By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
FLINTVILLE — Perhaps no one knows better than Don Pierson how desperately the United States needs to be intimately connected with God through prayer during this point in the nation’s history.
In a nation filled with fear over COVID-19, increasing racial turmoil and divide and a country divided by politics, God is the only answer, said Don Pierson, pastor of Stewart’s Chapel Baptist Church, Flintville.
Prior to accepting the pastorate at Stewart’s Chapel, Pierson served as a Southern Baptist missionary in Belize, a director of missions for William Carey Baptist Association and for about 12 years as the prayer specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
Pierson has a background in dealing with a national crisis. Following 9/11, he was deployed to New York City where he coordinated chaplaincy efforts for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
He recalled that during that crisis people prayed, and prayed intensely. “That’s what we saw in this nation during that time,” he said. “Of all the bad that was done through 9/11, it did unify churches and denominations. It wasn’t just Southern Baptists that were praying … there was unity in prayer in our nation that can only be known in a time of crisis like that.”
Shortly after 9/11, Pierson was provided with another perspective when he traveled to Israel. In Gaza, he served alongside SBC missionaries and in hunger relief efforts. He said he saw the anger of Muslim people, and that the experience affirmed to him the absolute necessity to listen and love, no matter the circumstance.
“I believe God said to me, ‘Don Pierson, it’s more important for you to listen than it is for you to speak. And what you hear may not be what you want to hear, so make sure you keep your emotions in check as you listen,’ ” Pierson said.
“Anger was high in America during that time. It was in our churches. It was everywhere. People said things during that time they probably wouldn’t say today, and so I think I learned to listen better. I learned to choose my words more carefully.”
Those experiences helped to form and refine his views on prayer.
“We are in a crisis,” Pierson affirmed. “Prayer is always more intense in a crisis because we are asking for something that we desperately crave,” he noted.
Prayer is not about asking or receiving from God, Pierson continued. The primary goal of prayer should be a deep intimacy with God, he stressed.
The Flintville pastor suggested that churches develop a culture of prayer. “A prayer culture is a combination of a philosophy, a theology and a habit of prayer more than a ministry or a system of praying.”
In order to create a prayer culture within a church, intimacy (or abiding) with God has to be the primary objective. “My relationship with God has to be real and it has to be deep,” Pierson said.
Pierson is currently involved in a Bible study focusing on the Old Testament book of Amos. He noted that though Amos is considered one of the “minor prophets,” Amos considered himself just a farmer, but his writings indicate he had an intimate relationship with God. Pierson said Amos used the phrase “thus saith the Lord” 29 times.
He noted that people today tend to think that experience, education or theology allows them to be more intimate with God, but that’s not the case. Intimacy is based on relationship and not our past achievements or knowledge, he continued.
“The more intimacy I have, the more likely I’m able to pray or speak, ‘thus saith the Lord,’ ” he said.
This is especially true during a crisis such as the worldwide pandemic, Pierson continued. “In the midst of a crisis, everything works against me knowing His will except for His desire for me to be closer to Him.
“I can only pray according to His will when I have come to the place where I know His will and that is only known by being in a vital and genuine intimate relationship with Him,” he concluded.
Pierson offered five suggestions on how to pray during the current crises in the United States.
(1) Avoid decrees. As an example, Pierson noted that when the pandemic first began, some churches declared, “We are not closing our church for any reason.” The church has put itself in a box that it feels bound to, he noted, adding that decrees often prevent room for God’s guidance.
(2) Stay intimate with God and do your best to seek His face alone. “When God says, ‘Seek my face,’ ” He is saying, ‘You can’t listen to anyone else.’ ”
(3) Make sure your primary goal for prayer is Him and not what He can do for you. “You will always get more from God when you simply want God. There is nothing greater that God can give you than Himself.”
(4) Remember that God knows what He is doing. “He does not make mistakes and He is faithful to His children,” Pierson observed.
(5) Remember that sometimes God’s answer hurts. God’s will may not necessarily be your will, he noted.
Pierson challenged Tennessee Baptists to seek God in a more intimate way than ever before. “The greater your intimacy with God the easier it will be for you to pray in a way that is pleasing to Him for your nation and for your leadership.”
— This article includes reporting by Tess Schoonhoven for Baptist Press.