Pray for the World
There are sound biblical reasons why we should be praying publicly for the world. Nathan Weston, Associate Pastor at Moorlands Church, Lancaster, explains.
“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
The New Testament explicitly commands that prayers be offered for all people, particularly those in authority. Notice that the reason for this is that the church may live a quiet life without persecution, with the aim that more people may hear the gospel and be saved. This then establishes a principle about prayer for our world – we are praying for the world’s concerns with the kingdom’s priorities.
As a church, we are all about the growth of the kingdom of God, and our public prayers – as well as being powerful and effective (James 5:16) – also teach the hearers how to think about God and about the world (see John 11:41-42, where Jesus prays publicly for the express reason that he wants to teach the people around him something).
This leads to several reasons why we want to pray publicly for our world:
1. To ask God to safeguard the church’s life and the witness of the kingdom.
2. To highlight the hopelessness of our fallen world, and cause us to repent and believe. This is how Jesus teaches his disciples to respond to tragedy in Luke 13:1-5. The pain of this world is a manifestation of God’s judgement (Romans 1:18-32), and so a wake-up call for us to turn back to him in repentance and faith before his judgement comes.
3. To inspire a love for the lost and to motivate our evangelism. When Paul sees the idolatry of Athens in Acts 17:16, he is greatly distressed and motivated to preach the gospel. Highlighting the idolatry of the world in our prayers ought to do the same for us.
4. To lament, and teach the church how to lament, so that we may grow in godliness and our eyes may be fixed on the new creation. This is Paul’s response to the debauchery of the world in Romans 13:11-14 as a reminder that “our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” and to “put on the armour of light.” We cannot get comfortable with our world, and lamenting the sadness of the world will guard us against that.
5. To ask God to do good and limit evil, while trusting in his sovereignty. We can never expect a full end to evil before the new creation, especially as God uses it to bring people to their senses and to build Christian character and hope (Romans 5:3-4). But our God cares about those who suffer, and so we ought to as well, and ask him for mercy – especially for those whom nobody else seems concerned about.
6. To give us a wider focus for applying God’s word. We rightly want to apply his word to our own lives as we hear it. But it is good to think through how the word ought to impact our wider society. Praying for that will inspire us to share that word and pray for that impact.
7. To demonstrate to outsiders our care and love for those outside the church, and to hint at gospel hope in our fallen world. A prayer is not a sermon, but a Christian prayer ought to bring gospel truths to bear on what we’re praying for, and so proclaim the grace of Jesus.
These points lead us to a few basic principles for praying for the world.
1. It is good and right to pray for God to do good to our world. Galatians 6:10 encourages us to seek opportunities to do good to all people, especially the household of faith. It is good to recognise God’s common grace and pray for his blessing on people in our world.
2. The greatest good God can do is bring people to Christ. Our ultimate prayer for our world is not for material blessing, but for the infinite spiritual blessings of belonging to Christ. So, as we pray for God to bless his world, we must always pray for the conversion of unbelievers as the goal.
3. It is good and right to pray for God to limit evil in our world. We should cry out for an end to war and violence, for the protection of the unborn, for those suffering under the rule of tyrants. All humanity is made in the image of God, and we may ask for God’s compassion and mercy on all.
4. We must remember where our true hope lies. The end of a specific evil in the world will cause us to rejoice, but it does not equal the bringing-in of the kingdom of God. As we lament evil in this world, we should do so longing for God to usher in his new creation – that should be our explicit hope.
5. It is good and right to help our people lament tragic news. When a particular tragedy strikes, especially one that has dominated the news and will trouble the hearts of people in our church, it is often helpful to acknowledge that by offering a prayer of lament.
6. We must not be led by the world’s agenda. We need to remember that not every tragedy worthy of our attention – particularly those befalling persecuted Christians – reaches our ears via the Western media. As well as that, the aggression of the 24-hour news cycle means that things that ought to be a continued concern for us often disappear from the headlines. Organisations like Open Doors and The Christian Institute help to highlight what is really going on in our world.
7. It is good and right to pray for our leaders. As it says in 1 Timothy, we should pray for all those in authority, especially in order to preserve our peace and gospel freedoms.
8. We must not bind Christian conscience. The decisions our leaders make are often very complicated, and it is a matter of wisdom – and therefore Christian freedom – which is the best path to pursue. Don’t get ‘party-political’ in prayer. Consider the consciences of Christians who may disagree with your view on the wisest course to pursue.
In my own church, we have been praying through 1 Samuel, and we have specifically asked those who lead us in prayer to pray for our world in the light of each week’s passage.
For example, in one of our sermons, we looked at the fact that Jesus is a victorious king over his enemies. The resulting prayers included:
- That Christians around the world suffering persecution would know that Jesus is the king of kings and will bring justice.
- That we would be encouraged to serve Jesus as our king in our workplaces – doing good and keeping a clear conscience – even when that may bring conflict or questions.
- That our leaders would recognise Jesus’ kingship in their law-making, and that they would make laws which allow the freedom to proclaim his kingship.
Let’s keep praying for our world, trusting in the God who can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine!