Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Extent of Our Prayers

In Chapter 11 of his book"The Necessity of Prayer", E.M. Bounds wrote:

The soldier-prayer must reflect its profound concern for the success and well-being of the whole army. The battle is not altogether a personal matter; victory cannot be achieved for self, alone. There is a sense, in which the entire army of Christ is involved. The cause of God, His saints, their woes and trials, their duties and crosses, all should find a voice and a pleader in the Christian soldier, when he prays. He dare not limit his praying to himself. Nothing dries up spiritual secretions so certainly and completely; nothing poisons the fountain of spiritual life so effectively; nothing acts in such deadly fashion, as selfish praying.

One should not think that prayer for one's self or those near you (such as family, friends or community) is wrong. The Bible shows us how the Lord Jesus prayed for Himself and for His disciples just prior to His arrest (John 17:1-19). The prophet Samuel knew that a lack of his praying for his people would constitute a sin (1 Samuel 12:23). However, there is a tendency for us to become insular and limit our focus to those immediately around us. When viewing the world around us, a tribalistic perspective is often the easiest default into which we can fall.

The teaching of Christ indicates that His church and its activities would not be confined to a localized region or a single people group. The church's mandate is world-wide in scope:

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV)

Therefore, when it comes to prayer and those for whom you pray and the situations for which you pray, don't limit yourself to the local. Don't pray only for family and friends and local situations. Don't neglect them but don't limit yourself to them either. Pray on the global scale. Pray for situations in other countries (the technology of the early 21st century allows us to know about events around the world as they happen). Our senior pastor once noted that reading the daily newspaper can have a great devotional quality. A newspaper can inform you of world events and provide a framework from which to pray.

Lastly, don't forget that, to use the E.M. Bounds and biblical metaphor, a Christian is a soldier of Christ in a vast worldwide army of other Christians. Pray for your fellow-believers across the globe. There will be millions who do not share your culture, language, racial or ethnic background. They may live lifes of persecution unimagined by you and your experience. Yet, what you share and have in common is the knowledge that

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6 NIV)


Brady said...

I love what your pastor said about newspapers. That is a really good way to look at it.

Keep up the good work!

b. lee

Brady said...

Actually, now that I think about it, I really like the concept of this post.

I will comment again once I find a more well thought out response.

b. lee

Walter Hampel said...


First, let me thank you for your encouraging comments.

This post was generated by a few things going on simultaneously. The first has to do with one facet of the order of worship in our church. In that order,we have a time for the reading of praises and prayer requests submitted by the congregation. I think that this is great and offers a great opportunity for others in the congregation to know the prayer needs of those in the church. (We have a lot of praying people in our congregation).

One drawback that happens often (and I suspect it is not unique to our congregation)is that prayer requests often don't go beyond the needs of those in our immediate spheres of influence (i.e. family, friends, etc.). Again, there's nothing wrong with praying for this needs. I do think there is something wrong when our attention to the prayer needs of others fails to go beyond those immediately closest to us. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews gave us one example of, for most of us, praying beyond our immediate circumstances. "Remember the prisoners as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body." (Hebrews 13:3 NASB). I try to remember that I have family members (in the body of Christ) who are living in places like China, North Korea and the Sudan who are suffering imprisonment and persecution for no other reason than that they are believers in Christ.

I'm a big believer in the idea that God has put us when and where we are in human history for His purposes (see Acts 17:25-27). If God placed us in the United States at a time when we have access to newspapers, electronic media and the Internet, surely we should be learning about events beyond our immediate circumstances. That includes praying for Christians around the world.

There is also a second factor to the post. I have just finished re-reading some chapters from "Above All Earthly Pow'rs" by David Wells. Wells makes the point that at the one time in world history in which the peoples of the world of all cultures are coming to the United States for education and a new life, many Christians in America are limiting their perspective to building church communities of people just like them (i.e. white, upper middle class, suburban megachurches, for example).

The irony and tragedy is that rather than having to send U.S. missionaries to many of these lands, the mission field is coming here. We are being handed a global opportunity which seems to be largely ignored for a needlessly (and sinfully) narrow viewpoint.

Our senior pastor has reminded us of the need to look beyond the immediate in our prayers.(Hence, his sermon comment about the use of newspapers as a devotional tool). I've stressed this repeatedly in the adult Sunday School classes which I teach. It is something of a passion of mine (as if you couldn't tell)

Walt H

Brady said...


Thank you for your detailed response.

I think that you touch on a very interesting point. My church does a similar thing with prayer requests during the service. Anyone who wishes can stand up and say a praise or need, and everyone will pray.

Occasionally, there is someone who will ask to pray for something that no one is directly near to, for example the soldiers in Iraq or our president, and I always find myself nodding in agreement, but yet feeling a little weird and out of place for bringing such prayers to God.

I understand this is not the way that I am supposed to feel (at all), but there is a culture in Christianity that is very closed and clique-like. I find this sad. Granted, we are all guilty of many things like this many times, but what bothers me is that it is so "accepted" as the normal thing.

I like your post because it is challenging something that as a faith (sorry for the generalization) Christianity is somewhat weak on. We like to go to church, sing songs we know, shake the people's hands that we know, put our money in the offering, get encouraged, and then go about our daily life.

That is not how it is supposed to be at all. You also touched on this in your comment, in which you said that the missions are in this country. I could not agree more. The reason that you or I are not in some far away country speaking God's word is that we are supposed to be speaking it here to the people that we know.

That is the hard part about Christianity; living with a faith that you do not know how people are going to react in relation to. In Australia, if I were to go out and be a missionary, I would always have the "I will never see this person again" level of 'security.' That is gone when I am living my faith in my school where there are no planes to catch to go home and go back to reality.

This is certainly not a dig on missions out of the country. God moves his people around in ways that we could never fathom. It is just a word of encouragement (mainly for me!) that we are fine right where we are, and that through prayer we are allowed to share "prison" with those people in far off places, even when we are 8,000 miles away on our knees.

Yes. That is good. Good work, and I look forward to future posts. Your words have come at a good time in my life.

Thanks again for the comment!

Brady Lee