Why Pray For People I’ll Never See?
“URGENT PRAYER REQUEST!” How many emails have you received with that kind of subject line? The request might genuinely be urgent…but equally as often it’s not. And in a digital, 24-7 headlines, always-connected world the number of “urgent prayer requests” can multiply at a soul-numbing rate. Is it possible to process, let alone meaningfully pray for, the Syrian refugee crisis, missionary partners, the church member who’s having surgery tomorrow, prayer updates from international ministries, and the care group member’s best friend’s grandma’s cousin’s knee pain which, in a moment of compassionate insanity, you promised you’d remember in prayer this week? The only options seem to be trite, shallow intercession…or the guilty release of the DELETE key.
And then someone comes along and suggests that, on top of all this, you should pray for the unreached people groups of the world. People whose names you can’t pronounce. People you will never see.
Feeling overwhelmed yet?
How do we prioritize our prayers? Should we pray for people we’ll never see? And if so…why? As we enter 2016, let me make two suggestions to help clarify the chaos of “urgent prayer request” overload.
First, pray primarily for the people God has placed in your life. As Ed Welch says in his excellent book Side by Side, these are the people we can actually see and pray with. Of course, it’s not a hard and fast rule. Paul prayed for churches and saints he had never met (see, for instance, Romans 1:8-10). But it reflects the way our personal God typically works: person to person, in lives that overlap and are joined together. You’re a part of what God is doing in the lives of the people you see at the dinner table, the break room, the Sunday morning gathering. So pray for those people, for God’s work to continue and advance in their lives. And then join in what He’s doing.
But second, spend some time in prayer for people you’ll never see. Why? Because this kind of prayer sets all our prayers, local and beyond, in the right context: the global gospel of God. True prayer always asks, in various forms, “Let your kingdom come, God,” even as it asks for safe travels, speedy recoveries, the power to battle temptations, and everything else we need for life and godliness. But sometimes, in the press of life, we lose sight of this perspective. Our prayers become requests for a quick circumstance changes simply to make life easier. Stepping back for a moment to pray for an unreached people group, someone you will never see in this life, is clarifying. It removes the blinders that narrow our visions and replaces them with a wide-angle lens. We begin to see our local just as much as our global local prayers as connected to the spread of the kingdom of God. The battlefield is different, but the war is the same. Remembering this reminds us that all prayer is directed to the One, who holds all authority in heaven and earth. King Jesus calls people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. King Jesus saves wandering children and brings peace to anxious hearts. Prayer for people we see and people we may never see is one way we partner with the King in his work.
Which is why this blog series, Every Tribe, Tongue, and Nation, exists. Once a month we’ll meet one unreached people group so that we can pray for the global kingdom of God. Keep praying for the people you can see. But let’s also look up, together as a family of churches, and remember that it’s the same kingdom, ruled by the same King, that is advancing in our neighborhoods and around the world. The people we can’t see and the people we can see have the same ultimate need: the presence and power of the God who saves. So let’s pray!
Josh Blount is an associate pastor at Living Faith Church in Franklin, WV. He is a graduate of the Sovereign Grace Pastor’s College and currently pursuing an M.Div through Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Anna have one son, Elliot.
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