Someone once said that wherever you go, you're likely to find three kinds of Christians: those who are unaware that history is happening, those who watch history happen, and those who make history happen. Which category are you in? Most of us would see ourselves in one of the first two categories while reserving the third category for "greats" such as Churchill, Wilberforce, Lincoln, and so on. But God's Word tells us that it's His desire for every Christian to belong to the third category-those who make history happen. We do so by moving the hand of Him who is the Lord of history through the activity called prayer. Prayer, as we learned in the last chapter, is the first aspect of living counterculturally. Further, the agenda for such prayer is two-fold-
FULLNESS AND FULFILLMENT
Fullness refers to the manifest presence of Christ amongst His people in such a way as to awaken them to the reality and urgency of Christ's global cause; fulfillment refers not to personal self-actualization but the advance of Christ's kingdom among the nations of the world. Other prayers for healing, health, harmony in domestic relationships, etc. are all subservient to these two great agenda items.
And now, what is the content of, and how do we go about, fullness and fulfillment praying?
To begin with, we must establish a fundamental biblical principle. Recall Abraham's prayer in Genesis 18, which was not only the very first prayer recorded in Scripture, but also the first cross-cultural prayer recorded in any ancient literature. What provoked this prayer? Nothing less than God's decision to reveal to His friend Abraham His intention to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. The revelation of God's agenda for the nations led to the first ever cross-cultural prayer. The same truth is reinforced when we come to the New Testament passage that parallels Genesis 18.
Here Jesus has eaten an intimate meal with His disciples. He then tells them they are no longer servants but friends-servants don't know their masters' business whereas friends do. Then Jesus said to them, "Everything I have learned from my Father, I have made known to you." In this context, He says, "the Father will give you whatever you ask in My name." Once again, effective intercessory prayer is tied to the revelation of God's agenda to God's disciples.
But did that apply only to Abraham and to Christ's disciples, who were certainly among the third category of people-those who make history? Turning to 2 Corinthians 1:18-20, we learn that God says "Yes" to His promises in Christ and we are the ones who respond with "Amen" in Jesus name for God's glory. This does not mean we say one word, "Amen," for "Amen" means "so be it." It is shorthand for what we have already learned from Abraham and from Jesus' words to his disciples. We learn to recognize God's promises as they apply to a given situation and enforce it in the affairs of the nations by saying, "Do it Lord." In other words, we pray out of minds informed by the revelation of God's purposes for this world.
This is what it really means to pray "in Jesus name." It's not a phrase we tack on to the end of any and every prayer. "In Jesus name" is a shorthand way of saying, "Lord, Your Son's perspectives, His life direction, His mission-they are our priority. That's why we have prayed the way we just have, asking you to do what you have already said is your desire for the nations." Thus, it's only when our prayers are shaped by fullness and fulfillment considerations and when our personal requests are viewed in the light of these two dominant agenda items that we can confidently say "in Jesus name."
The principle of God's revelation shaping our prayers is true not only of private intercessory prayer but also of corporate prayer which, as we learned from Zechariah's vision, is God's key method for bringing His Global Vision to pass. Consider the familiar passage in Acts 4:23, the first recorded corporate prayer of the early Church. After Peter and John were warned by the Sanhedrin not to preach in Jesus name, they came to the whole church, reported the matter and began to pray. Verse 24 tells us they all prayed "together"; the word in the original language signifies "with one mind and purpose." How come so many of them (hundreds if not thousands) prayed with such unity? If we read the whole prayer we see that it's based on Psalm 2, written by David at a time when he, the chosen servant of God, was being harassed by his enemies who were also God's enemies. The early Church applied that Psalm to their own situation. Almost certainly, as a group they took time to discuss the present situation, seek out what God had already revealed in His Word that applied to that situation and how they should pray in the light of that revelation. What resulted was a united prayer for fullness and fulfillment (v. 29-fullness and v. 30-fulfillment).
This prayer puts into practice the principle we have traced so far from Abraham's prayer, Jesus' words to His disciples and saying "Amen" to God's promises in Jesus name. Thus, we begin to see that a true movement of prayer for fullness and fulfillment along the lines of Zechariah's vision will be sustained only if accompanied by a key mental discipline-saturating our minds with God's Word as it applies to fullness and fulfillment and keeping updated on what and how God is working among the nations today. In God's Word and God's work in the world we see His mind revealed, which in turn teaches us how to pray for fullness and fulfillment.
As noted in the last chapter, the prayer for fullness must precede the prayer for fulfillment because the latter is not possible without the former.
The first thing we need to pray for here is repentance. I'm not talking here about gross sins, from which most of us have been set free; nor am I concerned primarily about personal, petty shortcomings we all struggle with. My focus is on those sins that specifically interfere with Global Vision and its realization. The following three are most prevalent; but as you read, the Holy Spirit may show you others that are personal blocks to your serving in the gap.
1. Greed is a grasping attitude that makes us reluctant to part with the resources God has given us. Of course, there is our money, but there are also our time and talents. The usual tendency is to invest them in activities that bring an immediate return for ourselves rather than for Christ's cause. Such greed calls for repentance.
2. Then there is sloth. Perhaps we are not gripped by greed; we would be quite happy to benefit others if only it didn't take discipline and hard work. It's much more enjoyable to sleep another hour, to vegetate in front of the television, to take it easy, to take another vacation, to coast along until we drift into heaven. By contrast, catching Global Vision seems like hard work; countercultural living seems like hard work; prayer seems like hard work. You're right on all three counts; it is hard work and every one of us has a lazy streak. As an elder in my congregation was fond of saying, "Every one of us is as lazy as we dare to be." that sin, too, calls for repentance.
3. Perhaps most important of all, we need to repent of unbelief. Recall the third chapter where we focused on our vision of "Jonahitis," settling for a privatized pea-sized Christianity and refusing to believe that each of us is intended to, and can, play a significant part in accomplishing God's unchanging purpose for the nations. At the end of that chapter many of you perhaps made a commitment to close the gap of unbelief. We all need to take this commitment into our closets (and into our corporate sessions) and pray that God would indeed dispel our unbelief and cause faith to well up inside us to the point where we truly believe these words and mean them.
Once we have repented, the way is clear for the next key ingredient in "fullness" praying--awakening. People call it by many names-revival, renewal, etc. What do they mean by these terms? Bryant gives us a working definition-a practical handle on this aspect of fullness.
Awakening is when the Father wakes us up to see Christ's fullness in new ways so that we trust, love and obey Him in new ways so that we move together with Him for the fulfillment of His global cause.1
Let's consider this definition phrase by phrase. (Again I am indebted to Bryant's comments.)
a) When the Father wakes us up. This recognizes the fact that it's all a work of grace. Unless the Father takes the initiative, we will remain stuck at dead centre-paralysed by "Jonahitis." We need to keep asking Him to wake us up, to let that sunlight penetrate our sleep sufficiently so that we can no longer lie in bed.
b) See Christ's fullness in new ways. We hear a lot of talk and preaching about the Holy Spirit and how He enables us to worship freely and joyfully. But let's not forget Jesus' words to His disciples that the key ministry of the Holy Spirit will not be to talk about and exalt Himself, but to exalt Jesus Christ by teaching us more and more about Him. To see Jesus is ultimately to desire Him glorified in our lives and among the nations. A passion for Christ's honour is the supreme work of the Holy Spirit. As the Spirit answers this prayer, He will take us beyond what Christ has done for us and in us to what He wants to do through us. He has forgiven our sins; that's what we appeal to when we repent. He keeps us from sin and makes us holy. But it's what He wants to do through us that we must see most clearly; there are specific roles He wants us to play in accomplishing the glorification of His name among the nations.
c) With a better grasp of what He wants do do through us, we then need to trust, love and obey Him in new ways. When we clearly see His faithfulness to His Word, then we will be willing to give Him access to the best that we possess-our money, our time, our families, our careers, our health. We will not be paralysed or hesitant to go into the gap because of fear of the worst happening to us. As for loving Him, when the Spirit opens our eyes to see Jesus clearly, He will no longer be a stranger, a theological entity we read about in the creeds of the church, but a living person who comes gently into our lives to infuse us with hope. Once trust and love begin to take hold, obedience flows more naturally.
d) Then finally, the word together. This is a prayer for unity. Fulfilling Global Vision is never an individual matter. God's plan is for local churches to be corporately involved in the Great Commission. Unity in Global Vision is something we must pray for; specifically, that it will not be just the pastoral staff and a few fanatics in our churches who take it seriously but that the whole body will be awakened by Christ in these ways to move together to fulfill His purposes among the nations. This, then, is the two-fold prayer for fullness, fleshed out according to God's Word. For while the definition was given by Bryant, it wasn't an arbitrary invention of his that we are free to "take it or leave it." God's Word specifically teaches that praying for fullness involves praying for this kind of awakening.
In Paul's prayer in Ephesians 3, verses 14-16 recognize God's initiative in awakening. He must do it. Paul's prayer also ends with a recognition of the Father's initiative in verse 20. Verses 17-19, the prayer for Christ to dwell in our hearts, is more than a prayer for conversion since the Ephesians were already believers; it is a prayer for Christ's fullness.
Then there is the prayer for a knowledge of the extent of Christ's love. For us it means a prayer for conviction that He indeed loves the people of every nation on earth. Then finally, the prayer asks for an experience of that love of Christ. Notice the emphasis on unity-that "we together with all the saints may grasp the love of Christ." This prayer covers every aspect of Bryant's definition of awakening.
Here, then, is one example of how to take God's revealed agenda in His Word and turn it into a prayer for fullness. As you do, other specific aspects of fullness will come to mind. Soon, the prayer will become not Paul's or mine but yours. Perhaps you might end up praying for grace to trust Him with your money; or for Him to pour into your heart more of His compassion and love for the poor.
Then, when you have exhausted Ephesians 3, look at Paul's other prayers in Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. They will evoke yet other aspects of God's fullness agenda. What's more, you can pray these things for yourself, for other members of your local church, for "your" missionaries, for national church leaders and members-all of that comes under the heading of fullness praying. Though the specific individuals, countries and churches we pray for will be different, the agenda is the same-God's agenda for fullness. We can then do the same with God's second key agenda item-
Here again we must focus on the kind of praying needed to close the gap at the widest ends. Certainly we need to pray for fulfillment in our own country, but we can't stop there. We must not forget the nations. In the light of all that we've learned about the nations and God's purposes for them, what are the essential ingredients of true fulfillment praying?
a) We mustn't forget the hidden people, the 17,000 people groups representing nearly three billion people who have yet to hear the gospel. In the November 1987 issue of Partners, a magazine published by Christian Nationals Evangelism Commission, I read about a hidden tribe in Northern Pakistan called the "Kalash," which had been resistant for centuries to the gospel. In recent times there has been an increasing willingness on their part to hear the gospel and accept Christian literature. One evangelist found several Christians among the 60 families in one area. Other missionaries with Gospel Recordings have found similar openness.
But here is the key: In one instance such an increased openness followed closely after a church in the USA had covenanted to pray for the Kalash after reading about them in a report in National Geographic. Focused prayer for the penetration of specific hidden peoples does make a difference and leads to actual penetration with the gospel. (In the final chapter I will refer to various resources developed specifically to update Christians on the needs of various hidden peoples of the world and what is being done to reach some of them. You might want to adopt a group and pray for them regularly.)
For those who might like to cover broader issues of missions relating to hidden peoples, here are some key prayer points to keep in mind regarding the three major countries or categories which have a large proportion of unreached people groups. Don't let the details overwhelm you; begin with one group or one issue that grabs your attention and integrate it into your prayer agenda.
i) Muslims: Most of the world's 900 million Muslims are unreached. Yet this is a time of great opportunity. J. Christy Wilson, a noted Islamic strategist, tells us that today seven of every ten people baptized in Iran are Muslim converts. In fact, he says, since Ayatollah Khomeni gained political control in 1979, more Bibles have been bought by Iranians than in the entire history of the country. So we can pray with optimism. If you want to be specific, one individual we can pray for is Greg Livingston, a man whom God seized unexpectedly at an all-night prayer meeting at Wheaton College. He admits he attended it more out of pride than anything else, just to be able to say he had gone to an all-night prayer meeting. That night he prayed with others about Libya. That was the beginning of a vision to recruit 2,000 tentmakers for ministry in Muslim countries. God led him to formulate very creative strategies for this task. He puts together teams of 12 people, consisting of one effective leader, several proven disciplers and a support crew with various practical skills who then work together as a unit in various countries closed to traditional missionaries. Incidentally, the team leaders aren't always experienced missionaries. In fact, two of his teams are led by an ex-IBM salesman and an ex-marine sergeant. They are, however, skilled leaders who are excellent at mobilizing teams to accomplish projects. Praying for him and his teams is a very significant contribution we can make towards penetration of this major group of hidden peoples. Pray for open doors, for courage and wisdom to proclaim the gospel. (Aeschliman and Wilson provide more details about Livingston's organization goals and methods.2)
ii) The two other massive unreached people groups are in India and China. I have lumped these two together because their fundamental prayer needs are the same. In both these countries, the role of national Christians is absolutely pivotal. They will be the ones most effective in bridging the theological and cultural gaps that prevent these people from understanding the message of Christ even after they hear it. Nationals are also able to do the work of evangelism with a much smaller financial outlay than Western missionaries, since they are used to much more modest standards of living and can more easily bear the hardships usually associated with the penetration of unreached people groups. The magazine Partners is one very effective means of keeping updated on the roles various nationals are playing in reaching unreached peoples in these two and other countries. I have found it most helpful to choose one nation or one major need, e.g. Bibles to be published and distributed in China, and focus my prayers on them. If we are to reflect God's concern for the unreached in our fulfillment prayers, then eventually the Muslims, Indians and Chinese of the world have to become part of our prayer agenda.
b) The second major focus in fulfillment praying, again keeping the widest ends of the gap in mind, is the work of Bible translators. A Mexican Indian once challenged a Christian named Cameron Townsend with this question, "If your God is so great, why doesn't He speak my language?" That question led Townsend to start the organization known today as Wycliffe Bible Translators. If faith in Christ comes by hearing the Word of Christ, then eventually the Scriptures must be available in the language of every people group. Wycliffe currently has about 5,000 missionaries and has translated at least portions of the Bible into 1,800 languages that cover 97 percent of the world. But the remaining 3 percent speak 3,000 languages. Wycliffe's goal is to add another 3,000 missionaries in the next decade. Prayer for these men and women and their work of translation obviously must become a key ingredient of fulfillment praying. Think for a moment of the special needs this group faces. Put yourself in their shoes, and you will know what to pray for-the right language instructor, patience in discovering the correct word to use for every word and concept in the Bible, perseverance because the task takes a long time with very little obvious fruit in the initial stages, and finally an ability to withstand isolation.
As an illustration of the importance of correctly translating a Bible word, a Wycliffe missionary tells about a particular hidden people, deep in the jungles of Papua, New Guinea. The missionaries were having trouble getting through to the local witch doctors who, in their culture, were called spitters. Apparently they attempted to cure many diseases by drawing blood from the patient and spitting the juices of a certain plant into the cut. One day as these witch doctors were listening to some newly translated verses from the gospels, they happened to hear about how Jesus healed a blind man by spitting. Immediately the witch doctors jumped up and said something like, "Wow! Jesus must be the most powerful spitter in the world!" From that day they started coming to church. They identified with this spitting man Jesus and wanted to know more about Him. We must pray for the speedy translation of the Bible into every spoken language in the world.
c) Finally, we must pray for Relief projects. Remember, the world is not only largely lost but also desperately poor. It's almost impossible to get some of the lost to take the gospel seriously until they feel that those who claim to be followers of Jesus are really concerned about their physical plight. The only way even "tentmakers" are able to get into some of the countries with most of the hidden peoples is through relief and development programs.
But there are many ways the enemy can sabotage relief programs and undermine the credibility of Jesus Christ; hence the need to pray for the implementation of these programs. Needs I encounter most often include scrupulous honesty in the lives of those who handle funds, genuine compassion in the hearts of relief workers for the people they are serving, and finally, protection of both North American and national relief workers from local power brokers whose economic and political interests are achieved by oppressing the poor. This is of strategic importance today in the Philippines where the political future of that country will probably be determined by whoever wins the hearts of the poor. Again, choose one particular project to pray for, preferably one that you're also supporting financially.
Scripture that will help you pray for these fulfillment needs according to God's agenda, start of course with conversion passages. I have found the many conversations between Jesus and people such as Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman and the man born blind (John 3, 4 and 9) very useful to guide my praying for the conversion of the lost. When praying for safety of missionaries, Psalm 91 is very helpful. Finally, when praying for the Lord of the harvest to thrust forth labourers (whether translators or recruits for Livingston's teams), remember Psalm 110, where God promises to extend His Son's rule (sceptre) by supplying willing, holy, young and numerous troops to fight for His cause on the day of battle. It is a great faith-building passage to claim. Start with these Scriptures to fuel your fulfillment praying. Then, as you read more about the particular people groups and projects you adopt, and as you write to the missionaries working among them, you can get more specific information on the strategies they use and the obstacles they encounter. Then you can choose appropriate principles of Scripture and promises of God that apply to the implementation of those strategies and removal of those roadblocks.
So this is what fullness and fulfillment praying involves-reflecting on what God has revealed as His agenda for the world in His word and through His actions in the world. Hard work? Certainly! Will it take time and effort? Certainly! Will it mean rearrangement of priorities? Certainly! But then, that's what countercultural living is all about. It's not for those who treat Global Vision as a hobby but for those who have caught the vision as God answers their prayer for fullness, and who are willing to make however small a beginning in fulfillment praying.
Once such praying becomes a settled part of your personal lives, then avail yourself of the many opportunities that come your way to join together with other "World Christians" in your church (and elsewhere) to pray corporately for fullness and fulfillment. Then, instead of being unaware of history happening, instead of merely watching history happen, you will begin to make it happen.
1. David Bryant, With Concerts of Prayer (California: Regal Books, 1984), p. 75.
2. Sam Wilson and Gordon Aeschliman, The Hidden Half (California: MARC, World Vision, International, n.d) pp. 77-82.