THIS ARTICLE IS ABOUT PRAYER. NOT PERSONAL PRAYER, IMPORTANT AS THAT IS, BUT CORPORATE PRAYER. PRAYER THAT DRAWS BELIEVERS TOGETHER, ACROSS DENOMINATIONAL BOUNDARIES AND SOCIAL DIVISIONS.
I’m talking about prayer that bridges the generational gap, the culture gap and the gender divide. Prayer that looks away from the needs of the church and the desires of the individual and focuses instead on the issues that affect the world outside: education, healthcare, crime, poverty, justice and entertainment. Prayer that not only touches the lives of those outside the church in our towns and cities but also draws them in, includes them and involves them. The kind of prayer that celebrates the unity and diversity of the family of God, follows the agenda of the kingdom of God and spills over into action for the glory of God and the benefit of his world.
My journey of leading a city-wide prayer movement started in Manchester in 1993 with a handful of enthusiasts. Gradually, as the Lord has guided us, it has grown into thousands of ordinary Christians praying together regularly. It has also birthed and supported all kinds of Kingdom activity including: youth missions; breakfast meetings between church leaders and MPs; and Crime Reduction Partnerships with the police
We’re not claiming to be experts but we have stumbled across a number of principles that seem to be of great importance, three of which I’d like to highlight. These are the key elements of what we believe make up the distinctive outward thrust that God is seeking to establish in the prayers of his people.
1. Ask for Vision
The Bible says ‘where there is no vision, the people perish’ (Pro 29:18, KJV). A more recent saying is ‘those who aim at nothing are almost certain to achieve their aim’. Experience shows that where there is vision, a great deal can be achieved.
What we discovered in Manchester is that the kind of vision that mobilises people to effective prayer and action is realistic, sustainable and easy for people across the board to grasp, understand and buy into. I’d say that vision is the single most important principle in mobilising Christians to pray for their town or city. Ask yourselves, what do we want our town or city to look like five years from now? Then pray along those lines to accomplish the vision. Find out what’s breaking God’s heart, let it break yours also, then share it with others and watch the fire spread!
2. Demonstrate Unity
Unity is a much-used word in Christian circles but it has many different interpretations.
For some, unity is forming a committee of representatives from different churches to organise the annual summer fete. For others, it is where everyone closes down their meetings, denies their traditions, burns their statements of faith, and sacks their elders and bishops to start meeting together every evening in a football stadium!
The fact is: we’re already united. As Paul points out, there’s only ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’ (Eph 4:5-6). The trouble is that although we’re all one in Christ in the spiritual realm, from an earthly perspective the Body of Christ appears fragmented. That is why Paul urges Christians to demonstrate that oneness: ‘make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace’ (vs 3). In the Amplified Bible ‘make every effort’ is translated as ‘strive earnestly’.
Jesus prayed for the Father to make the church one (John 17:11). He wasn’t just talking about the disciples of his day but also future believers; you and me, 2,000 years later. Christian unity is not an optional extra but a core component of the Kingdom. God is calling Christians to pray and act together in a way that highlights the central truth of the gospel and allows his Spirit to flow out in power and love to a hurting world. But it’s not easy, is it? Anyone who’s been involved in any of the many attempts to get Christians together from across the denominational divides will know how excruciatingly difficult, and sometimes unfruitful, it can be.
But, where the vision is clear and sound, unity is not only possible but also very sweet. ‘How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity. It is like precious oil poured on the head’ (Ps 133:1-2). A recent example of this is the good work achieved by churches working together under the banner of Hope 2008.
We’ve discovered that the key to uniting Christians in prayer is not to blur the theological differences but to celebrate them! Over the years we’ve honoured different styles of prayer in our gatherings and been enriched by the experience. Unity is so much easier when the purpose is clear. Unity is not the aim, rather transformation is the goal, but united prayer and action are the means to achieve that goal.
3. Have a Positive Focus
Every city, town and village on the face of the planet is made up of precious, creative, caring, hard-working people all made in the image of God. Rather than focusing only on the many challenging social issues in Manchester, we began to celebrate the good things and speak well of the city in the same way that you’d encourage a child to develop.
Have you ever thought to do that in your town? Celebrate the positive aspects of your town or city. Talk it up. Give thanks to God for all that’s praiseworthy: the schools, the hospitals, the police force and the sectors of the economy that are doing well.
God called us to pray for the police in Manchester in 1998 at a time when the whole nation seemed to be angry about issues of corruption and racism that seemed to be plaguing the national force. We felt strongly that we ought to pray positively for the police and express our gratitude for their brave and tireless work on our behalf. We put up ‘Thank You’ posters in all the police stations. Back in those days we had no specific contacts with Greater Manchester Police (GMP), just one or two Christian police officers that we knew.
We now find ourselves working in formal partnership with police forces all across the UK through the ‘Redeeming Our Communities’ initiative. The police have appreciated the work so much they have even given grants from their crime reduction budget to Christian organisations and we regularly use the GMP logo prominently on our publicity!
It’s time we started to pray in a positive direction for our towns and cities with an attitude of gratitude and an agenda of support. You’ll be amazed what doors this sort of prayer can open for the advancement of the gospel and the transformation of communities. Positive prayers lead to positive outcomes and God is glorified far more through the fruitful relationships that emerge.
Debra is Director of City Links, a charity promoting partnerships for spiritual and social transformation, through prayer and action.