Multiplying Prayer

04 Aug 2023

I have a private list of 99 heuristics/principles/rules that I often refer to and use as rules of thumb. (Building that list is an an interesting exercise that I highly recommend to everyone–but that’s a subject for another day.) Rule #21 is, “Correlation is not causation–but it’s a pretty strong clue.”

I think about Heuristic 21 when I think about prayer. I don’t understand how prayer works. I doubt anyone this side of heaven does–and perhaps, not on the other side, either, at least not fully. I’ve recently been reading CS Lewis’s letters. In 1953 he was thinking about writing a book on prayer, but in one letter (14 Jan 1953) wrote that he had trouble reconciling the un-granted prayer of the Lord in the Garden with the promise in Mark 11:24 (“Whatsoever you ask…”). If Lewis didn’t understand how prayer worked and had trouble with some of the causation issues, why should I?

There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence of some sort of causal link between prayer and events. I’ve never experienced anyone I’ve prayed for being instantly and miraculously healed, and I’ve never seen someone raised from the dead–but I’ve met people who’ve experienced both. And, larger causal links: I am reminded of something I hear often from different folks involved in mission ministry: that there is some correlation between the incredible spiritual openness amongst Muslims and the 30 years of 30 Days of Prayer for Muslims during Ramadan.

Movement leaders often explore the concept of ‘extraordinary prayer’ as key to rapidly multiplying movements. “Disciple-making movements are first prayer-movements.” And, “we started seeing fruit when we started praying more for the lost.” The point isn’t legalism to a specific number of hours of prayer–but there is something to “extraordinary” prayer, or “prayer that is more than what we ordinarily do.”

Understanding or not, we are commanded by the Lord to make our requests known to the father, to pray for one another, to pray for more laborers for the harvest, and so on. This is a command that virtually anyone in the world can obey. We don’t have to raise funds, or get on a plane, or learn another language, or experience persecution. We simply have to bring our requests before the Father. In some way that we don’t fully understand, doing so is incredibly powerful and of critical importance.

I am therefore both interested in methods and tools that will help me personally improve in this discipline (and I could stand to improve, a lot), as well as tools that will help multiply prayer for the unreached in the world. It’s not about bragging about numbers (how many people are praying could easily be a vanity metric)–but encouraging people to pray is obviously important.

I have always intended the Roundup to be, in part, a prayer tool. To make this a little more straightforward, last Sunday I launched a new “Prayer Guide for the Unreached.” Initial response was quite favorable, so I’m mentioning it here now. You can sign up for free here. It features 7 items to pray for, distilled from the events listed in the Roundup.

More than that, a concrete first step is to have a prayer guide for each of the major clusters of unreached peoples. This is the most practical first step of an adoption. Here’s an idea that is perhaps a gentle critique which I hope my friends in Perspectives will forgive: rather than writing a “strategy for reaching the unreached” in Perspectives class, why not take a more immediate practical first step of writing a prayer guide? This could be informed by the same sorts of research and interviews, but would be an incredibly useful tool that could be spread far and wide and generate prayer for the unreached.

The point here is that we can all pray. But more, we can all encourage others to join us in prayer. I remember one of the first mission stories I ever heard: of a man who picked up a copy of Operation World and prayed through Afghanistan on the first day. The second day, he felt his heart tugged – and went back to pray for Afghanistan. For 30 days, that’s what he did – he never got beyond Afghanistan. Finally he decided God was telling him to do something more. I never met the person in question and can’t verify the details, but I can imagine how this would happen – beginning with prayer, extending into commitment. What if the real key to mobilization is writing a prayer guide?