9Marks at Southeastern focuses on prayer

This year’s annual 9Marks Conference at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) brought together dynamic preachers from all over the country to teach on the topic of prayer. This is the 12th consecutive 9 Marks at Southeastern conference for pastors and church leaders on Sept. 27-28.

The speaker lineup for this year’s gathering included some new and familiar names. Speakers included Danny Akin, president of SEBTS; Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC) in Washington, D.C.; H.B. Charles Jr., pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida; Brian Davis, pastor of Risen Christ Fellowship in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Shai Linne, Christian rapper and elder at Risen Christ Fellowship; Thabiti Anyabwile, pastor of Anacostia River Church in Washington, D.C.; and John Onwuchekwa, pastor of Cornerstone Church in Atlanta, Georgia. 

Davis opened the conference. His sermon was about the necessity and quality of Christ with regard to prayer. Preaching from Luke 10:38-42, Davis explained that serving void of a dependent posture and communion with Christ is empty. 

“It’s possible to do things about Jesus without Jesus,” said Davis. 

He noted that Martha feverishly attempted to do many tasks in order to serve Jesus while Mary chose the better portion—communion with Jesus himself. 

“Martha was chasing after the plates that would perish; Mary was after the portion that wouldn’t.” 

Onwuchekwa followed Davis, drawing upon Matthew 6:9-15 to preach on the power of prayer. He explained that Jesus is telling his disciples to both make the aim of their prayers God’s glory and to posture themselves in dependence on God for their earthly needs. 

“When we pray, all we’re doing is recounting the faithfulness of God. We’re asking God to do things that he already wants to do,” said Onwuchekwa. “You know what that means? That means this: Christian, you are a better historian than you are a detective. Your hindsight works much better than your insight.” 

Onwuchekwa said that Christians should enter each day in dependence on God while simultaneously confident in his ability to provide for them. 

“Where God’s glory is the aim, his gifts are the ammunition,” he said. 

Akin led the third session of the conference, preaching from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22. Akin laid out eight exercises given by Paul that are designed to help believers stay spiritually fit for ministry. 

As Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to pray unceasingly, so believers today should make prayer a habitual part of life. 

“Our God is a listening God, and if he is always listening then we should always be praying.” 

Akin addressed Paul’s command to thank God in all circumstances, noting the important distinction of the word ‘in’ rather than ‘for.’ It is in this thanksgiving that believers trust the overarching and good purposes of God in an evil world.  

“For a lost person to say thank you in everything is foolishness. For a child of God to say thank you in everything—that is faith.” 

Linne closed out the afternoon session with a message on Isaiah 12. He explained how this passage reveals singing as a form of prayer. He noted that singing in response to God is done both individually and corporately. Singing to God as an alternative way to pray, he said, is a gift from God that can soften hearts.  

“If you’re feeling cold towards the Lord, one of the gifts he’s given you is the gift of song,” said Linne. 

Linne also explained that praying to God through song can and should be done corporately as well. 

“The drama of redemption is a musical,” said Linne. “What we get to do every single time we meet corporately with the people of God—we get to rehearse. It’s a rehearsal for what we’re going to be doing for all eternity in heaven.” 

H.B. Charles closed out Friday evening with a message from 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 describing the passage as “mutual prayer for difficult times.” In his message, he laid out spiritual priorities that should characterize the mutual prayers of pastor and congregation. 

Charles emphasized the priority of the Bible in prayer. Charles noted, “Prayer and scripture are inextricably linked to one another. Both must be alive and well if the church is going to be healthy.”   

Charles reminded attendees that Paul’s concern in this passage was that Lord would direct the church to love him and the gospel with all their heart. 

“Do not judge God’s love by your circumstances; measure his love by the bloody cross and empty tomb of the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. 

Dever opened the Saturday morning session highlighting nine ways his church seeks to incorporate prayer into the life of the congregation. Dever explained that he seeks to incorporate various forms of prayer in his church—long, short and spontaneous. One of the longer prayers in CHBC’s services has a directed focus on confession. He explained that pastors need to preach the gospel to their people continually as a way to “marvel afresh at [God’s] grace.” 

“The gospel is our mast to make it through this world,” said Dever. 

Dever closed his message reminding attendees that prayer gives witness to the reliability of God. 

“Our prayers advertise our dependence on God and that God is dependable,” said Dever. 

Anyabwile closed out the conference on Saturday with a message from Luke 18:1-8. In his message, he described the widow’s persistent plight to an unjust judge as a “scene where brokenness meets brutality.” The story, he explained, symbolizes the dependent posture that should be exemplified in God’s people.   

“A prayer that stops at nothing can achieve anything,” said Anyabwile. 

Anyabwile insisted that the purpose of this passage is not meant to produce guilt in the believer. The purpose of the passage is to encourage the believer to lean into God through prayer, who desires to answer his people. 

“If by persistent request, a widow with nothing and no one can move a judge who cares for no one and nothing, then surely God, who loves each one of us, will answer the persistent prayers of his people,” said Anyabwile. 

Over the weekend, a lunch panel discussion on hot topics in pastoral leadership was held for attendees hosted by the doctoral programs at Southeastern Seminary. Saturday morning, the Center for Preaching and Pastoral Leadership hosted a breakfast panel discussion about the role of pastoral prayer. 

Next year, the focus of 9Marks at Southeastern will be on church government. In 2021, the conference will relaunch to revisit the nine marks of a healthy church. 9Marks seeks to provide resources to churches nationally and internationally that help develop healthy, growing congregations. For more information, visit 9marks.org. 

To view photos from 9Marks at Southeastern, click here. To view each session of the conference, click here.

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