The Power of Prayer

“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

– Matthew 6:9-10

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

– Matthew 7:7-8

So far, our discussion of missions has been focused upon the missionary’s necessity of being grounded in the Scripture and the great doctrines of the Christian faith. We have pleaded with the reader not only to hold to the inerrancy of the Scriptures but also to build his or her entire life and ministry upon the belief that they are sufficient. We have no need for the pragmatic and oftentimes anti-biblical schemes and strategies that run rampant in contemporary Western Evangelicalism and many of its missionary endeavors. We simply need to conform every activity to the dictates and parameters of the Word of God.

The Necessity of Prayer

Having laid this groundwork, we will now turn our attention to the absolute necessity of prayer in the life of the missionary. Prayer is the great complement to biblical knowledge, without which, there can be little life or power in the missionary, his preaching, or his mission endeavors. Every triumph of the church in the last two thousand years has been birthed, cultivated, and matured with prayer. If there is one thing that all the great missionaries of church history hold in common, it is their intense and unceasing devotion to God in prayer.

It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of prayer in the missionary endeavor. This becomes especially apparent when we realize that the work of global missions is an absolute impossibility apart from the power of God. The Apostle John tells us that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”1 Thus, it would be easier to lift Mount Everest and cast it into the sea, than to take one inch of Satan’s domain in our own power. He laughs at our endless strategies and mocks our clever schemes, but when one man lashes himself to the Word and wears out his knees in prayer, all of Hell shudders.

All the Christians, churches, missionary societies, and institutions combined cannot win one soul. All our conferences, campaigns, and desires to give our lives away cannot advance the kingdom. Even if there were no devil, the radical corruption of one sinner’s heart would bring to nothing all our efforts and make us a laughingstock of impotence. The lost world and the lost soul are like Jericho. They are tightly shut up; no one can come out and no one can come in.2 We can march around it until we are utterly worn out. We can lift up our voices and blow our trumpets until we are blue in the face. We can throw ourselves at the wall until our bodies are broken and lying in heaps on the ground. But the wall is not going to fall by any human effort. It requires the power of God. He can do a quick work of the wall and bring down in seconds what we could not do even if we were granted ten thousand eternities to do it!

Most, if not all, Christians would heartily agree with what has just been written regarding the importance of prayer. Why then do ministers and missionaries openly admit to praying so little? This is especially perplexing when we realize that many of those who lament their neglect of prayer are truly God-called men and women, who love the Lord and honestly desire to see His kingdom advance into all nations. Why then do we so-often neglect prayer? Though there are more reasons than we have room to mention, we will consider several of the most obvious.

The Neglect of Prayer

The first culprit is our superficial understanding of the impossibility of the task. This fault is the result of poor theology. Not only do we not seem to understand the power of our enemy, but also, and most importantly, we do not understand the corruption of the human heart. The unreached nations are not merely ignorant of God so that they can be cured by more information. Neither are they seeking God so that they only need to be pointed in the right direction. The nations, like the men who form them, are morally depraved, hostile to God, and will be unresponsive to any gospel herald to them apart from God’s direct intervention.3 Only God can change the human heart and advance His cause. Apart from His aid, our attempts to tear down the iron walls of sin that surround the nations is comparable to a tiny gnat beating its head against a wall of granite. Therefore, in the beginning, middle, and end of all our missionary endeavors, we must constantly and relentlessly seek God’s aid in persevering prayer.

Secondly, unbelief is a great enemy of prayer. Do we really believe in our utter inability to win even one soul of the more than seven billion that now abide on this planet? Do we really believe that God is “able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us?”4 Do we really believe that prayer is absolutely essential and that it is the catalyst for life and power in all our activities? To answer these questions, we must not appeal to our theology because we often affirm truths with our heads that we do not practice with our hearts. Nor should we appeal to sentiment because we can feel deeply that we ought to pray without ever truly praying. To properly discern the answer to this question, we must appeal to the practice of our daily lives. How much time do we set aside for prayer? How often do we run to prayer as our first recourse?5 If we graphed a chart comparing our time in prayer with the time consumed by all our other activities, would it not show that we are an unbelieving generation?

Thirdly, our fallen flesh is one of the great nemeses of prayer. In fact, the flesh probably hates prayer even more than it hates the study of God’s Word. At least through study, the flesh can boast in its knowledge, but in prayer, it has no grounds for boasting. Through study, a man may gain fame for his scholarship, erudition, and eloquence; but prayer is performed in secret and demands that a man lays down all his credentials at the door. True prayer is a renunciation of the flesh and its power. In the prayer closet, the most capable men must acknowledge that the “flesh profits nothing”6 and it is, “not by might nor by power, but by God’s Spirit.”7

Fourthly, spiritual and physical laziness is a major culprit that leads to the neglect of prayer. We should not be deceived. Intercession is hard work, even for the most devoted. One of the greatest and most far-reaching deceptions among Christians is that those who dedicate themselves to a certain spiritual discipline do so because it just comes easy for them. We think that the man devoted to Bible study does so because of some special gift or even natural inclination that makes it easier for him than for the rest of us. However, the primary reason behind his devotion and our lack of it is that he has recognized his indispensable need and fights to overcome the spiritual laziness that holds many of us in bondage. It is very liberating when we realize that spiritual disciplines such as Bible study and intercession are “hard work” for everyone, even the most mature and gifted saint. It proves that our lethargy with regard to prayer can be overcome. 

Fifthly, the pragmatism that has inundated the West is contrary to praying. Pragmatism is basically a worldview that determines the value or rightness of something in terms of its apparent success. In the Western church, pragmatism is manifested in the tendency to adopt any strategy of ministry that purports to have produced positive results for other churches or ministries, regardless of the fact that it has little or no biblical foundation or is even contrary to the Scriptures. The Western church is literally inundated with books, conferences, and media material peddling the latest scheme or strategy to grow the church and evangelize the world. One of the most telltale signs of the limited value of these programs and strategies is their limited endurance. The strategy that takes Christianity by storm and becomes all the rage today is soon jettisoned and replaced by another. Is it possible that this preoccupation with finding the ultimate strategy for church growth and missions is the result of the church’s ignorance of the Scriptures and its carnal aversion to the hard work of prayer and proclamation?

Sixthly, the evil twin of pragmatism is busyness. One of the great and most frequent confessions of churches, pastors, evangelists, and missionaries throughout the world is that they are just too busy to pray. In fact, we seem willing to wear ourselves out for the cause of the gospel by doing any activity except those that have been most commanded by Christ—abiding in the Word of God and prayer.8 God calls for one sacrifice that we are unwilling to make (i.e. prayer), and so we substitute countless others in its place (i.e. busyness). We would do well to remember that “to obey is better than sacrifice,”9 and, “unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.”10

Seventhly and lastly, the devil is the great enemy of prayer. He would grant us hours of unhindered study, let us read good books without end, and allow us to wear ourselves out in ministry if only he could keep us from praying. He knows that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us,11 and that apart from Him we can do nothing.12 He knows that Christ has chosen us, and appointed us that we should go and bear fruit; and he knows that this fruit is directly related to us asking the Father in Christ’s Name.13 Thus, the devil is constantly working to make us forgetful of our own impotence and to blind us to God’s infinite strength and willingness to do abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.14 We must never forget that the missionary is sent out like a sheep in the midst of wolves.15 It does not matter how the sheep array themselves for battle, how willing they are to sacrifice, or how vigilant their watch, they cannot repel even the slightest attack from the least of wolves. The sheep’s only hope is that the Great Shepherd will hear their bleats and come running to their aid.

Paul Washer

  1. I John 5:19
  2. Joshua 6:1
  3. Romans 1:18-323:10-18
  4. Ephesians 3:20
  5. This question is prompted by the popular declaration, “There is nothing left to do but pray,” as though prayer were the last recourse instead of the first resource.
  6. John 6:63
  7. Zechariah 4:6
  8. John 15:7 – “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. John 15:16 – “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.” Notice the direct relationship between the abiding word and prayer in John 15:7, and the direct relationship between God’s sovereignty, fruitfulness, and prayer in John 15:16.
  9. I Samuel 15:22
  10. Psalm 127:1
  11. Philippians 4:13
  12. John 15:5
  13. John 15:16
  14. Ephesians 3:20
  15. Matthew 10:16

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