Why does God want us to pray? We know he is sovereign and surely can accomplish what he wants without us. Yet throughout the Bible and history we see God moving directly in response to the prayers of ordinary people.
From the beginning, God gave mankind the job of managing the whole earth (Genesis 1:26-28, Psalm 8:3-8)). Yet despite the fall he continued to choose to work out his purposes on earth through humans, not independent of them. So, why pray? Because he asks us to pray (e.g. see Job 42:8) and he’s given us the incredible honour of working together with him to bring about transformation in this world.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE PRAY?
Our prayers are precious to God. There’s an extraordinary illustration of this when we’re shown a glimpse of heaven in Revelation chapter 8. In the scene an angel is given incense to offer together with the prayers of his people. The mix of the two are presented as a fragrance that goes up before God like his favourite perfume. Next, the angel takes the censer containing the prayers, fills it with fire and hurls it to the earth to dramatically change the course of history (Revelation 8:3-5).
Pioneer missions is about changing the course of history; bringing the blessings of knowing God through Jesus to places where he isn’t yet known. Prayer is the powerful fuel of missions and the most significant way that every one of us can be directly involved. As we intercede for the nations we are joining with the people of God throughout the ages.
HISTORY-SHAPING PRAYER IN SCRIPTURE
Here are just a few of the many biblical examples:
Elijah's prayers were directed and used by God to perform supernatural signs and wonders that turned Israel back to the Lord. His obedience in prayer withheld and released rain, caused fire to fall, and resulted in the people falling on their faces to worship God. And yet the Bible describes Elijah as ‘just like us’ (James 5:17).
Daniel’s prayers unleashed nation-shaping shock waves in both the seen and the unseen realms. At one point an angel gives him a glimpse of the effect of his prayers saying, “...your words were heard, and I have come in response to them” (Daniel 10:12).
Ninevah – when reluctant missionary, Jonah, warns the people of Nineveh of impending judgment, the king of that city calls on the entire population to “call urgently on God” (Jonah 3:8). God hears their prayers and relents from destroying 120,000 people.
Peter, in Acts 10, goes on the roof in the middle of his workday to pray. His ability to hear God exposed his prejudices and opened the door for generations of Gentiles across the world to become communities of Jesus-followers.
The last 30 years have seen the greatest turning to Christ among Muslims since Islam was founded 1,400 years ago. Surely, it’s no coincidence that God, through recent historical events, has prompted the worldwide church to both send and pray for the Muslim world more than ever before. Behind every dramatic story is much prayer, often by unseen heroes, who had the passion and faith to keep on interceding when so little appeared to be happening.
One Muslim background believer was asked to account for the reason so many Muslims in her land are now coming to Christ. Her reply: “I believe that the prayers of many people all over the world have been rising up to heaven for many years. In the heavens these prayers have accumulated like the great clouds during the monsoon season. And now they are raining down on my people the miracles and blessings of salvation that God has stored up for them.” (Garrison: A Wind in the House of Islam, p237)
Be encouraged! Your prayers for unreached peoples and places can change history.