As Christians we like to separate things; heaven and hell, evangelism and social action, and so on. I think we also separate prayer from mission.
We regard prayer as spiritual; as being about me and my walk with God – all a bit personal. Whereas we view mission as the domain of the activist; about energy and creativity – and being public-facing rather than inward- or upward-facing.
To think this way is a huge mistake.
We must never distance our encounter with God from our engagement with the world. To do so leads to lack of clarity around purpose and calling, and also a lack of power.
Encounter and engagement go together.
Wherever we look in Scripture we find the mission challenged flows from a clear encounter with Almighty God.
Mission rooted in God
In Exodus chapter 3 it is after Moses encounters the presence of God in the burning bush, and then realises the power and glory of God, that two things happen. First, he hides his face because he was afraid to look at the glory of God (verse 6). Second, he is told of the compassion of God: “I am concerned about their suffering” (verse 7).
It is from this encounter with the presence of God that Moses receives his calling. He is sent to engage out of his encounter. Without the encounter he has no mandate and no authority.
While the task was going to be a really difficult one, and the audience was not going to jump for joy at the message, still he has to be faithful to the calling. He has been sent out to share a message. That sent-ness came from a place of being on his knees before his mighty King.
The same could be said about Isaiah in Isaiah chapter 6. The nation is in turmoil. The King has died. Isaiah waits upon the Lord. In that time of crying out to God for the nation, he has a revelation of the character and mercy of God. A coal is brought and touches his lips, and he knows cleansing and forgiveness. Isaiah also realises clearly the spiritual despair of the people he lives amongst; “I live among a people of unclean lips” (verse 5).
It is after he beholds the glory that he is commissioned.
Isaiah has a difficult task; to speak to people with a hard message that nobody will want to hear. I believe the only way he could persevere in unfruitful and challenging times was because of the link between his encounter with God and his missional task.
I wonder how many times he reflected upon that moment of encounter with God that had changed the direction of His life. I also wonder about the fervency of his prayer life after that encounter. How long and how often did he cry out to God for the people he lived among?
A whistle -top tour of Paul
In the New Testament we could point to Pentecost, Peter and Cornelius, Paul and the Macedonian, Paul and Silas in prison and many other references of encounter and engagement going hand-in-hand.
The point is that our waiting upon God, our encounters with him, are the spring board for all we will do in the world. It is our walk with God that enables us to walk with others.
Without that sense of the presence of God sending us to be part of his mission plan for the world, we have no power or authority to see transformation come.
Mission is not about clever ideas, it is about identity, authority, humility, dependence and power. They all flow from our connectivity to the one who has saved us and sent us.
The apostle Paul was very aware of his need for prayer and for partners who would pray with him. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he writes that he gives thanks because he has heard about their faith. (Ephesians 1:17). He then prays for them, that they may be given a spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they may know God better. Paul then goes on to pray that they may know the power of Jesus.
In Philippians, Paul prays with joy for the church because of their partnership in the gospel, from the first day until now (Philippians 1:3-12). Paul then gives a description of the advancing of the gospel.
The link between prayer, unity and the gospel is never far from Paul’s mind.
At the start of Colossians, Paul again prays with thanksgiving for the church, saying “the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard” (Colossians 1:6). Paul clearly saw prayer and mission as interlinked.
Finally, in 1 Thessalonians 5 Paul encourages Christians to pray without ceasing. Eugene Peterson paraphrases this in The Message as “be cheerful no matter what and pray all the time” (1 Thessalonians 5 :17)
Everything in life is built upon our reliance upon God. Therefore prayer must be at the centre of our mission.
Prayer has to be the atmosphere, the instigation of, the equipping for and the directing of our missional activity. To plan missional activity without planning prayer and creating a desire for deeper encounters with the presence of God may lead to many things – but it will not be Christian mission.
Final thought – now get praying
While we have looked at the biblical connection between prayer and mission, we could equally have looked at history. How many revivals, moves of God and new works of the Holy Spirit can be traced back to faithful, committed prayer? How many churches have grown, not because of the latest idea, but because of a small group of people consistently seeking the presence of God?
Everything we do with the hope of seeing individual and community transformation must begin with the attitude “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done”.
The truth is, we can write and talk a lot about prayer, but what we really need to do is pray.
Let’s call people together to pray. Let’s create spiritual space. Let’s be creative and also use resources which are available. I believe that a church on its knees in adoration is the church that will move forward most powerfully.
I’ll leave you with a few things to ponder from some great praying people…
“God shapes the world by prayer. The more prayer there is in the world, the better the world will be, the mightier the forces of against evil…” E.M. Bounds
“Prayer is where the action is.” John Wesley
“Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.” Corrie ten Boom
“The prayer power has never been tried to its full capacity. If we want to see mighty wonders of divine power and grace wrought in the place of weakness, failure and disappointment, let us answer God’s standing challenge, ‘Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not!’” J. Hudson Taylor
“The man who mobilizes the Christian Church to pray will make the greatest contribution to world evangelisation in history.” Andrew Murray