Prayer is not a self-validating exercise; in a world where there is no loving, sovereign God, prayer would be weakness at best and folly at worst. No, each and every prayer is a tiny piece of a great cosmic puzzle, which when fitted together will allow for the completion of the grand picture of the Almighty Lord’s plan for humanity and the universe. We do not merely pray about the many points featured herein, we pray toward something, and that something is magnificent – the fulfilment of the Father’s purposes and His Kingdom come.
In keeping with all we see of God’s character and commands, we long for poverty to end, for justice toward the oppressed, for the blind to see and the lame to walk, for widows and orphans to be looked after, for those in chains to be set at liberty, for the earth to be rightly stewarded, for wars to cease, for those at enmity with each other to be reconciled and for those who are lost to be found by Jesus and the salvation He brings. Many believers (and many who are not) work faithfully to see these things come to pass.
In the end, such a vision will never completely come to pass without Jesus returning to assume the Kingship of this world. It is this that is the ultimate purpose of the Great Commission; even the evangelization of the entire world is not an end in itself. Our mission is to see vibrant, growing, mature churches planted and multiplied among every people, and so fulfil our Lord’s mandate. But this is only the preparation and completion of the Bride; her Heavenly Bridegroom awaits her readiness. Too often we immerse ourselves in the task but lose sight of its ultimate purpose – the glory of God.Here lies the supreme missionary motivation. It is neither obedience to the Great Commission, nor compassion for the lost, nor excitement over the gospel, but zeal (even “jealousy”) for the honour of Christ’s name . . . no incentive is stronger than the longing that Christ should be given the honour that is due to His Name. (John Stott)
It is a wonder and a mystery that God allows His glory to be placed in our hands – being such frail, foolish, unfaithful creatures as we are. Our track record as stewards of His reputation is poor, from Israel through the early Church to today. Despite this, He entrusts the fulfilment of His plans and purposes to us. But He has not left us as orphans. He has left us with assurances. In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus tells His disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”. Then He states, “I am with you always, to the end of the age”. These promises are profound bookends to Matthew’s Great Commission! In Revelation 2:26-27, to those who hold fast and endure until the end, Jesus subsequently promises, “to him . . . I will give authority over the nations”. More staggering is the affirmation that “he will rule them . . . even as I myself have received authority from my Father”. The same authority Jesus received from the Father – all authority in heaven and on earth – has been promised to those who endure!
In light of this, prayer takes on a whole new dimension. As Martin Luther observed, “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance, but laying hold of His willingness”. Even non-believers recognize this reality; Mahatma Gandhi said, “Prayer is not an old woman’s idle amusement. Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent instrument of action”. Prayer is indeed potent, and it has many facets. Prayer – especially sustained intercession for the unreached peoples of this world who do not yet know Jesus – is action:
Faith even the size of a mustard seed can move mountains, but many of us prefer the less spectacular but safer results that come from operating in our own strength. Again, in a godless universe, the idea of prayer for the evangelization of the world is beyond Prayer and the Nations xxiv Operation World absurd. Do we really believe that our prayers to an invisible God can and will change the hard hearts of tyrants, break down oppressive social and religious systems, and deliver fullness of life to those who suffer in abject hopelessness? FB Meyer wrote, "You do not test the resources of God until you attempt them impossible".
Our Lord instructs us to pray; as His servants, this should be the end of the matter! God commands His anointed ones to “Ask of me and I will surely give the nations as your inheritance” (Ps 2:8). Psalm 2 echoes through the life of Jesus, in the book of Acts (4:24-31) and in Revelation (2:26-27). Israel’s last great judge, Samuel, tells his people, “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you” (1 Sam 12:23). The apostle Paul instructs churches he planted to “pray without ceasing” and to “pray at all times” (1 Thess 5:17 and Eph 6:18). Praying for the nations can have significant personal consequences as well – for countless missionaries, their first step on the path toward Christian service began with prayer and resulted in their obedient response to God calling them to be answers to their own prayers.
The imitation and adoration of Christ must necessarily include prayer, for His own life exemplified prayer. What is more, when we pray, we are recognizing the sovereignty of God as well as acknowledging our own helplessness. We put Him back on the throne of our own lives and of the world. Psalms 67 and 96 are resounding examples of the intricately bound nature of prayer, worship and mission. The temple – the locus of the presence of God on earth and the centre of worship for the nation of Israel – was set out to be a house of prayer for all nations (Is 56:7-8).
When we seek to rescue unreached peoples and lost souls from the grip of the evil one, we must expect violent opposition in the heavenlies. The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, but they must be stormed; they will not open of their own accord. It is no accident that the passage of the armour of God in Ephesians 6 ends with the exhortation to be “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Eph 6:18). Warfare has casualties, but we are not mere collateral damage. God is in control, yet at times He allows His people the honour of suffering the consequences of this war.
As noted above, our choice to stand in the gap can have heavy consequences. But beyond the spiritual price that intercessors often pay, the simple choice to pray usually happens to the exclusion of something else in our lives. Often that something else is frivolous, but at times prayer must come at the expense of important things, such as our own work, our sleep or our time with loved ones. Busyness is an especially modern affliction, yet even 500 years ago Luther understood this principle: “I have so much business, I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer”. Jesus retreated from perfectly legitimate ministry activities to seek intimacy with the Father. How can we do less?
Prayer is hard work! Anyone who has persevered in early morning or late night hours, in all-night vigils, even in seemingly interminable midweek prayer meetings knows the difficulty of sustaining a life of prayer. It does not come naturally to us as creatures of flesh and blood. As stated by Oswald Chambers, “Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work”.
It is true that our love for unsaved family members, for non-Christian friends, for unreached peoples can drive us to prayer. But ultimately, prayer is the domain of God, and it is impossible to be passionate about prayer if you are not already passionate for Him. Our engagement in faithful, overcoming intercession for the salvation of all peoples and the redemption of the world can be sustained only by a deep and unshakeable love for our Lord. After all, it is for His glory that we long to see the world changed through prayer.
It is this longing for God’s glory and for the return of Jesus as King that drives our prayers. We resonate with the words of Revelation 22:17-20, “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ ... Amen! Come, Lord Jesus”.