Connecting Mission and Intercessory Prayer
by John Hall
To have effective mission, there must be intercessory prayer. We are called to be God’s representatives on earth, extending his Kingdom spiritually and physically. Our cities, our nations, our world needs Christians to be people of prayer
Most Christians know the extraordinary promise of Jesus in John 14:12-14 where He says, “and I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” Do we pray like we believe that? Successful mission relies on us praying like we believe that Jesus can act in the earth and will do what he says.
In August 2017, the Barna Group published a report on prayer in America. What they found was that prayer is primarily an individual affair and most often silent. Out of those who have prayed at least once in the 3 months preceding the survey, the prayer most prayed at 62% was a prayer of thanksgiving. Out of those surveyed only 20% say they prayed for “global problems or injustices.” However, 43% say that they prayed for something that they “felt compelled or urged to pray for.” The article ends by asking, “How can we turn our collective prayers toward broader world issues and injustices? How do our prayers help others in times of crisis?”
How indeed? In much of our experience there is a gap between our asking and a persistent belief that God will answer our prayer in a specific way. It is more common that prayers get offered up and God’s will happens; we fail to perceive the interconnectedness between the two, making us believe that our participation doesn’t factor much into the equation. The witness of the Bible is quite different though. Throughout the Bible circumstances change when people pray. Can it be that way for us? Absolutely!
Intercessory prayer is our spiritual representation of Jesus. Binding up the wounds and feeding the poor, and administering justice is our incarnational representation of Jesus. Effective intercessory prayer relies on a few essential elements. First, we need to know who God is; and second, we need to know what God says he’ll do; and third we have to know what our role is.
Richard Foster, the author of the famous book Celebration of Discipline says, “In prayer, real prayer, we begin to think God’s thoughts after him: to desire the things he desires, to love the things he loves, to will the things he wills.” This is where I think that intercessory prayer often goes wrong. We start with the idea that we must be passionate about an issue and keep it in front of our eyes when, more importantly, we need to be passionate about Jesus and keep him in front of our eyes. Intimacy with God is a key to intercession and as much as we may hope that there is a short-cut, silence, meditation and regular bible reading are essential to our ability to know Jesus. We must also take holiness seriously. We can’t pursue intimacy without letting the Holy Spirit change us into Christ’s likeness. This process of becoming holy is essential.
As intimacy grows so does faith. The definition of faith is “complete trust or confidence in someone or something”. For intercession to be effective we must not only know God but understand what he says he will do, and trust him to do it. There’s no point in asking if we’re asking with a wrong understanding of God’s kingdom purposes. In a remarkable exercise, Foster took all of Jesus’ statements related to prayer and put them on a sheet of paper. He says, “Either the excuses and rationalizations for unanswered prayer I had been taught were wrong, or Jesus’ words were wrong. I determined to learn to pray so that my experience conformed to the words of Jesus rather than try to make his words conform to my impoverished experience.”
Finally, we have to be prepared to obey Jesus’ commands. Famous prayer warrior Rees Howells recounted that one of the most important and earliest lessons he learned about prayer was that he had to be prepared to be the answer. There is no point in praying for others to meet a need that we would be unwilling to meet ourselves.
Here are some suggestions from Celebration of Discipline that you might find helpful as you pursue a deeper intercessory prayer life. Let the Holy Spirit teach you and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
Listen: We need to know what is on the Father’s heart. We have to listen.
Compassion: “We do not pray for people as ‘things,’ but as ‘persons’ whom we love….The inner sense of compassion is one of the clearest indications from the Lord that this is a prayer project for you.”
Authority: As a spiritual representative of Jesus, we go in his authority not our own.
Selflessness: We have to abide in Jesus as Jesus did in the Father. Our goal has to be a self-giving to Jesus as complete as Jesus’ giving of Himself to the Father.
Perseverance: “His work empowers my prayers – my prayers release his work”.
You may be a person who would enjoy praying with others. Missions Fest Vancouver will be praying every Tuesday and Wednesday at 10 am until January. To join us through a conference call starting in October dial 778-785-6847 and enter the conference code #6322528. We’ll also be involved in a city-wide prayer gathering on November 26 at 6:30 pm (location TBA). For more information: www.missionsfestvancouver.ca or www.missioncentral.ca.