Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians is such a heartfelt cry. Not only that they would know the riches of God, but they would be overwhelmed and transformed by them. He prays this for them in the midst of wanting to see the gentiles reached for Christ and recognises that in them being full with God, they will be able to reach out to the gentiles around them with what God is doing through them. We pray not to put God’s seal of approval over our evangelistic activity, but so that we might first and foremost know his deep love for us. This in turn outworks in us a desire to reach others with that same love. Prayer is not just the warm up to our evangelism – it is essential to it!
Prayer for ourselves
The first thing is to pray for yourself. Or to put it another way, the starting point for any evangelism must be on our knees before the throne of God. The more time we spend in prayer before our Father in heaven – seeking God for ourselves, interceding for others, seeking his face – the more we are likely to be impacted by his majesty, his holiness and seek to share the love of God with others. Another reason for spending time with God in prayer is that we begin to recognise the ‘still small voice’. Oswald Chambers, an early twentieth century-evangelist wrote this about Isaiah:
God did not direct his call to Isaiah— Isaiah overheard God saying, ‘…who will go for us?’ The call of God is not just for a select few but for everyone. Whether I hear God’s call or not depends on the condition of my ears, and exactly what I hear depends upon my spiritual attitude.
Isaiah was a priest and spent every day in the temple courts praying to God. God did not pluck him out for a special mission. Isaiah had postured himself through years of daily devotion to be ready to hear the voice of God when he spoke. It is this attitude, this devotion, this daily posturing ourselves before God that will lead us to hear the voice of God when he speaks. This is important as it is the very word of God we speak, and not our own wise and persuasive words.
Lastly, spending time on our knees in prayer will help you better know God’s heart. It is the best preparation for mission, especially when we are bold enough to pray prayers like the one that says, ‘break my heart for what breaks yours.’ The more time you spend in prayer, the more effective you are likely to be at mission. The outward effectiveness is reliant on our inward relationship.
Stop and spend some unhurried time with God. Try to avoid prayer lists or even praying for the lost. Just enjoy his presence, praise him for who he is and don’t be afraid to leave time for silence. (You may find that when we stop, that’s when God has space to speak to us)
Prayer as Outreach
It is common to pray for the preparation, to pray for the workers, to pray for those we are trying to reach and to pray prayers of thanks. It is far less common to hear people talk about how they used prayer as mission. Jesus was a prolific public pray-er – both offering prayers of thanks to God in the hearing of others, or praying for people in their presence. We must re-orientate our minds to think of prayer as something that is not only good to do in public, it is essential to our outreach.
- Prayer is the easiest way to start a conversation:
Talking about prayer or offering to pray for someone could be the single most effective way to have really good God conversation with people. Simply asking the question, ‘is there anything I can pray for you?’ very often opens people up to sharing all sorts of needs or more personal details you may never share through friendly conversation alone.
- Prayer is the easiest way to steer a conversation:
It can seem very unnatural or contrived to turn to someone and say, ‘can I talk to you about Jesus for a moment?’. And with that sort of question you are more likely to receive a cold no. Bringing prayer into the conversation is a much more natural thing to do. When someone is talking about their family, their health, their stress over a particular situation, all you need to do is to say, I’ll pray for you or I’ll pray about that, or if it warrants, ‘can I pray for that?’. Even if the answer is still no, it reminds people you believe there is a God who cares for them, and you value them too.
- Prayer is the easiest way to end conversation:
I used to regularly play sport and I decided to commit myself to asking those I had built a friendship with each week if there was anything I could be praying for them for the following few days. Over time, as well as playing sport, every week I got to have intentional conversations with many of my team mates, I got to know them on a much deeper and personal level than before as they shared more private matters and I got to pray and see prayers answered on a regular basis. It also gave me the easiest way to start a conversation the following week as I was able to check-in on the latest prayer request. It was a real joy to see some of the team mates give their lives to God during this time, but I am convinced the real change began when I started including them in my prayer life, not just privately praying for them without their knowledge.
- Prayer is the easiest way to demonstrate God:
As well as all the benefits prayer brings in strengthening relationships, opening up conversations and encouraging deeper sharing, the one thing we haven’t mentioned yet is that prayer works. It may seem it doesn’t need a special mention but let’s consider the implications and the impact praying for or with people can actually have. Of course, not all prayer requests are genuine and not all prayers are answered in the way we might expect. But when we pray, God listens. He is generally in the business of answering the prayers of those who follow him. We should take confidence in the fact that when we pray we are not just paying lip service but there is power in those words. Praying for healing and seeing someone healed is a great way to demonstrate God’s power. Or often when praying for people they say things like they felt calm, peace, a warm feeling – all signs that the Holy Spirit is at work. Pray with boldness and with faith and see what God does!
Finally, I want to help you see that no matter who you are or how you spend your time, there are countless opportunities and people you will meet every week that will give you opportunity to offer to pray with people. Do not wait for the one person, or be so focussed on a short list of people that you miss all the other chances God gives you to demonstrate your faith in a practical way to others. I have often heard people talk or pray for God to give them an opportunity to share their faith with someone and then sit back and do nothing, as if they expect that opportunity to walk right up to them. We don’t need to pray for more opportunities, we simply need to be more open to making the most of the opportunities around you.
Ask each person to make a list of every activity they do in a normal week. Weekly shopping, school pick-ups, exercise classes, trips to the pub – anything at all. Then write down the names or the people you are likely to encounter in each of these settings. Rather than thinking of two or three names of people to pray for this week, try praying into this list that God would give you words for these people, or that you would be intentional in seeking opportunities to pray for or share your faith with those as you go about your week.