Praying for the persecuted of the world and those unreached with the gospel—it sounds like a no-brainer, right? As a Christian, of course, I should care about my brothers and sisters around the world who are being persecuted for their faith. Of course, I should care about people around the world who are dying separated from Christ without ever hearing His name. And I do care . . . at least I say I do.
But what am I actually doing to care for them? Let that sit for a minute. What am I actually doing to care for them? Then once we allow ourselves to come face-to-face with our answer, if we’re being honest, doesn’t it all seem a bit overwhelming? The weight and gravity of the need engulf us, so we scramble to the surface and swim for shallower waters.
A Dangerous Tendency
Once we allow ourselves to feel the weight of the world’s needs, we immediately switch to “get it done” mode. However, the task before us is so great that, in our strength, we inevitably fail. This is probably why we avoid “feeling the weight” all together. In the face of this great need, there’s a danger of underrating the importance of prayer.
Yes, we should go. Yes, we should give. And every day, in the midst of our going and giving—and I would say before we go and give—we pray. We cast our cares upon the shoulders of the only One strong enough to bear them. We fall on our faces before the Giver of every good and perfect gift, before the Author of salvation, before our sovereign Deliverer, and plead, in accordance with His will, for the salvation of souls.
Guarding Against the Temptation to Quit
But how do we stay consistent over time? As simple as it sounds, how do we keep this discipline going when we’re tempted to give up? With the ringing in of a new year, many of us resolve to “be better”—at dieting, exercising, managing time, learning new skills, managing relationships, etc. We start off strong on January 1, but, as is often the case, by the time February, March, and April roll around, our resolve begins to fade, if it hasn’t disappeared all together. Then our resolve is replaced with the all-too-familiar regret, at which point we set a mid-year resolution: to forget that we resolved to do anything different in the first place.
Our prayer lives can be similar. We begin by attempting to pray for everyone and everything we can think of. But the next day, when we begin to sound repetitive or our prayer time gets interrupted—then the next day, then the next day, then the next day—we find ourselves choosing between two extremes. We either pray for everyone in the world in one sitting, or we stop praying for the world altogether.
So as we move into a new year, how do we find a balance we can maintain over time? Here are two suggestions to help us commit to a resolution worth making, not just for the new year, but for the rest of our lives.
1. Make a goal you can actually achieve
One key component to staying consistent in our prayers is to make our goals specific (or measurable) and realistic. If I decide to drive from Alabama to California, and then I spontaneously jump in the car and merge onto the first interstate ramp I come to, I’m less likely to make it to my destination, at least within an appropriate timeframe. But if, before I even grab my keys, I break down my travel plan into smaller, more manageable goals, determining which route I want to take and how far I can realistically go each day, then I’m much more likely to stick to the plan and arrive at my destination on schedule.
In thinking practically about incorporating prayer for the persecuted and the unreached into your regular routine, make a plan and break it down into achievable goals. For example, you may consider praying for a different unreached people group of the world every day. Perhaps you designate a certain day of the week to pray for persecuted believers by country throughout the year. Possibly reach out to a missionary you know or who is connected with your church to ask for specific prayer needs or subscribe to their newsletter.
Here are some resources to help you get started:
We’ve never been more resourced in this area. For example, I look at my phone every day, and on that phone, I have an app that shows me different unreached people every day, including obstacles to the gospel and prayer points specific to that group. I’m (literally) holding, in the palm of my hand, a device that contains all the prayer points I need. So, really, what excuse do I have left?
2. Set up a system of accountability
The other key is accountability. As with any spiritual discipline, if no one and nothing is keeping us accountable, then we’ll give up every time. “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,” right? Part of the reason God gives us the church is to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24, NIV). So link arms with your brothers and sisters in Christ and go to the battle lines together. Include your spouse, children, and friends. Spur one another on. Have grace for others and for yourself when you fall short. Offer to keep others accountable and ask them to do the same for you.
An Investment with a Greater Return
When applying these two practical suggestions for prayer, we must not forget that there’s more going on than simply accomplishing a “good Christian task.” While we certainly want unreached people to know Christ, when we are consistent in our prayers, God is faithful, not only to call lost people to Himself. He also begins to change our hearts.
Our minds are more attuned to how He’s working in the world. Our desire is more aligned with His as our hearts cry out for the sake of others. When our mouths are more eager to speak about the gospel and the urgency of salvation. Our actions are more intentional toward accomplishing the mission. Praying doesn’t just change the world; prayers change us. When we focus our minds and hearts on God’s purposes, it changes us to the core. It shapes every conversation, attitude, and relationship. And the people in our lives notice: our children, our parents, our spouses, our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends, our church family.
We are disciples of Jesus who make disciples of Jesus. So as Jesus taught us to pray—that God’s name would be revered in all the earth (Matthew 6:9–10), among the persecuted, among the unreached, and among one another—let us then teach others. And the Lord who promised and is faithful will give us the desires of our hearts . . . and His.