Praying is a hard spiritual discipline. No one will argue with that.
And the church “prayer meeting” has never been less popular in America since the First Great Awakening of the 18th Century. If your church still has them, statistically it will be the least attended church event in the 21st Century.
But do we even need Prayer Meetings? I mean, are they essential for what God is doing in the world today?
Puritan pastor and theologian John Owen is know for saying, “A minister may fill his pews, his communion roll, the mouths of the public, but what that minister is on his knees in secret before God Almighty, that he is and no more.”
In that same vein, someone else once said, “A church may be filled, but what that church is on their knees together before God, that they are and no more.” Ouch!
According to Jesus, to some degree the mission He has given His disciples cannot be accomplished without prayer. When the disciples who had been commissioned by Jesus to heal and cast out demons came back wondering why they had been unsuccessful, Jesus questioned their faith and said, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29). So Jesus taught that faith and obedience in the Christian life needs a life of prayer for its full growth.
Therefore, A praying church plays a crucial part in the Great Commission.
The Apostle Paul wrote, For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 1:8-11)
- The Great Commission is a very difficult task, v8-10.
Paul is reporting back to a church he planted as he lived out the Great Commission. As we see from Paul’s words, this is a very difficult task. Its one reason you don’t want to be a “Lone Ranger” Christian. You do not want to do this alone because it’s difficult. Sometimes following Christ and being obedient to the Great Commission feels like a sentence of death (9).
Making disciples is a life and death mission. That’s the call of all Christians. It’s the mission of a disciple to be a disciple-maker. It’s the mission of every church, to advance the gospel selflessly in order to make disciples of all nations. It’s why Paul tells us then that…
- Prayer plays a crucial part in the Church’s Mission, v11a.
The Apostle Paul says in verse 11, 11 You also MUST help us by prayer. By must he means it’s absolutely necessary. Prayer is crucially important if a church will remain faithful to its God-given mission, the Great Commission.
The Bible teaches us about the role of prayer for the Christian and the Church in their mission. “Not only has God made the accomplishment of his global purposes of salvation hang on the preaching of the Word; he has also made the success of the preaching of the Word hang on prayer. …[The] gospel will not be proclaimed in power to all the nations without the persevering, earnest, global, faith-filled prayers of God’s people” (John Piper).
Prayer alone cannot save people. It takes hearing the gospel. But the Bible teaches that the Apostle depended on prayer in his evangelism (Eph 6:19; Col 4:3; 2 Thes. 3:1).
But most importantly, consider this very important distinction about prayer. The original question is, since it is becoming more rare for churches to devote specific time to pray together, should we let the prayer meeting die off? According to Paul, NO!
- Churches must pray TOGETHER and OFTEN for their mission, v11b
Look at the second part of verse 11 and notice: you must pray so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.
PRAYER is not only crucial for the Great Commission, CORPORATE prayer is crucial if the church will be faithful in its mission. Our mission requires the prayers of many.
Paul says pray…so that many will give thanks…for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. Many will give thanks to answered prayer when many in the presence of those prayers hear what the church is praying for. All prayer for missions is good, but corporate prayer is the kind of prayer that provides the greatest glory for God because many more will praise God when He answers.
Two hundred and ten years from this summer five friends who were students at Williams College in Massachusetts decided to begin praying frequently together, every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon. Many in those days were meeting to pray together all over as a result of the First Great Awakening.
But these students happened to be reading William Carey’s small booklet, An Inquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen. They met in a meadow near the college to discuss the book and pray. In their day Carey’s book was a controversial one because it laid the weight of responsibility for world evangelism on all believers. This was not a prevailing idea in America at that time. There were no American mission boards.
On that hot August afternoon in the meadow, thunderstorms rolled in as they prayed and discuss world missions, specifically in China. Being so focused on the discussion and in prayer they let the storm close in and they were too far away from shelter, so they found a nearby haystack to huddle under.
All five friends later committed themselves fully to the Great Commission and taking the gospel to the nations. Through their efforts, the first American missions agency was formed. And four years later, in 1810, The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions sent their first five missionaries to Calcutta, Indian. Among them were Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice.
The Haystack Prayer Movement, as it later became known, is an example of what God can do to fulfill the Great Commission through the means of corporate prayer. It was through the means of prayer that God bound these men together by the single-minded purpose of advancing the gospel around the world. It was not one magical prayer meeting. These men were devoted to meeting in prayer corporately many times a week.
May God motivate us to give ourselves to praying together as a church for the Great Commission. May He give us the single-minded purpose of advancing the gospel through the local church around the world.