The Role of Prayer and Serving the City

As I’ve been continuing to process For the City along with a number of other books on engaging our cities and culture there’s something that’s been bugging me.

Is it my imagination or does the conversation tend to overlook the importance of prayer?

A lot of time is spent discussing techniques and programs designed to engage people (which is good), but little time is spent discussing prayer’s role. Perhaps it’s simply assumed that we would be praying for our cities, because, well, why on earth would we not? (But you know what they say about assuming…) Is it possible, though, that by assuming that we’re praying for our cities, we might actually forget to do it? Do we really get the importance of prayer to all we do to reach our communities?

In Acts 1:14, we find the early church (then perhaps 120 people), gathered in the upper room where they were “devoting themselves to prayer,” and waiting for the Holy Spirit to come. When He did descend upon them (Acts 2:1-4), they were again together and in prayer. The apostles themselves were devoted to prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4). When Peter was imprisoned, the church made “earnest prayer” for him (Acts 12:5). Prayer and fasting guided the appointing of elders (Acts 14:23).

In Paul’s epistle to the Romans, we see him command that they “be constant in prayer” (Rom. 12:12). To the Colossians he says, “Continue steadfastly in prayer” (Col. 4:2) and he says the Thessalonians are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). And, of course, Jesus Himself commands that we “pray for those who persecute [us]…” (Matt. 5:44).

The point, obviously, is not to just chuck a pile of verses, but we do have to recognize this pattern that appears throughout Scripture. What made the Church’s ministry so powerful and effective in its early days was not programs or technique, but a commitment to prayer. It’s not that programs, starting non-profits, appropriate contextualization or any number of points made in any of the “being missional” books are bad things (they’re not), but we always need to be careful of the snare they can represent. Our hearts are so easily turned away from the truth of the gospel, “prone to wander” as the song says, that we can turn to these good things and see them as the secret to being for our communities—that we become dependent upon technique for success instead of God and His grace for fruit.

That takes me back to these commands to “be constant in prayer,” to “pray without ceasing…” Could this be the reason why the Church has in the West has floundered so greatly in the last century? Not because we’ve not kept up with the times, but because we’ve failed to rely upon the power of God and His gospel?

This is not a post pointing fingers at anyone, expect probably myself. I’m certainly no expert in this matter; in fact, I’d say my prayer life is pathetic. But when I see what’s going on in my city, with a population that’s increasingly hostile to the gospel, I don’t find myself trying to figure out how some new technique—I find myself desiring to pray more. To pray that the churches in our city would be faithful to the gospel, which is “the power of God for salvation” (Rom. 1:16), and that our congregations would not just being people that say they are for the city, but people who are praying for the city.

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  • http://chrismacleavy.com Chris MacLeavy

    Great post Aaron. In our 2011 Sunday morning sermons, our Pastor is running an ‘A Year on Prayer’ series. In exploring the meaning, purpose and practice of prayer we’ve discovered the importance of the point you’ve made above (both personally and congregationally). Not only does prayer inevitably conform our own hearts and desires to God’s desires, but the result of ‘prayer without ceasing’ for something is that when it happens, it’s God alone who gets the glory, as it should be!

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