Unleashing God’s people to accomplish God’s purpose in the world requires that we devote ourselves to relentless prayer in the church. Why? Because prayer is one of the primary demonstrations of our selflessness and God’s self-centeredness. In our selflessness, you and I realize that it is impossible for us to accomplish his purpose in our own strength. So we express our dependence upon God in prayer, and he delights in showing his glory by giving us everything we need for the accomplishment of his purpose. Through prayer, God gives grace to us in such a way that he receives glory for himself.
Prayer is a nonnegotiable priority for selfless followers of a self-centered God.
When you read the story of the early church in the book of Acts, you see people for whom prayer was fundamental, not supplemental. Three times Luke tells us that the church was devoted to prayer. They were utterly dependent on God’s power. Every major breakthrough for the church in the book of Acts came about as a direct result of prayer. God performed mighty works for the propagation of the gospel and the declaration of his glory in direct proportion to the prayers of his people.
As the early church prayed, Luke tells us, “much grace was upon them all.” In the pages of Acts, we see the grace of God working powerfully through his people at every turn. Every advance of the gospel message came, not by human innovation, but by divine visitation.
These believers knew that prayer was necessary for the accomplishment of God’s purpose in the world. The point of prayer is not to carry on business as usual in the church. The reality is, we can conduct monotonous, human-centered religion on our own. But if we want to make disciples in all the nations, then we will need to pray. For when we sacrifice everything we are and stake everything we have on the front lines of a battle for the souls of millions of people around us and billions of people around the world who have little to no knowledge of Jesus, we are forced to pray.
I remember traveling to Sudan for the first time. Persecution and war were still prevalent in the region of southern Sudan where we were going, making it the most dangerous trip I had ever gone on. Even praying about the possibility of going was a challenge for my wife and me, but we were convinced it was God’s will.
The team I went with arrived in Kenya and spent a couple days there before going into Sudan. The night before we were to fly to Sudan, my friend who had organized the trip brought us all together and said, “There’s a potential risk that we have not yet discussed, and we need to discuss it before we leave tomorrow morning.”
Everybody got quiet.
“We know there are threats of bombings and raids in these villages,” he explained. “But we also need to talk about the threat of snakes.”
For the record, I’m not a big fan of snakes.
“You need to know,” my friend continued, “that a majority of the deadliest snakes in the world live in Sudan.” He began to name them—the green mamba, the black mamba, and so on. He described how lethal their bites are. Then he said, almost in jest, “If you get bit by one of these snakes, we have a snake kit, but it really won’t do anything for these kinds of snakes. So if you get bit, we’ll just pray and see what happens.”
I was now considering the possibility that God, even though I had thought he wanted me to go to Sudan, really wanted me to stay Kenya.
This possibility grew more appealing as my friend continued. “Last year,” he said, “a Sudanese villager was walking his cattle down a path in the jungle, and a green mamba was hiding up in a tree. Suddenly it plunged down and bit a couple of his cows. The cows fell over dead within minutes.”
I was frozen as I listened. A few minutes later he concluded our meeting and told us to get a good night’s sleep so we’d be ready for the morning.
I tried to sleep that night, but every time I closed my eyes, I saw mambas. So instead of sleeping, I stayed up and memorized Psalm 91. Verse 13 says,
You will tread upon the lion and the cobra;
You will trample the great lion and the serpent.
I figured that if I didn’t have anything else in the snake-ridden Sudanese jungle, I was at least going to have the Word with me.
The next day we rode a small plane for a few hours until we landed on a makeshift airstrip in the middle of Sudan. We got our bags and made our way to a river. It turned out that this was a crocodile-infested river, and we were crossing it in a canoe that some Sudanese had affectionately labeled on its side The Mayfloat.
So we crossed the crocodile-infested river in The Mayfloat, and we came to a Jeep on the other side. There was enough room for most of the guys to get into the Jeep, but not all of us. Someone would need to ride on top. My friend asked if I’d be willing to go up there. I told him I would be glad to, and I climbed on top.
We began to move forward, I looked up, and all I saw were trees everywhere. Immediately I thought of the green mamba story from the night before, and I panicked. What if a mamba like the one that bit the cows dropped on me?
I didn’t have anywhere to go or anything to do. So I did all that I knew to do. I started speaking to the trees and any snakes therein: “You will trample upon the lion and the serpent! You will trample on the cobra!”
This set the stage for the whole trip. Everywhere we went, I was on the lookout. I would go to bed at night praying that God would wake me up in the morning, and then I would wake up thanking him for bringing me through the night. I would walk around every corner, in every field, at every moment looking for snakes and praying for protection. Everywhere and at all times I was aware of my need for him, and I lived in constant dependence upon him and in desperation for him.
I am convinced this is the way the Christian life is intended to be lived and our churches are intended to be led. Let’s be honest. As long as church consists of normal routines and Christianity consists of nominal devotion with little risk, little sacrifice, and little abandonment, then we can do this on our own. But what happens when we give ourselves to something that is far greater than what we can accomplish on our own? What happens when we dare to believe that God desires to use every one of our lives and every one of our churches to bring about kingdom advancement to the ends of the earth? We will find ourselves around every corner and at every moment dependent on his power and desperate for his grace as we devote ourselves to his purpose.