In times of extreme distress, many people—even those who might not ordinarily do so—turn to God in prayer. On December 2nd, as a young couple opened fire on an office Christmas party in San Bernardino, killing 14 and wounding many others, several people trapped in the building texted loved ones with a request: “Pray for us.” And “outside the building,” one report said, “evacuated workers bowed their heads and held hands. They prayed.”
It is normal for Christians to pray at such times. On the day of the San Bernardino attack, many people said, tweeted, or wrote that their “thoughts and prayers” were with those affected—voicing their support for them.
Others, however, publicly expressed contempt for Christians who prayed for the victims, their families, and their coworkers. One publication stated that prayer is “an ineffective strategy” and even said that prayer is “useless.” A prominent newspaper ran the headline “God Isn’t Fixing This.” An avowed atheist simply said, “Stop praying.”
As believers, our connection in Christ is outside the realm of politics; the political context of what is mentioned above is therefore irrelevant.
What is relevant is the matter of prayer. Believers should take their cues regarding prayer from the Word of God, not from the trends of our society. With this in mind, consider the following points:
1. Don’t respond to the mocking of God, Christians, and prayer with anger.
In Matthew 5:44, Jesus said, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” In Luke 6:28, He said, “Bless those who curse you; pray for those who revile you.” May those who showed themselves so strongly against prayer be found by and restored to our loving Savior (Luke 15:4-5; Rom. 10:20).
2. We should pray everywhere and all the time.
We should pray everywhere: The apostle Paul says, “I desire therefore that men pray in every place, without wrath and reasoning” (1 Tim. 2:8).
We should pray all the time: The Lord said in Luke 18:1 that we “ought always to pray and not lose heart.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul says that we should “unceasingly pray.”
3. We should pray regardless of our situation.
The apostle James says, “Does anyone among you suffer evil? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise” (James 5:13). Romans 12:12 says, “Rejoice in hope; endure in tribulation; persevere in prayer.” According to Philippians 4:6-7, our anxieties—the things that stress us out—can be replaced by the peace of God through our “prayer and petition with thanksgiving.”
4. The Lord hears the believers’ prayer; our prayer is effective.
Peter says, “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears incline to their petition” (1 Pet. 3:12). James writes in his epistle that “the petition of a righteous man avails much in its working” (5:16).
5. Our prayer can and does minister to others’ needs.
Writing while imprisoned in Rome, the apostle Paul was confident that his situation would turn out to salvation through the Philippian believers’ petition and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:19). In other words, the prayer of the church in Philippi was supporting him in his affliction. Paul writes to the Corinthian believers: “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Cor. 1:11).
6. We should pray for everyone, but especially for those in high positions.
In 1 Timothy 2, Paul says, “I exhort…that petitions, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings be made on behalf of all men; on behalf of kings and all who are in high position” (vv. 1-2). The reason for this is that we “may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all godliness and gravity” (v. 2) and have the liberty to share the gospel and satisfy “our Savior God, who desires all men to be saved” (vv. 3-4). We are quick to criticize our nations leaders; don’t forget that they need our prayer.
7. The believers, as the church, are at war with God’s enemy, Satan.
In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” That the gates of Hades will not prevail against the church implies that the forces of Hades will attack the church.
8. This battle is not physical; it is spiritual.
Ephesians 6:12 says, “Our wrestling is not against blood and flesh but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenlies.” This darkness refers to this dark world, which is under an illegitimate, usurping ruler, the devil (1 John 5:19).
9. Ignorance of this war does not change the fact that it is taking place.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes, “That we may not be taken advantage of by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2:11). The apostle Peter says, “Be sober; watch. Your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).
10. The prayer of the church brings God’s will in heaven to the earth.
In Matthew 16:19, Jesus says that whatever the church binds through prayer on the earth “shall have been bound in the heavens.” This is not merely something that the church can do; it is something that God requires of us.
In his classic work, The Prayer Ministry of the Church, Watchman Nee writes:
“The ministry of the church is to bring the will in heaven to earth. How does the church bring the will in heaven to earth? It is by prayer on earth. Prayer is not as small and insignificant as some may think. It is not something that is dispensable.…Prayer is the church saying to God, ‘God, we want Your will.’ Prayer is the church knowing God’s heart and opening its mouth to ask for what is in God’s heart. If the church does not do this, it does not have much use on earth.…If all your prayers are prayers for spiritual edification, fellowship, and supplication, they are too small. A prayer which is in the nature of work or ministry is one in which you stand on God’s side, wanting what God wants. Brothers and sisters, if a prayer is uttered according to God’s will, it is the most powerful thing.…Prayer is not just asking God for something. For the church to pray means that it stands on God’s side to declare that man wants what God wants. If the church declares this, the declaration will be effectual.”