For the last 8 years I have been a part of a number of communities and ministries that have been centered around daily corporate prayer and worship led by singers and musicians. In 2006 a few dozen of us began meeting every morning at 8am for 4-8 hours of adoration and intercession. Those meetings continue to this day. Our community is not unique. In Jakarta, Seoul, Kansas City, Egypt, Atlanta, Kona, and dozens of other cities around the world, multitudes (mostly young adults) are gathering 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” and to “remind” God of His promises in intercession (Ps. 27:4; Is. 62:6-7).
My convictions about frontier missions have been indelibly shaped by this experience. A 24/7 model messes with all our ecclesiological structures and forms. Instead of meeting for an hour on Sunday for Church, and a weeknight for Bible study, the new ‘normal’ is gathering daily to pray and worship. It’s unfortunate that we have to call this “new” considering that this was the face of the early Church:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42 ESV)
We center our discipleship, our training, our equipping, and our sending around a Prayer Room. It’s not about the room. It’s about prayer. And it’s about the infinite worth of Jesus. It’s about joyfully gathering together deliberately and intentionally because our hearts faint for the One we love. Like David, we long to be in the assembly of the saints beholding the glory of God and exalting Him in our praise.
While we love, honor, and bless the local Church in its one-hour-a-week structure, our (natural and spiritual) kids don’t understand it. They are growing up with the assumption that Church looks like meeting together daily to adore Jesus and to ask Him to do the things He’s promised. They think that everyone is called to be an intercessor. They think that incessant prayer and worship is ‘normal.’ They don’t know anything else. It’s not that they have animosity in their hearts for the current forms and expressions of Church. They don’t! We don’t. It’s that they don’t understand why, if Jesus is who He said He is, pastors and leaders would be so adamant about maintaining their one-hour-a-week expression of corporate worship and prayer. To them it’s not about the hours. It’s about Jesus. He is “great and greatly to be praised.” It’s not about prayer meetings. It’s about a prayer culture. Why wouldn’t we declare His greatness 24 hours a day 365 days a year? What good reason is there not to worship God extravagantly?
Some say that gathering in a room together for hours on end for prayer and worship causes people to become introspective and will denigrate the call to evangelism and missions. We’ve found the opposite to be true. In the last 6 years, our of little community has trained around 1,000 young adults (through a number of training programs) and sent a few hundred of them into the nations. We’ve discovered that one of the greatest ways to foster a missionary spirit is to facilitate corporate prayer and worship. Regardless of what the critics say, our experience is a compelling apologetic for the union of prayer and missions. And as I hope to show, so also is the the Word of God. Jesus was very clear about how to stir a movement of frontier missions.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:36-38 ESV)
There are over 6,000 unreached ethno-linguistic people groups on the earth. What should our response be? Jesus told us. Prayer.
THE SPIRIT IS EMPHASIZING NIGHT AND DAY PRAYER BEFORE THE RETURN OF JESUS
The 21st century has been witness to the single greatest expression of night and day prayer in the history of humanity. What has happened over the last decade is stunning. Malachi’s prophecy of “incense” (i.e. prayer) rising from every nation is beginning to come to pass in our day. But it is only the beginning.
The emergence of night and day prayer is by no means unique to the generation of the Lord’s return. Around 1000 BC King David called and financially released 38,000 full-time staff to lead and facilitate incessant worship in Jerusalem (see 1 Chronicles 23-25). And no less than seven times in Israel’s history between David and the birth of Jesus we see the reemergence of this critical ministry “according to the command of David” (as in Nehemiah 12:45, Ezra 3:10-11, 2 Chr. 23:18, 2 Chr. 35:3-15 and many other places). Interestingly, the scriptures declare that this ministry will be reinstated in the age to come after Jesus returns. I’ve never heard this preached at a Church before.
This model of ministry is by no means reserved for those who refer to themselves as “houses of prayer.” The global prayer movement will not be expressed through a band of individuals deemed as “intercessors” or even what has come to be known as “houses of prayer.” It will be expressed collectively through the global Church among the nations. The Church of Jesus will be a praying Church. Every believer is called to be an intercessor. And every Church is called to be a community of prayer. The global prayer movement is for the whole Church of Jesus–including frontier missionaries.
36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38)
THE BOOK OF ACTS: THE EVERLASTING MARRIAGE OF PRAYER AND MISSION // ACTS 1-13
The model of ministry observable in the life of Anna is even clearer in the book of Acts in the lives of the apostles and those they led. The early Church was a praying Church. Observing this historical precedent of corporate prayer in the life of the first century Church further reinforces the importance of this critical ministry now at the end of the age. It makes clear the fact that the emerging global prayer movement is not a new idea but the contemporary expression of an ancient reality.
The book of Acts tells us that God intended the Great Commission to be done from the place of prayer. It was not the precursor to the greater work. It was the greater work. The early Church was born in a culture of corporate prayer, was sustained in a culture of corporate public prayer, and advanced a culture of corporate prayer. Every significant event in the first 13 chapters of the book of Acts happens on the way to a corporate prayer meeting (ch. 3), in a corporate prayer meeting (ch. 4), or after a corporate prayer meeting (ch. 5). If you were to cut out the events that occurred before, during or after a corporate prayer meeting, the first 13 chapters of the book of Acts would be reduced to a handful of sentences. I stress the word corporate because in most missions circles, prayer is not a prominent part of corporate life, leadership, or ministry. It is approached from an individualistic vantage point and revolves mostly around crises and pressing needs. That’s not what we see in the book of Acts.
Below are 10 episodes in the book of Acts that demonstrate the indissoluble union of prayer and mission.
1. Jesus’ parting words to the disciples // “Go” and “Stay” (Luke 24; Acts 1)
“…repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:47-49)
4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4-5)
A Biblical model of apostolic frontier missions emphasizes both dimensions of Jesus commands: “go” and “stay.” The disciples didn’t launch out into the Great Commission immediately after the resurrection. There was a period of formation and forging. At Pentecost it was evident that the time to “go” was upon them. This became even more apparent in Acts 8 after persecution broke out and Acts 10 when Peter received the vision concerning the Gentiles. Few modern missions agencies make much of this command to “stay.” As a result they undermine the God-ordained process of formation and preparation. We will return to this when we get to Acts 13.
2. Prayer and Pentecost // Prayer for power, power for prayer (Acts 2)
1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1-4)
The Great Commission began in an Upper Room. In the place of prayer they received the “power” that Jesus had promised them. They prayed for power, and they received power for prayer. Frontier missionaries who aren’t filled with the Holy Spirit
3. The Culture of the Early Church // Teaching, fellowship, prayer, & power (Acts 2)
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and times of prayer [literal translation]. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
The ‘face’ of the early Church is described in Acts 2:42. The ethos of the apostolic Church was the fruit of a community centering around the Word of God, fellowship, and praying together. The literal translation of 2:42 is “times of prayer.” This refers to the scheduled sessions for corporate prayer at the Temple.
It’s not enough to hold apostolic doctrine. It’s not enough to fellowship. The early Church was a praying Church.
4. The priority and overflow of corporate prayer (Acts 3)
1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. 2 And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. 3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. 4 And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:1-6)
Acts 3 demonstrates the priority of corporate prayer for the leaders of the early Church. It was at the core of their culture. And the overflow of the prioritizing of prayer was signs and wonders.
5. Persecution, prayer, and power (Act 4)
23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’—27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:23-31)
After a wave of intense persecution, the believers gathered together in prayer. They prayed for boldness. After they prayed, the Spirit was poured out. This brought about another wave of ingathering of new believers as well as persecution. Then the growing Church went back into the place of prayer. This was the philosophy of Church growth: prayer, power, persecution; prayer, power, persecution; prayer, power, persecution.
6. Power as the overflow of corporate prayer (Acts 5)
12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed. (Acts 5:12-16)
Between Acts 1 and 4 corporate prayer is central and prominent. In Acts 5 marks a transition in terms of intensification–of power and of persecution. They gathered in living rooms and in the Temple to pray, and the people gathering the streets to be healed. This is the impact of the praying Church.
7. The primacy of prayer in the life and ministry of the apostles (Acts 6)
1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word….7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. ” (Acts 6:1-7)
As the Church was growing by thousands, the practical and pastoral needs were mounting. One would assume that this would motivate the apostles to prioritize according to those needs. One would assume that they would invest more time and energy into meeting those needs. One would assume that they would carve into the time and energy spent on prayer to better serve their community. But what we find is that the apostles do the exact opposite. The statement, “We will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word” defined the leadership philosophy of the early Church. The result? –”The word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.”
The seedbed of apostolic Church planting and frontier missions was and still is the place of prayer.
8. Prayer, uprising, dispersion, outpouring, multiplication (Acts 8 )
1 And Saul approved of [Stephen’s] execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. 3 But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. 4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. 6 And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. 7 For unclean spirits came out of many who were possessed, crying with a loud voice, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was much joy in that city. (Acts 8:1-8)
The praying Church in the book of Acts was a force to be reckoned with. After the apostles refused to serve tables in chapter 6 they appointed Stephen to meet some of these needs. Shortly after being instated he was martyred on the streets of Jerusalem. The result of his death was widespread persecution that scattered the growing Church into the surrounding regions. There is no reason to doubt that the face of the Church was altered as it was scattered. As they uprooted their families and communities to other cities, a culture of prayer began permeating more territory.
9. Prayer as revelation, direction, and communication to leaders (Acts 10)
1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, 2 a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” 4 And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5 And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” 7 When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, 8 and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa. 9 The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance… (Acts 10:1-10)
The wisdom of the place of prayer is once again justified here in Acts 10. The man chosen to speak to the apostles about transitioning from ministry to the Jews in Jerusalem to the Gentiles in the nations was an Italian man whose “prayers ascended before God as a memorial” (ch. 10). He was sent to connect with Peter who was prepared for this encounter in a trance while he was “on the rooftop in prayer.”
Cornelius was memorialized by God because he was a man of prayer. And in prayer Peter received the vision that cuts the book of Acts in half. Chapters 1-10 focus on Peter’s ministry to Jews. Chapters 11-28 focus primarily on Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles in what is modern day Turkey. The supernatural direction that came that day to men who had given themselves to prayer.
10. The shift from Jerusalem to Antioch (Acts 13)
1 Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. 4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went… (Acts 13:1-4)
Nowhere is the Biblical basis for the union of prayer and missions more evident than in Acts 13. Paul himself was nurtured and commissioned from a corporate prayer meeting where the community was fasting together. Antioch (like Jerusalem) was a praying community. And as a result, Antioch was responsible for sending forth the most consequential minister in Church history second only to Jesus himself.
THE FACE OF THE WESTERN MISSIONS MOVEMENT IS CHANGING
In both Jerusalem (Acts 1-10) and Antioch (Acts 11-13), the distinguishing mark of the early Christian community was that they were a people of prayer; and not just private individual prayer. They championed corporate prayer. It was foundational to the early Church with regards to form, expression, and methodology. This was central to their theology of Church planting (1-10) and eventually frontier missions (11-28). And it should be central ours.
Corporate public prayer meetings brought about the outpouring of the Spirit, apostolic commissioning, the release of leaders from prison, the death of blasphemous government leaders, earthquakes and more. After the dispersion from Jerusalem in Acts 8 when they planted Antioch in Acts 13 the foundational practice of the community was corporate prayer and fasting. And from that city emerged a mighty missions movement that shook Rome and spread a culture of corporate prayer across the map.
Whether the contemporary Church in our day is willing to recognize it or not, corporate prayer defined the expression of the devotion of the early Church. It was at the heart of the ethos of the people of The Way. The Lord will see to it that the Church who completes the task of the Great Commission will resemble the Church that began it.
Currently, most of the missions movement doesn’t operate with these values in mind. Sure, the value and power of prayer is verbally affirmed. But the way we run our organizations, structure our training, engage in mobilization, and initiate Church planting makes it difficult to determine whether we believe what we are saying or not. Prayer is clearly not a priority, much less a day to day cultural reality for much of the western missions movement. I know of very few missions bases, Churches, or organizations that encourage daily corporate prayer and worship. And those that do encourage it have taken a beating by other leaders for their stand.
Despite this ecclesiastic opposition, I believe there is reason to take courage. We are on the cusp of the greatest waves of missions the earth has ever known. It will bring promises like Matthew 24:9-14 and Revelation 7:9-14 to pass as the Gospel penetrates every tribe and tongue. This coming wave of missionaries will be marked by a spirit of prayer. They’ll have to be. They will plant communities of prayer. They will lead from the place of prayer. They will call people to the place of prayer. They will prioritize everything around the place of prayer.
Modern Church planting and frontier missions is motivated primarily by the needs of people in a context of activity, and not by the leadership of the Holy Spirit in a context of daily prayer. This must change. I’m confident it will. To a large degree, it already has. But the best is yet to come.