I like to observe trends in the body of Christ and keep an eye out for what God is doing, and since I hang out in and around various “prayer movements” I have been intrigued by what I see happening with prayer when it comes to engaging with those outside the church.
I’m noticing what I think is something of a scale or range in how praying for people outside the body of Christ to know Jesus engages with those very “stake-holders.” By stake-holders, I mean that “the people the prayers are aimed at reaching or helping know God better”, since they are ultimately the folks who have the greatest stake in how the prayer plays out! 🙂
So with no further intro, here is the scale that I think we are seeing:
(Type 1) Evangelism of some type or another, with little to no specific prayer
I hope this type is somewhat rare, but I know it is out there. Taking a cue from verses such as, “I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God to salvation for them that believe,” there are workers in the body of Christ who consider prayer to be a small trivial piece of their engagement with the world. “All that matters is sharing the gospel – and since in and of itself, the gospel is powerful, there doesn’t NEED to be any prayer involved in sharing it with people” is the mindset this set brings to evangelism.
While in my experience, people proceeding on this basis often find evangelism to be a lot of effort for a tiny bit of headway, I can’t deny that there is a tiny itsy bitsy morsel of truth here. I consider the verse to, “preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season…” to somewhat describe what is happening here. Without prayer, it will almost always be something of an “out of season” activity to preach the Word, but hey, even that sometimes helps people. (And if the ‘preaching’ is done without BEING preachy – with cultural sensitivity, and real engagement with people, and acts of kindness and justice – so much the better.)
(Type 2) Prayer for “workers to be sent” into the harvest field.
This type of prayer has a pretty explicit scriptural basis and takes many forms – whether it is praying for workers to be sent, or praying for workers to have strength or provision or an open door into a culture. Prayer of all types involving workers comes into this category – praying for safety, praying for strategy, praying for workers to find spouses or ministry partners or have happy marriages so they can be their best while reaching a group of people evangelistically – there are all sorts of ways to pray for workers. This prayer focuses on Jesus being the Lord of His own growth strategy – and honoring Him in that by asking Him to direct and provide for His body as they are led by Him in this endeavor.
Prayer for the body of Christ itself can often fall into this category – as praying for the body of Christ to be strengthened, equipped, strategic, obedience, unified, etc, is in some way a prayer for everyone who represents Christ in an area, when people who approach evangelism in a mostly category #1 sort of way may also engage in this type of prayer, as even a simple prayer to “help me find the person you want me to talk to today, Jesus” is, technically, this type of prayer – a prayer for the worker themselves as they are sent. But this type of prayer is only in the beginning part of the range of the evangelism/prayer spectrum, because there is no direct engagement of prayer here with the actual stakeholders – those who are to be met with the gospel.
(Type 3) Prayer in a room somewhere for people but – mostly about peoples’ lifestyles, rather than their ability to believe in Christ.
Now the prayer starts to focus in on the stakeholders, as prayers are actually being aimed on their behalf, directly. In this case, what does this look like? Praying against crime in a city, praying for people to choose certain political candidates, praying for peoples’ minds to be changed to something “better” on a specific topic whether political or otherwise.
The word “repent” means to “change one’s mind” so essentially these are prayers for repentance. It’s hard to find much explicit Biblical precedent for this, as there are not many clear examples of people praying for other people to act or think a certain way – although assumably, praying “for those in authority” per 1 Timothy 2:2 would include prayers for rulers to have divine wisdom to make good choices. And there are other non-explicit rationales that can be gathered from Scripture that there might actually be some value to praying this way. 1 Timothy 2:1 simply says to “pray for all people” with petitions, prayers, and thanksgiving – which seems to open the door wide to pray for basically anything that might improve their lives. 2 Timothy 2:25 contains nothing whatsoever about prayer, but does mention the idea that God grants repentance – so if repentance comes from God, then it’s not a leap of logic to decide petitioning him to move over people in that way is not beyond reasonable.
Declaring the wisdom of God in the cross of Jesus in prayer and worship also has an effect on the spiritual powers over a region, too, so if a group of people know what they are doing there is some value in tackling the spiritual “winds” blowing over the minds of people in an area. However, thankfully, most groups that pray in this way tend to mix other forms of prayer into the mix, which we’ll talk about next.
(Type 4) Prayer in a room somewhere – or sometimes at a specific strategic location – specifically for Christ to be made known to those who don’t know Him.
This probably makes up the bulk of prayer that intercessory prayer groups engage in for our non-believing “stakeholders.” Surprisingly, however, there is again in this category not much ‘explicit’ command or example in Scripture about praying for people to know Jesus. Most of the prayers about peoples’ minds being enlighted to see or know Jesus better in the New Testament, were not actually prayers for those outside the church, but were prayers for folks who already believed in Jesus to know and see Him better.
However I don’t believe there is no scriptural support whatsoever for praying for nonbelievers – it just doesn’t show up in the Bible with the intensity or frequency we might think it should, and this is worth considering. Of course 1 Timothy 2:1, the verse we saw in Category 3 which talks about praying for all people, certainly still applies to praying for them to come to faith in Christ in some way or another. Category 4 here would include prayers for “revival”, and Acts 3:9 talks about turning “to God” as being a step before he sends “refreshing,” there is some evidence here for the idea of believers “turning to God in prayer” being a precursor to something that might end up bigger than the initial “turning to God,” – in this case, “refreshing” – as a result. Identificational repentance – where believers in God repent on behalf of those in their city or region – would seem to also be in this category. And anecdotally – and historically – many, many believers testify that they have seen amazing outcomes when they have prayed specifically FOR the people they are trying to reach with the gospel.
Watchman Nee once made a list of all of his friends that he wanted to share Jesus with, and after being frustrated by seeing not one of them come to faith, his mentor advised him to start praying for that list daily. In a short time after he began to pray, almost the entire list had come to faith in Christ.
(Type 5) Encountering people and praying for them where you meet them.
This takes things up a notch in terms of interaction of the people doing the praying, with the actual stakeholders that are receiving prayer. Instead of praying for people in a room somewhere, this is when believers offer to pray for people – nonbelievers included – wherever they have had a meaningful encounter with someone.
The newest prophetic evangelism approach called “Treasure Hunts” often involves people finding people on the street somewhere and striking up a conversation that results in praying for someone’s needs then and there. This brings prayer TO the people who need it, as well as to God, and creates a bridge between someone who might not know how to pray for themselves, and God. The people offering prayer are therefore doing a priestly function of ministering both to people and to God in prayer on behalf of those people. This is where prayer first starts to directly turn into evangelism, as sharing the good news of Jesus with people and praying for them become in some ways one united action.
(Type 6) Creating opportunities where people who are foreign to prayer are invited and enabled to begin praying to Him themselves.
This is a trend that some groups have begun exploring and the beautiful thing in this is that it goes beyond all the other steps in that the medium really becomes the message – stakeholders are brought right into the adventure of engaging with God, and isn’t that right where things need to go at some point? I was once with a group at the University of Pennsylvania who did something called “Prayer Week” where they set up a tent in the center of campus and posted signs around it inviting people to come inside and explore prayer. Once inside, they were greeted with gentle worship music, drawing supplies, 3×5 cards and pens to write prayers on and post on the walls, and papers explaining ideas about how to engage with God, as well as other people who were praying or ready to help orient them in how to begin praying. For a great example of what this can look like, read this story about a prayer space in a school in the Congo. In some ways this is discipleship, prayer, and evangelism all tied into one – people are given an opportunity to come to God and thus develop a hunger to know Him better, which can sensitize them to a need for Jesus who is the one who provides direct access to the Father’s presence.
So there you have a it – a scale from Type 1 to Type 6 of how prayer and evangelism can intersect.
And even though Type 6 is the most engaged with the people who are the topic of the prayers – because they themselves do the praying – the reality is that all those have their place somewhere along the way as the body of Christ walks out its priestly role to make God and His Christ known to all the Earth.