Many of us might not describe our main calling as being that of the intercessor, but I believe that almost all of us have more slack to take up in prayer than we perhaps realise.
I have a passionate desire in this edition to steer us towards the concept of praying at a strategic level; whether for people or for situations. God hears all our prayers, but so much of our praying is at the ‘reactive’ level, in response to what has already happened. As we continue to explore what it means to be Lovers of Truth in a post truth era, we will be thinking here about how we can be involved in prayer that takes us as it were ‘over the horizon’, to be involved in shaping the unfolding of God’s purposes for issues far and wide – including some of the world’s current hottest hotspots.
The “ingredients” that go into our prayers
A surfeit of cookery programmes on TV has made people highly conscious of what ingredients goes into their food. I thought it might be helpful to share a few thoughts about four significant “ingredients” in our prayer life. I suggest that they are first of all to be concerned for His glory, evangelistic, compassionate and guided by strategy. This is by no means an exhaustive list, of course, or in any prescribed order.
First of all there is a God-ward concern for His glory. We pray in order to give God glory. This may sound self-evident but it is worth constantly bearing in mind. It is a perspective that takes us far beyond being primarily need-centred. Oles Hallesby explores this in greater detail in his classic “Prayer” (IVP). The Lord knows our utter helplessness, and still delights to direct our live and prayers for His glory.
From here we move on to share the Lord’s own heart’s desire to see His Kingdom extended – the evangelistic dimension. Prayer for God’s Kingdom embraces but takes us beyond what we usually associate with evangelism . . . it looks forward to “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17), and we know that all creation is eagerly awaiting for God’s children to be revealed (Rom. 8:19).
All this, however, must be accompanied by the third “ingredient”, which is compassion. We must all have known times when we have experienced the Lord’s deep, even wrenching, longing for some person or situation. But it is important to note that such compassion needs to be woven into the first two ingredients, lest we preach nothing more than a social gospel. The answer lies in the twinning and the entwining of the two – faith without works is dead (Jas. 2:26) – and yet work without compassion and faith does not lead to eternally changed lives.
So our prayers seek the glory of God, the extension of His kingdom and to move with compassion in the beauty of holiness. The fourth element of prayer I want to consider is what we might call the strategic, or the prophetic level, in which our primary concern is to sense what is on God’s heart in regard to achieving specific aims and objectives – and to averting particular dangers.
When I began my ministry in the mid 1970’s it was primarily as an evangelist. Nothing else seemed to matter except helping people to come to faith, and to pray as Jesus commands us to that the Lord of the harvest will “send (literally thrust out) labourers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:38). This is indeed a strategic, prophetic prayer!
Later I came to realise that the Lord was looking for lovers as well as workers, and that He raises us up to understand more of His heart and ways. The dynamics of our meetings and endeavours benefit massively when we think and operate at this strategic level. Conversely, when we simply follow traditions and programs we risk the reverse. Waiting on God to find out what is on His heart, and what He is asking us to do is the vital first step. One of the simplest ways to do this is to train ourselves to turn as much as we can of the welter of information that comes our way into prayer, and to sense what He is saying about it.
This has the advantage of meaning that we are not primarily praying “reactively” but with Him into the heart of situations. It is this degree of identification with Him which enables us to pray, as it were, over the horizon into the ways He wants to work things out.
And this means being as comfortable and focused in praying about national situations as we do when we mislay our car keys – and praying in such a way as to incorporate all four dimensions: the glory of God, the desire to reach out for Him, to demonstrate His compassion and to be strategic in all we are seeking to be and to do.
The nation of North Korea, for instance, needs not only compassionate prayers for the tens of thousands imprisoned and impoverished by the regime, but also the prayers of those who will labour to see the Lord to break the cult-like hold of its leaders exercise over it. Beyond that, to pray for the incredibly difficult decisions world leaders must take regarding this nation.
It is easy to feel unqualified and even uncomfortable with the thought of praying for such issues – it is certainly easier to stick to general issues, but the ‘eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him’ (2 Chron. 16:9).
He is inviting, urging us indeed, to renew our commitment to grow in proactive “over-the-horizon” prayer. To do that, it usually helps to keep abreast of political and ‘intelligence’ dimensions concerning many of the most pressing situations – though even here, we need to work out what angle material is being presented to us from. We will explore ‘viewpoint’ as a topic in its own right in relation to discerning truth from in a propaganda filled world in a subsequent edition.
How do we apply this in practice and grow in praying strategically?
Let’s take an example. Many of us who heard of the murder of the British student, Hannah Bladon, being stabbed to death on a tram in Jerusalem will have felt at least a momentary desire to pray for her family. This is compassion in prayerful action.
Strategic prayer might lead us to explore wider aspects such as to pray that people whom the Lord wants to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem will not be deterred from doing so. And we should surely pray that the security and intelligence services will be miraculously on the ball to deter and interrupt many similar attempts, not only in Jerusalem, but everywhere. Praise God for the many attacks that have been averted or mitigated by prompt action!
We have frequently called for people to remember to pray for the intelligence services in this way, and for the cyber world to be protected against countless attempts to infiltrate and degrade it. With so many of our systems becoming increasingly digitalised – our Water supplies and the National Grid for example – the potential for complete chaos is huge should they be hacked. Countless efforts to do just this are being made on a more or less daily basis. What can be more important to the whole of modern life? Let’s be under no illusions. Russia, China, along with North Korea and Iran, have teams of utterly dedicated cyber ‘warriors’ geared up for cyber warfare. So too do America and Israel.
There is less need for terrorists to infiltrate a few drops of cyanide into the local reservoir if they can disable the water supplies at the computer source.
Pray for the ‘thin cyber line’ hold firm against many pronged threats. Concerning Russian intervention in America see this article.
Let’s make it our aim to become more strategic in our praying!
What, or for whom, would the Lord have you pray for at a strategic level? Your work, region, or nation? How can we pray strategically for situations around the world? Here are some points to consider for current hotspots:
American leadership in troubled places
It is not unusual for presidents and governments under pressure and falling opinion polls at home, to turn their attention to an interventionist foreign policy in order to line up their nation behind them on some external initiative. This thought, too, is perhaps worth bearing in mind as we try to understand the wider picture.
Donald Trump’s recent decision to inform visiting Chinese leaders that he had authorised a missile attack against an airfield in Syria, during the course of a dinner, was not only a carefully choreographed gesture, but a reflection of the real issues the US faces – not least whether it can risk coping with the increasingly assertive and treaty-breaking nuclear powers of nations such as Iran and North Korea. There was a legitimate and strategic argument to be made in favour of the US decision to bomb IS forces in Afghanistan. Do the same arguments apply elsewhere? Let’s think and pray strategically about North Korea.
Perhaps President Trump has at the back of his mind the successful pre-emptive attack that Israel launched many years ago to destroy Syria’s fledgling nuclear capability, or the heroic thwarting of the risk of heavy water being turned into an atomic bomb by Germany (immortalised in The Heroes of Telemark). But this is a very different scenario.
- There is a critical lack of communication between North Korea throughout and beyond the Korean peninsula. This really is where the world has reached.
- North Korea has a huge and well-armed military force. And when – rather than if – it develops more advanced ballistic missiles, will they henceforth hold America effectively to ransom – or will they settle down to coexist uneasily?
- An article in the Guardian shows how much closer the Korean peninsula came to all-out war in 1994 than most people realise – as a result of the very issue that is once again at the forefront of everyone’s thinking: nuclear weapons in the hands of an unpredictable president.
- Trump has yet to appoint the majority roles in his State Department. It, along with the Pentagon, would struggle to cope with the logistics involved in a major escalation. See this article: feint or fumble.
- Tens of thousands of American soldiers are stationed in Seoul and would be at great risk were North Korea’s nuclear weapons to be deployed. Casualties would be horrific in the event of any outbreak of full scale violence.
- South Korea is without a functioning President until May, and there is far less concern in Seoul than elsewhere. Is this complacency, or resignation following years of living on the edge? South Koreans are used to tensions rising precipitously about this time of year, when North Korea traditionally holds military exercises parades its latest weaponry. There is a difference this time however because of the nature of the weaponry.
- China is feeling the discomfort of all this intensely. North Korea is far less hand-in-glove with China than most people suppose. The paranoia of the northern kingdom is so intense that if anything they hate and fear the thought of China controlling them even more than they loathe America. China recently placed an embargo on North Korean coal supplies in an effort to collaborate with UN directives and US policy. As this represents a major percentage of North Korean trade, it can only add yet more fuel to the fire. China is deeply uncomfortable at the thought of receiving a flood of refugees from North Korean in the event of the break out of hostilities.
Strategic and effective prayer is so necessary! May the word of Christ, and the peace that He brings, proceed a glorious pace in all the countries most affected in this region.
One thing is for sure, God is as concerned for the people of North Korea as He was for the people of Nineveh in Jonah’s day. Here are a people taught from birth to put their faith in the cult of leadership and the military might of bombs and missiles. Expect the Lord to take action and to do something to ease their decades old plight. But it would be naive to expect the battle to be anything less than intense.