Two Confusions When It Comes to Prayer

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In Nehemiah, after the group became effective at working with the trowel in building the wall, there came a time when their enemies gathered and they had to become skilled with the sword. What a picture for an effective gospel worker: a trowel of evangelism in one hand and a sword of prayer in the other. Such a person will not only find their way to the front lines, but they will also have what it takes to stay on the front lines. Seedbed is pleased to announce the release of A Trowel and a Sword: Prayer Practices for Those on the Frontlines of the Gospel (A Fresh Expressions Book) by Verlon Fosner and Jon Davis.

Prayer Goal Confusion

Some Christians believe that prayer is primarily about talking to God and benefiting from that divine fellowship. And that is certainly an important aspect of a believer’s prayer life. We glean and grow from time in His presence. We tune our ears to the Shepherd’s voice. We understand ever more deeply who we are in Christ as heirs, sons and daughters, soldiers, and more. I love this account regarding Mother Teresa. Dan Rather, CBS anchor, once asked Mother Teresa what she said during her prayers. She answered: “I listen.”
So, Dan turned the question and asked: “Well, then, what does God say?”

Mother Teresa smiled with confidence and answered: “He listens.” For an instant, Dan didn’t know what to say. “And if you don’t understand that,” Mother Teresa added, “I can’t explain it to you.”

There is a place of deep connection and being still to know that He is God (see Psalm 46:10). Christian mystics abound throughout the ages and we have much to glean from writings and disciplines. A few throughout church history have had a very unique call to hide away in prayer and reflect on the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit and we are richer for it.

However, there is another side to prayer that is sorely needed; this form of prayer is a gift that has been given so believers can download divine interventions onto the earth. Most Christians are comfortable with relational prayers that request things from a loving Father and edify the life of a Christ-follower. However, what is sorely needed is the form of prayer that opens big doors in heaven and advances the inbreaking kingdom of God upon the earth. There must be a time when we focus our prayers on the lost, the broken, and the people who cannot pray for themselves. Those who only bring personal prayers to the frontlines are akin to bringing a knife to a gunfight. It is a spiritual battle and one that we come to with weapons of warfare (see 2 Corinthians 10:3–6). Any Christian who cannot focus on that prayer goal needs to grow to become effective on the frontlines.

Prayer Tone Confusion

Another consideration has to do with the tone of our prayers. Frontline prayers are not relational as much as they are expectant. There are some who are concerned about prayers that sound like they are telling God what to do. And while there is a time to rest in the will of God, there is also a time to fervently seek God for the gospel effectiveness in our churches, neighborhoods, cities, and denominations. These prayers are not appeal-based prayers; they are declarative, bold, and expectant. We see this declarative form of prayer when Jesus taught the disciples to pray (see Luke 11:1–13). Notice the directness of Jesus’ words: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done . . . Give us [this day] our daily bread” (vv. 2b–3 KJV).

If Jesus’ prayer had been appeal-based, it might have sounded like this: “Oh Father, please send Your kingdom upon us if it be Your will, and we ask that You provide for us the bread that we need today.” But Jesus’ instruction about prayer made no room for appeal-based words; He taught us to use declarative words. Then He immediately told a story about knocking on a neighbor’s door with bold persistence until that neighbor gets up and gives you the bread that you need. He ended the story telling the disciples to pray that way, use that persistent tone, and expect it to work.

In fact, Jesus spent three times as many verses teaching the expectant tone of prayer than He did teaching the actual words of prayer. And nothing in Jesus’ prayer or follow-up instructional story made room for appeal-based prayers or tones. Jesus taught declarative prayers. We should learn to pray declarative prayers; we should learn to hold a cause-and-effect expectation in our souls; we should have a deep and abiding feeling that when we pray, something is going to happen.

These declarative prayers are always in agreement with Scripture. Here are a few:

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. (2 Cor. 10:5–6 ESV)

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:13 ESV)

For this reason, I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Tim. 1:6–7 ESV)

When we look through the Psalms, the Prophets, the Law of the Old Testament, the Gospels, the book of Acts, and the Epistles of the New Testament, we see this practice of making declarations, and as we fan the flame of declarative prayer, we do so aligned with what is declared in the very Word of God.

Declarative prayers open big doors for the lost and broken people we are sent to reach with the gospel. When it comes to evangelism, we do not pray passive prayers of appeal—we pray bold expectant prayers that flood the dark places in our towns with the light of heaven. We pray with boldness because the God-Family of the Trinity has put us on the earth for such a task as this. It might not be our nature to pray declarative prayers, but it is our calling. Let us not be confused about the prayers that are needed on the frontlines.

If you found this helpful, you’ll enjoy Verlon and Jon’s new book, A Trowel and a Sword: Prayer Practices for Those on the Frontlines of the Gospel.

Perfect for:

  • Evangelism training
  • Churches engaged in mission
  • Small groups focused on neighborhood
  • Church planting groups

In these pages you’ll:

  • Learn why bold mission must be paired with equally bold prayers
  • Be encouraged to engage in mission for homes, neighborhoods, and cities
  • See yourself as an empowered ambassador for God’s kingdom

On the front lines of the gospel, Christians are in the business of kicking in the front door of the strongman and plundering his house—removing people he has worked hard to oppress. Accordingly, prayer must take on a declarative, bold, and authoritative tone. To show up on the front lines of the gospel without this form of prayer is the equivalent of bringing the proverbial knife to a gunfight. This conflict becomes more acute as a church becomes more effective at reaching lost people. Learn more about the kind of prayers that take spiritual warfare seriously with this book now—get your copy of this book from our store here.

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Dr. Verlon Fosner leads a multi-site Assemblies of God dinner church in Seattle, Washington with his wife Melodee (www.CommunityDinners.com). He is part of the Fresh Expressions team and leads the Dinner Church Collective.

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