I remember listening to a great talk by Dick Dowsett on prayer. It would’ve been around 1997 ish in the big top at Skegness for Word Alive (part of Spring Harvest). His talk was rooted in Ephesians 1 and I can still picture Dick bouncing on his heels as he exhorted us to make prayer an attitude. This re-vitalised my view of prayer. As a young Christian, I had a view of prayer as an activity. I return to this message often and find it to be comforting and challenging, depending on what kind of day I am having.
Yes, I engage in prayer as an activity, but I find it most helpful to see prayer as an orientation or an attitude. The depth of prayer is found in my heart first, then in my words. The richness of prayer is given an outward vesture in my words and actions. Am I a person of prayer? How does prayer play a part in my spiritual life? And how can it form an essential part of our mission as churches?
How easy is it for us to bluster on in mission without prayer? We have the good idea, get the meetings going and find all the practical details are in place. Are we guilty sometimes of forgetting to pray? How should we pray for our mission?
Let’s take a look at Paul’s words in Ephesians 1, and see if they resonate with us today. We will hopefully draw out some principles for churches and praying for mission and maybe also some ideas for us as individuals regarding prayer.
Why should we pray for mission?
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints.. (Ephesians 1:15, ESV)
In the first part of this letter, Paul sets out the basis of the faith of the early church. He writes of the ‘riches of his grace’, ‘redemption through his blood’ and being ‘sealed with the promised Holy Spirit’ – it is clear that Paul has been deeply affected by what God has done for him. It is for this reason that he then prays for the church in Ephesus. God has done something amazing for him, through Jesus, and he wants this to spread throughout the region. So… he prays. That appears to be his starting point. Everything Paul writes to, and does, in Ephesus is rooted and founded in prayer. Maybe this tells us something. We should begin mission with prayer. Our mission should find its origin in prayer.
How should we pray for mission?
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.. Ephesians 1:16, ESV
There are two simple things in this verse. First, the fact that Paul never ceases in prayer. Secondly, he prays for the people he is writing to. The people of Ephesus were learning about faith, but Paul tells them he is praying for them. He is thinking of them. His heart and mind are turned towards them, because of what God has done for him. How do we do on these two aspects of our church’s life and mission? Are we ceaseless in prayer? Or is it all to easy for things to stop us? Are we guilty of ‘just getting on with it’ without realising that the whole activity of mission ought to be soaked in prayer. Perhaps as churches, we could mutually encourage each other to let prayer be part of our mission – at the beginning, in the middle and at the end.
The second half of verse 16 guides us to pray for our communities. If we are holding an event and expecting guests – let’s pray for them. If we are not sure how many people are going to engage with something that we are doing – let’s pray that people will come. Let us turn our thinking, planning or worrying about mission into prayer. Pray for opportunities, pray for growth, pray for the people that we meet.
Prayer could become an attitude in our churches, not just an activity. With this attitude before us, it could be that opportunities for mission become greater, it could also be that more people catch the vision and become involved in mission.
Eight simple tips on prayer and mission
- Find the pray-ers in your church! – some people epecially love praying and will do it beautifully dutifully. Find them and ask them to pray. Praying is a gift and some people have it in greater measure than others.
- Get people to sign up to pray for events whilst they are going on – some people may not be able to help with Alpha or Messy Church, but they can pray!
- Write a special prayer for mission and growth – share it with your church leaders and encourage it to be put in your news sheet or included in your weekly intercessory prayer.
- Set up a monthly prayer group or meeting, specifically to pray for your community – so not praying just for churchy things, but for everything and everyone in your community.
- Start every planning meeting or conversation with a prayer – wherever it might be.
- Ask people you meet whether you can pray for them
- Pray for growth in church and in the daily office (if that’s your thing)
- Keep a prayer journal for the church – what did we pray for? Encourage people to write down their prayers at home.
- When you walk in your community; pray – offer the community to God.