By Joshua Hawkins
In this present evil age as we await the return of Jesus to restore all things and judge the world in righteousness, some of God's people have relocated to other nations to preach the Gospel among peoples where Christ has not been named. Others have committed themselves to the ministry of teaching the Scriptures weekly to their congregations. Others have chosen to raise Godly families or to work a 9-to-5 job. Still others have decided to take up a vocation of prayer or service to the poor. We should consider ourselves privileged in the West. In other parts of the world, some Christians do not have the liberty of choosing their occupation because their government, culture, or family is hostile towards Jesus.
In a 1948 issue of the predecessor to the Nazarene missions magazine Mission Connection, the term “intercessory missionary” was used by an unnamed source. (see this file). There, the term referred to Christians who would commit to pray for Nazarene missionaries who had relocated to other nations to preach the Gospel. In modern times, a man named Mike Bickle has re-coined the phrase to refer to those who participate in "the work of the kingdom from the place of prayer and worship, while embracing a missionary lifestyle and focus." Mike leads a ministry based in Kansas City called the International House of Prayer where several hundred full-time staff work to maintain a room of non-stop worship and prayer that began in September, 1999. The staff at IHOPKC are required to pray in the 24/7 prayer room for at least 4 hours per day, 6 days per week. Prayer is their main occupation. The IHOPKC ministry has encouraged many over the past decade to more fervently pray and worship the Lord, yet I believe it has also caused others to take upon themselves a burden that the Bible never calls us to bear.
Prayer and our identity
There is no question among Christians that prayer is a profoundly biblical practice. In almost every book of the Bible, the faithful can be found calling on the name of the Lord or lifting their voice and crying out to God. The Apostle Paul prayed a prayer for the church in almost every letter he wrote.
Yet because of our sinful hearts, we all too often compare our own lives to the lives, positions, and statuses of others. Some look at their own mundane lives with disdain and wish they were involved in ministry where our modern Christian culture assumes the "impact" really happens. However, we must derive our confidence from the Scriptures and the life of Jesus Himself. Those who pray for hours a day in a prayer room do not have a privileged position before God above janitors, factory workers, or moms who pray on their jobs or in their homes. Unfortunately the deep-seeded pride and elitism in our hearts may tell us otherwise, which actually keeps us from coming to Jesus as it did for the Pharisees. Men may honor political power, wealth, zeal, extravagance, or devotion, but one's social status, occupation, or ministry position provides no merit before Jesus when He comes to judge. The only boast of every believer will be the cross of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:29), and there is no greater "calling" for the Christian than to humbly cling to the cross (Philippians 3:8-9,17) and to be sincere in their faith (1 Timothy 1:5, 2 Timothy 1:5). Despite the prevalence of flashy, self-imposed titles like "apostle", "prophet", and "forerunner" that adorn business cards and conference posters, Christians who put our faith in Jesus all carry a common Biblical title until His return. We are pilgrims, strangers, and sojourners in this age, waiting for the blessed hope (Titus 2:13), our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23), and the restoration of all things (Acts 3:19-21). The cross of Christ levels everyone, and the Bible declares that all Christians are to share a common faith in Jesus, a singular hope in His return, and a deep love for God and for neighbor as the two greatest commandments. The Apostle Peter says:
"Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul."
(1 Peter 2:11 ESV)
In the context of our universal title as sojourners patiently waiting for God's promises to be established at Christ's return, various passages in the Bible exhort people to pray. Paul called the church in Thessalonica to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:18) in light of the coming Day of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11). After speaking about the future establishment of His eschatological kingdom of justice in Jerusalem (Luke 17:20-37), Jesus spoke a parable to His disciples encouraging them to "pray and not lose heart" that they might actually continue in faith until that Day (Luke 18:1-8). Isaiah prophesied after Israel's return from exile of a time when "watchmen", those who stood watch for threats on towers or on city walls, would be set on the physical walls of the city of Jerusalem and would "never be silent day or night", reminding the whole nation of Israel and God of His promise to restore Jerusalem (Isaiah 62:6) at the end of the age when the "Redeemer comes to Zion" (Romans 11:26-27; Isaiah 59:20). And Isaiah said that "the mountain of the Lord's house" (Isaiah 2:2), the restored city of Jerusalem, would be "a house of prayer for all nations" (Isaiah 56:7) in the age to come.
A careful examination of the context of these verses show that none of them explicitly offer clear Biblical support for an "end-time worldwide prayer movement with 24/7 houses of prayer" that emerges 2000 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. However, we certainly can be encouraged to persevere in prayer today by looking at the way God has invited His people to pray throughout the Bible. These scriptures can actually be a tremendous strength to us if we see them in the context of the Biblical story. Through prayer, we can also be assured of the same promises coming to pass in the age to come that those men of old longed and prayed for. God has always called His people to pray because His Day is at hand.
The Bible's perspective of prayer
Prayer is an indescribable privilege for every Christian, not just an honor given to those involved in the modern day "prayer movement". Jesus is sovereignly enthroned above all in the heavens, and hears the cries of those who call upon Him. Every believer, no matter their social status or occupation, has the privilege of petitioning Him for light to shine into the darkness and for the gospel of the coming kingdom to be spread with power to the nations.
Prayer is not mechanical, but it is relational. The Bible never sets forth prayer as a means to "establish justice" in this present age, nor does it set forth 24/7 prayer as a necessary condition to obtain revival or "fullness". Prayer is the means God has chosen to infuse grace in the hearts of believers to wait for God's day of justice, called the Day of the LORD. The reason why the church has lost perseverance in prayer, urgency in proclamation of the gospel, and missional focus is because of demonic assaults of lies about God and His promises. The apostle Paul wrote that we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood but against demonic rulers and powers (Ephesians 6:12) that speak lies about God and His plan of redemption - especially those related to the good news of Jesus as Israel's true Messiah, the coming Day of the LORD, the future kingdom of God, the resurrection of the body, and the restoration of all things. In prayer, the church does not seek to establish those promises but rather asks God for strength, grace, and continued faith in believing that Jesus will bring those promises to pass at His return. As the church prays for the church, the members of Christ's body are strengthened in ways they would not have otherwise been strengthened without prayer. Because of Jesus' kindness, they have a greater grace to be able to spread the gospel, exalt Christ through their lives, and set their hope completely in His return.
However, prayer alone must never be substituted for good works that come from a Christian's faith in Jesus. "Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20), and it is when we bear good fruit by faith that our Father is glorified and seen as beautiful among others (John 15:5; Matthew 5:16; Matthew 27:37-39). On missions, works, preaching, and prayer, Pastor John Piper says:
“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. God's goal to be glorified in a world full of white-hot worshippers from every people and tongue and tribe and nation will not succeed without the powerful proclamation of the gospel by people like you and me. And that gospel will not be proclaimed in power to all the nations without the persevering, earnest, global, faith-filled prayers of God's people. This is the awesome place of prayer in the purposes of God for the world. They won't happen without prayer.” - Prayer: The work of missions - John Piper, 1988
The goal of prayer and worship
Prayer is for much more than “getting from God what we need”, because He knows our needs before we even ask Him. Prayer does not force God’s hand to do anything, nor is prayer part of a formula to obtain God’s power for self-exaltation and pride. Prayer is simply the overflow of relationship. When God answers prayer and gives us foretastes of the age to come when He will reign in righteousness, His glory is magnified and His church is strengthened in hope and boldness in proclamation of the Gospel.
The groundswell of desire sweeping across the body of Christ today for fervent prayer and worship should be encouraging to us, but also should cause us to ask “why?” The Biblical answer to this question leads us into a grand drama that is unfolding before our eyes and that will end in a way that we cannot possibly imagine.
History has a purposeful end. God has ordained a day when He alone will be exalted. He will cause every governmental institution, every ideology, every false religion, every idol, and every person to bow low before Him so that He alone would be seen as supreme (Isaiah 2:17-19, Haggai 2:6-7). This is where the story is going. God will do this by proving to the world that Jesus Christ is the LORD – that He is the one true God (Isaiah 45:5-6; Philippians 2:6-11). God will once and for all demonstrate to the world the depth of His love and commitment to His glory by delivering His people Israel from her enemies. As a witness to what God is like, His people will even give up ther lives like Jesus did (Colossians 1:24, Revelation 12:11).
The One who was perpetually adored by the angels, took on flesh and walked the earth unrecognized, died on a cross and was resurrected and raised to the right hand of God in power will be worshipped perpetually by every living thing (Colossians 1:17-18; Revelation 5:13). This is where it is all going.
But this story of the ages will not simply happen in a vacuum or apart from the involvement of His church. With this in view, we can look to the increase of prayer across the nations and better appreciate its meaning and timing. As Jesus’ return draws near, we can now say with confidence that its larger purpose is unto Jesus being adored unceasingly and universally in the age to come.
In light of this plan, we would do well to biblically reevaluate what some put forth as the goal of the modern-day "prayer movement". The goal of prayer or worship is not to organize people to do an activity without stopping, nor should its goal be primarily because there is so much need that we must petition Jesus unceasingly in hopes of revival. Before there were lost souls that needed to be saved and prior to any humanitarian need, the confession of those who beheld Him was that His beauty warranted their undivided attention and incessant adoration. Though now our worship is rightly mixed with intercessory cries for God’s intervention in the affairs of a fallen people that have strayed from Him, our confidence and sure hope is His coming Day. The glory of Jesus of Nazareth will always be the primary reason why we pray and worship.
You are fairer than the sons of men; grace is poured upon Your lips; therefore God has blessed You forever. Psalm 45:2
The outward form and expression of "sojourning prayer" differs from city to city and nation to nation. Most of the world cannot gather in large comfortable rooms with air conditioning, microphones, and in-ear monitors. The early church gathered in homes as they prayed and patiently waited for the return of Jesus. Additionally, much of the world does not share the blessings of the West and simply cannot maintain a 24/7 schedule of prayer. Thankfully, the "burden of 24/7 prayer" is not something the Bible compels us to bear in this evil age, and the quantity or form of prayer will not cause Jesus to look upon one place with favor and another with disdain. Seven words of prayer captured the heart of God far more than the long utterances of the hypocrite (Luke 18:9-14). God is looking for fervent, devoted prayer from the heart in light of the age to come, not a specific model or quantity of prayer. As the Holy Spirit continues to reveal the glory of Jesus, the all-consuming vision of His worth and His soon return will compel the church to worship and proclaim Him rightly and even to lay their lives down as a witness of His glory. The deep conviction and confession of the whole body of Christ will be that there is truly no one like Him.
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