This article is part of the How to Pray series.
In praying for the global church, start by remembering that there is just one church of Jesus Christ. We look around and see all kinds of different churches, both in our local environment and in the world at large. Too often, we think of “the church” as simply those bodies with which we are personally familiar. But Scripture clearly teaches that there is just one “body of Christ.” All of those who are his are one in him and the real “Lord’s Prayer” in John 17, as distinct from the “Disciple’s Prayer” in Matthew 6, features Jesus’s own request of his Father that “they”—all of those who belong to Jesus—may be one even as he and the Father are one.
Thus, when we pray for the global church, we are, in a real sense, becoming an answer to Jesus’s own prayer. That’s an excellent perspective on why we pray for the global church.
Following are a few specific suggestions and proposed applications that flow from this why.
1. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the experiences of and challenges to the church of Christ.
Of course, general prayer (like “Lord, bless all the missionaries in the world”) will be heard by your Father in heaven. In John 17, Jesus prays, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am and to see my glory . . .” But by both biblical example and instruction, specific petitions are appropriate. Simply look at Matthew 8. First a man with leprosy, then a centurion with a suffering servant, and then the terrified disciples on the storm-tossed Sea of Galilee all make very specific requests of Jesus . . . and he hears and he acts. Be sure that your prayers include both general and specific petitions.
Application: Pray for the Christians of India, that the current constitutional guarantees of religious freedom will not be rescinded. According to a current Christian leader in India, several of the regions of that nation are considering laws which would prohibit conversion from one religion to another. This would endanger many of the evangelistic efforts of Christian churches in those regions.1
2. Familiarize yourself with the challenges facing various groups of evangelical Christians in each of the specific areas on which you will concentrate your prayers.
In few (if any) areas of the world is there just one perfectly united church. Bible-believing, evangelical Christians in the United States certainly have disagreements among themselves and that is no less true in other locations around the world. For example, in the land that we call “Israel,” there are both deeply committed evangelical Israeli Christians and deeply committed evangelical Palestinian Christians. While some of the challenges facing the two groups are similar, others are quite different. Make sure that your prayers are equally informed and fervent for each group.
Application: The land of Israel provides a perfect way in which this principle can be applied. I once had the privilege of speaking in Bethlehem to a combined group of Israeli Christians and Palestinian Christians. I think my talk was okay but the critically important event occurred spontaneously after we had enjoyed dinner together. During dessert, we became aware that someone was playing an old piano in a far corner of the room in which we were meeting. Then, amazingly, a group of young people gathered around the piano and started singing “How Great Thou Art”—in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. John 17 was happening right there in that room, though that passage had not even been mentioned in the earlier presentations. The singing together was an answer to prayer . . . and, very quickly, everyone in the room joined the young people in that singing. Pray that such mutual Christian support may overcome the very real political tensions between these equally committed Christians.
3. Where there are disagreements among various groups of Christians in an area for which you are praying, pray John 17 for those groups.
You cannot (or, at least, should not) do this while ignoring the issues on which they disagree. And your prayers must not “take sides” on those issues unless it is clear that one group or the other is clearly denying truths contained in Scripture and specifically affirmed in some historic summary of the Christian faith like the Nicene Creed. But there is no denying the incredible power when “enemies” become united in praising the triune God. While this is certainly applicable to the situation in Israel, it is no less true in many places around the world where the Christian church often seems to be more at war with itself than it is with the kingdom of Satan. For example, in the United States there are currently twenty-nine Presbyterian denominations, while in South Korea there are more than one hundred Presbyterian denominations. In Scotland, one is faced with the Church of Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland Continuing, the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, and many others.
Application: Pray that ways will be found for those who love the Lord Jesus Christ and His word to come together for the sake of the Gospel.3
4. As you prepare to pray, pay special attention to the emphasis placed in Scripture on those who are described in such passages as Isaiah 58:6–12 and Matthew 25:31–46.
Here are some words that appear in both of these, and many other passages of Scripture—hungry, sick, in prison, naked, oppressed, and injustice.
Application: Prepare to pray by familiarizing ourselves with specific ministries that seek to care for those whom Isaiah and Jesus identify as worthy of special kingdom attention, like The Russian Orphan Opportunity Fund, Esperanza Health Services, A Cup of Water International, Bethany Christian Services, and The Christian Legal Society.
5. Pray for Christians and churches both in the United States and in many other countries around the world in regard to poverty and sex-trafficking.
Application #1: Here are a few comments made by a Bangladeshi Christian when I asked him how we could pray for the Christians in his country:
Here, sharing God’s word is very hard and difficult. Because number one is poverty and number two is illiteracy. Due to poverty, people do not have time to listen to preaching because they must constantly search for food for themselves and their families. Most of them who have any work do disgusting jobs in Bangladesh: cutting hair on the street, sewing/repairing and dyeing old shoes on the sidewalk, and cleaning the streets. Their sons and daughters also suffer from malnutrition. The disease does not leave them behind. There is no opportunity for education because they are oppressed and hated in society. Nobody wants to give them a chance. Ninety-nine percent of them are landless. They live in abandoned places of government. I am also landless.
And, while conditions may not be quite so bad in most places in the USA, we should not be complacent about it here. According to the US Census Bureau, in 2018, there were 38.1 million people in the US living in poverty.4
Application #2: The church must address the burden of global sex-trafficking in prayer and in action. Dr. Diane Langberg, who has spent her life counseling victims and helping churches to minister to victims, says, “According to Amnesty International, worldwide, one in three females—nearly one billion—are beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in their lifetime.”5 Prayer for her and for others performing similar ministry all over the world is absolutely essential if we are to “embody” the kind of concern for the Lord’s people that Jesus himself demonstrated.
When we pray for the global church, we are, in a real sense, becoming an answer to Jesus’s own prayer.
6. Just as we start our prayers by remembering that there is one church, we conclude them by affirming that there is one Lord of that church.
In all these prayers, one thing remains central—and it is clearly demonstrated in the prayer that we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” Note how that prayer, as we have received it, begins and ends:
Hallowed be your name . . . for yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
Whatever the specifics elsewhere in our prayers for the global church, “Praise the Lord” is always an appropriate ending for those prayers.
1. See chapter one, “The Evangelistic Context of Burden Sharing” by Peter Jensen, former Anglican archbishop of Sydney, Confronting Kingdom Challenges (Wheaton, IL: Crossway), 2007.
2. Ibid. See especially chapter four, “Sharing the Burden of Ethnic Conflict in the Middle East” by Charles Clayton, former national director of World Vision for Israel and the Palestinian Territory.
3. Ibid. See especially the following chapters: chapter two, “The Biblical Mandate of Unity in Burden Sharing,” by Ric Cannada, chancellor emeritus of Reformed Theological Seminary; “The Danger of Disunity in Burden Sharing” by In Whan Kim, former president of Chong Shin Theological Seminary; and chapter fourteen, “Sharing Kingdom Burdens and Opportunities With ‘Mainline’ and ‘Separated’ Brothers and Sisters” by Ron Scates, former senior pastor of Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas.
4. Ibid. chapter ten, “Sharing the Opportunity for Global Ministry to the Poor” by Manuel Ortiz is extremely relevant. [Until his death in 2017, Dr. Ortiz was the senior pastor of Spirit and Truth Fellowship, a multi-ethnic congregation in North Philadelphia.
Samuel T. Logan Jr. is the author of Confronting Kingdom Challenges: A Call to Global Christians to Carry the Burden Together.