talks about the foreigner, the immigrant, it's all the marginalization of society. Today we would include, senior citizens, those who are, emotionally or physically, or mentally handicapped, all the marginalized of society.
And to me, the answer to that prayer was the purpose of influence, to speak up for those who have no influence. And that was a turning point in my life. And I had to, what the Bible calls, repent. And I said, God, I have to admit, widows and orphans haven't been on my agenda. You know, I just don't think about them. I'm in a very affluent area here, I could go five years without ever seeing a homeless person. It's almost like a little bubble in this southern California enclave. And, so I began to search out, and I discovered over 2,000 verses in the Bible on the poor. I thought, now how did I miss those versus. Okay. I mean I went to a Bible university, and I went to two seminaries, earned a Doctorate, how did I miss 2,000 versus in the Bible on the poor.
Well, evidently, I just had on cultural blinders. And this is true with everybody, we always see what we want to see. We see what we've been taught to see. And, when I began to look at what Jesus did, I began to think, there's an entire missing part of my ministry. And so the answers to the prayers actually became the, steps of action. And that's how we came up with the PEACE Plan.
One of the things that you said in your book is that prayer is the most important mission in the world. Can you explain what you mean by that?
I believe that prayer is your most important tool for your mission in the world, because it does three things: First, it creates a dependence upon God so that I'm not trying to do things on my own energy and power. It's the difference between an electric razor plugged into the power and unplugged; unplugged it has no power on its own. I have no confidence in myself to change the world, but I have enormous confidence in God. And I have learned that it doesn't take big faith. Just a little faith in a big God gets big results.
People always say, well I don't have enough faith to pray and get an answer. You don't need a lot of faith, you need just a little faith in a big God. It's not the size of your faith, it's the size of your God that makes a difference. And so when I go out and I say, look, we're working on a plan right now to mobilize a billion Christians around the world, followers of Jesus, to equip leaders, and assist the poor, and care for the sick, and educate the next generation. I'm often asked, well who do you think you are. And I say, wrong question. It's not who do I think I am, it's who do I think God is. And so a little faith in a big God gets big results.
You talk about using prayer to, as you call it ventilate vertically. What does that mean?
Well, in Purpose Driven Life I talk about the phrase, ventilate vertically as one form of prayer. What I mean by that is, talk it out to God instead of taking it out on your body. When you swallow your emotions, your stomach keeps score. And people'll say, oh, that person's a pain in the neck. Well, literally, they can be. Or a pain in the rear or any other pain, because we weren't meant to hold on to these negative emotions of anger, and fear, and jealousy, and worry, and loneliness, and depression. When you stuff these things inside you, you're gonna take it out on yourself. If you don't talk it out, you'll take it out on your body. And prayer is a great decompression chamber.
In fact, the Bible says this, in Philippians Four, Six to Eight it says, don't worry about anything, which, by the way, that's the most difficult command in the Bible to obey, okay, don't worry about anything. Don't worry about anything, but, it says, pray about everything. And the peace of God, which passes all understandings will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Now what that means is, every moment of the day I have an opportunity, I have an alternative, I can either pray or I can panic, okay. I can be afraid, or I can talk to God about it. Now, if I pray, then I'm gonna have a whole lot less to worry about. See, if we prayed as much as we worry, well, we would have a whole lot less to worry about. And so I'm saying that the scripture says, ventilate vertically means tell God, tell God exactly how you feel, he can handle it. God, I didn't like that person today at the office, they snubbed me, they put me down, they lied about the promotion they got and on and on.
And so you talk to God, and it is a de-pressurizer, it's a decompression zone.
In your opinion, is there anything unique about the American prayer experience? Obviously people all around the world pray, as you look here, is there anything that stands out?
One of the things that I've noticed about American prayers is they tend to be more informal than a lot of other places around the world. The formality still reigns in some countries, and even people get in a certain kind of voice. And I'm talking like this, and then I say, now let's pray the oh God, God, oh, God, thou Goddest of God, God thou. And the and thou. And sometimes I think God's going huh? Who are you talking to.
When my children come to me and they have a request, and I'm their loving father, I want them to not come in and say, oh thou great progenitor of the Warren Clan, who dost provide all of our abundant resources. I wanna say, dad, do you got a dollar. Can I help dad, can I sit in your lap and just get a hug. And it is that kind of prayer that Jesus taught, which was scandalous prayer. Because Jesus said, when you pray, pray like this, Our Father in Heaven. And literally he says, it's to pray Abba, Father, and Abba, literally, is daddy. He says, you are to see God, not as some distant force, ethereal force, but as a person. And that Jesus Christ makes possible that relationship.
Before, people don't understand, many people don't understand what Jesus Christ did on the cross, and its profound impact on prayer. When Jesus Christ died on the cross, one of the things that happened, that it tells us, is that the veil in the Temple of Jerusalem was split and it was split from top to bottom. Now that veil was the veil that kept human beings from going into the holiest part of the Temple, it was called the holies of holies. And there's great symbolism and meaning in this tent, this veil being ripped. It means there is no more barrier between God and man. That I don't have to go through a priest to pray to God; that I can go directly; that I can just drop on my knees right now, I don't have to close my eyes; and I can go directly to God and talk directly to God because Jesus Christ is that go-between, he's kind of the bridge, he's kind of the mediator.
And so, because of that, that's why people, Christians pray in Jesus' name. At the end when we pray in Jesus name, Amen, what does that mean? Is that like a little code word, it's like, this is the, the real thing, this is, you know, 10-4 good buddy, over and out. What does it mean in Jesus name? It means I'm not coming to God because I have a right to come to God, or that I'm so perfect and I deserve to come to God. It means, because of what Jesus Christ did for me on the cross, I'm coming in his name. It's like, if I sent you to go see the President of the United States and say, when you get there say, Rick sent me. Well, that's a little bit different than going in on your own.
But to pray in Jesus's name means, I'm praying because of what's already been done for me made possible. And I can come openly.
Because I think, it might have been David Brooks who wrote about this a while ago... I think, one of the things that he said that struck me as, as a European was, he was talking about, the American perception of God as almost like a friend, whereas maybe the European is more hierarchical, they're looking up! Do you think that's true?
In some ways, Churchill once said, we shape our buildings and they shape us, and you can clearly see how the architecture of church buildings in Europe, influence theology and vice versa. And there was this hierarchical, very tall, dealing with the transcendence of God, that God is otherly, he's otherworldly, he is supreme, he's sovereign. And those are true, God is supreme and sovereign and otherworldly, unlike us.
But the bible also says that Jesus was sent to earth for us to see a new vision of God where he says, I don't call you as servants, I call you as friends. And he said you are to address God as father. And that's interesting, when I go to the bush of Africa and there aren't buildings, nobody's doing these hierarchical prayers, they're dealing with God as Father, Jesus as Brother, in a family more relationship. The same thing is true in, in Asia I find that to be a fact.
They're both true, they're both elements of God. God is not my good buddy, okay, he's not just like me, he's very different. But he says, I want you to be a friend. And God says, I called you my friends. That is the most amazing thing to me in the universe, that the God who created the universe would want me as a friend. I just have a hard time understanding that concept.
Please respond to this quote from a book by James P Moore. Here's what he said, "prayer affords an opportunity to recognize how Americans describe their diversity, are unified in their spirituality with one another and with a higher being. Americans today must understand prayer as a unique and unifying force."
Well, I fundamentally believe that prayer is a unifying force. We could see it right in the days after 9/11. The initial reaction to tragedy is always pray. And, in fact, people don't even realize they're praying, they cry out, they say, oh God. Now, they didn't say, oh Jay Leno, or oh David Letterman, they cry out to God, because in a time of need, people instinctively know, in their heart, even the hardest of atheists said, there's gotta be somebody to call on to.
Now, I also see this not just in tragedy but I see it in Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving, I've often wondered, who do atheists have to thank at Thanksgiving. Well, I thank myself for all this bounty. Well, you've got a pretty small God, why get outta bed if your biggest God is you. The self-made man usually worships his own maker. But I would say it is in thanking God, and in trusting God, in calling out to God, that we find our humanity. And we saw this in tragedy after tragedy around the world, the calls to prayer, people are unified. When we focus on God, a lot of the other differences become irrelevant.
Let me ask you about 9/11 and the prayer gathering in Yankee Stadium. I wonder what you thought about that. You've got thousands of people coming together. But I guess my question is, well, why do they come together, who are they praying to?
Well, there's no doubt about it in America that there is a civil religion that is quite undefined. And, while it has the patina of Christianity, it's not always Christian. And a lot of people don't even know who they're praying to or why they're praying or what they're praying, it's just what Pascal called this God-shaped vacuum, and nothing else can fill it.
So, when you have interfaith prayer sessions, I'm wondering about the efficacy, a lot of times, of that as much as it creates fellowship among the others, but they're certainly not all praying to the same person or to the same God. And it's very obvious.
Is this just watered down pluralism?
You know, when I look at an interfaith prayer gathering, or a prayer breakfast, or things like that, and I realize that people don't even agree on who and what they're praying, or who they're praying to, I realize there's a limitation to that. At the same time, it's good to know that they recognize something greater than themselves, that there is value in realizing there's a spiritual dimension to life. We're not just molecules that, when I look at this watch, the design in this watch gives evidence of a designer, and I need to recognize that. And I think that's a good thing.
Some people looked at that Yankee Stadium event and said, this wasn't a prayer to God as much as this was a prayer for America. What do you think?
When I look at the civil religion prayers, I really have mixed emotions about them. One of them is I realize that not everybody's on the same page. And so the value of that prayer sometimes is questionable. On the other hand, I'm in favor of anything that causes people to realize there's a spiritual component to their life. And I'm in favor of anything that realizes that we need to pray, that we need to talk to God. And, if someone has a desire to talk to God, then I would encourage them to do that.
In fact, the Bible says, those who seek me will find me if you seek me with all your heart. And I genuinely believe that if somebody says, I really want to know God, and I really want to have a prayer relationship to God, I don't think God's gonna play games with them. I think that they will truly, in their journey, eventually come to the understanding of the truth that there is a God that he had a Son who died for them, and that they can have a relationship with him. And so, I see the good side of it too.
Is there anything that I haven't brought up in relation to prayer that you would like to address as we finish this interview?
One of the things that I just think's very important about prayer is that people understand that there many faces to prayer. There is the prayer of petition, which is asking; there is the prayer of gratitude, which is thanking; there's the prayer of confession, which is receiving cleansing; there is the prayer of consolation, which is just, being quiet before God and letting him speak to you. I believe that prayer is a conversation, which means sometimes I'm not talking, sometimes I'm just sitting there listening. And often I'll talk to God and then I'll stop and I'll say, Lord, is there anything you want to say to me. And I'll just sit there in silence. And, a lot of times, nothing happens. But sometimes an idea will come into my mind.
I have never heard God audibly speak to me. In fact I don't think he needs to. If God can provide television waves and cell phone waves, and I can hear somebody on the other side of the world that I never see, then it's very possible for God to put an idea in my mind without him having to say it through my ear. When we get an idea from God we call that inspiration. When they get an idea from the evil one, they call that temptation. And every moment I'm kind of listening to this, my thoughts, is this a thought from God, is it a thought from Satan, where does it come from and the Bible says we have to test those things. But I do believe that listening is a part of prayer as much as talking.