I recently heard a pastor say, “We are the generation that has snuffed out the regular prayer meeting.” We’ve turned out the lights on congregational prayer.
What a tragedy this is in the advance of the gospel. We know that God is uninhibited in majesty, wisdom, and glory, yet we give a pittance to prayer. We have an open line of communication through Christ, yet we dabble. We revel in a high view of God, even as we curiously withdraw from corporate prayer. We glory in the sovereignty of the Almighty God, the One who works all things out for our good and his glory, yet we rarely petition that he move on behalf of his glory.
REPENTING BY PRAYING
Since 2010, the Lord has been doing a work in the church where I serve: Immanuel Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. After a sermon on Daniel 9, the congregation and pastors were struck by our lack of reliance on prayer. As a result, the pastors began to gather congregants for corporate prayer on Sunday mornings. Our gathering to pray was an act of repentance from leaning on our own strength.
For a decade now, this pattern has continued with a particular focus on the advance of the gospel. Today, pastors lead multiple prayer gatherings every Sunday. For over an hour, we pray for international missionaries, North American missionaries, local ministries, personal requests, and an unreached people group. Through the years, the Lord has used this time to give many members a heart for the nations by simply praying for the nations. When an unreached people group lives far away, it’s easy to forget about them. But when you pray for a people regularly, you begin to see them as men and women made in God’s image—and over time, you catch a glimpse of God’s heart.
Over these years, we’ve seen the Lord answer hundreds, if not thousands, of requests. He’s provided stable visas in countries where they are difficult to obtain. We’ve seen many people come to saving faith in Christ. We’ve seen many churches get planted. We’ve heard reports of image bearers from unreached people groups who have bowed their knee to Christ. We’ve sent laborers into the fields. And through it all, we’ve seen the gospel advance through the proclamation of God’s Word and the Spirit-empowered prayers of God’s people.
STRENGTHENING THE SENT ONES
In the decade since Immanuel Baptist Church has been praying corporately, many couples and singles have been sent around the country and around the world. Our prayers have grown our heart.
What’s more, once these “sent ones” get on the field, they’re sustained on the field by prayer. To be sure, they’re helped by regular communication, trips, and resources, but the work of prayer is their greatest support. Recently, we heard from one couple who labors in Bible translation that every significant request they’ve ever submitted to the prayer gatherings has been answered by God.
PRAYER THROUGH THE CENTURIES
Of course, Immanuel Baptist Church isn’t the first church to pray this way. God’s people have consistently practiced the great privilege of prayer through the centuries. The church at Jerusalem gave themselves to prayer (Acts 2:42). They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers (Acts 2:42).
This same congregation at Jerusalem sent Peter and John to strengthen people in Samaria where the gospel was advancing (Acts 8:14). While in Samaria, they preached the gospel to many villages. Later on in the book, Luke offers this summary statement: “So, the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied” (Acts 9:31).
Such was the pattern of the church—devotion to the Word of God, fellowship, and prayer. This same pattern of sending happens in Acts 11:19–22 when the church at Jerusalem hears that the gospel is advancing in Antioch. Barnabas, a good man who is full of the Holy Spirit and of faith, is sent to strengthen the gospel work. As a result, a church is born at Antioch, and the gospel is proclaimed more broadly.
Unsurprisingly, the newly established church in Antioch followed the pattern of prayer they saw in Jerusalem (Acts 13:1–3).They prayed over Paul and Barnabas and set them apart for this new work. In fact, through Paul’s first two missionary journeys, the saints at Antioch remained vital prayer partners. We see how much he respects and values them when he reports back to them after each journey.
As the gospel advances, God uses Paul and his companions to instill the foundational element of prayer in Gentile churches across the region: in Lycia, Galatia, Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia. These newly formed congregations prayed as the work advanced in the region.
We see this in other books of the New Testament, too. In Philippians, Paul highlighted prayer as a crucial element of partnership: “For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance” (Phil 1:19).
From these passages, we see an undeniable pattern. Churches don’t just proclaim the gospel; they pray that their proclamation will advance God’s fame through the forming of new churches who themselves are zealous to plant more churches.
THE PATTERN PERSISTS
William Carey famously said that he would “go down into the mine” (i.e. go to India) if his close friend Andrew Fuller would “hold the rope.” Through brotherly counsel and the support of corporate prayer, William Carey pioneered the modern missions movement by God’s power.
James O. Frasier, a pioneer missionary to the Lisu people of China, wrote his prayer partners thousands of miles away: “I will not labor the point. You will see from what I am saying that I am not asking you just to give ‘help’ in prayer as a sort of sideline, but I am trying to roll the main responsibility of this prayer warfare on you. I want you to take the burden of these people upon your shoulders. I want you to wrestle with God for them.”
As God’s people face obstacles and trials, they’re graciously reminded that it is God who uses the proclamation of the gospel to save sinners. Only by his power do spiritual realities come to exist. As Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4–5).
God is the great redeemer who is saving a people for himself from every nation, tribe, and tongue. God himself is moving on behalf of his glory to save the nations. He is the one who will be praised by all peoples. So why wouldn’t we ask this great God to move on behalf of his glory?
When we pray according to God’s will, we pray with confident trust that he will act.
Through the prayers of partnered churches, God is working all things together for his glory and his people’s good. This process has happened through the ages (3 John 5–8).
May we never forget nor diminish the role of prayer in the advance of the gospel. May our churches be full of people who labor in prayer. As we send missionaries, we must regularly entrust them to the One who builds his church. We are confident that the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
 Daniel L. Akin, 10 Who Changed the World (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2012),166.