What is the single most important thing we could ever pray as Christians? Please resist the temptation to read ahead. Indulge me, and take a few minutes and actually think about it. What would your answer be?
If you were to ask a dozen believers that question you’d probably get a dozen different answers. I first encountered the question a month or so ago when my small group was working through James Bryan Smith’s The Good and Beautiful Community. In it, Smith quotes author and philosopher Dallas Willard’s answer: “The most important task we have, especially for those in church leadership, is to pray for the success of our neighboring churches.”
I have to be honest—my small group protested. While most of us agreed that it might be a good idea to pray for churches around us, no one wanted to commit to saying it was the most important thing to pray for. Furthermore, the idea of praying for other ministries doesn’t usually even cross our minds. So after that brief discussion, I, at least, didn’t give the idea much more thought.
Then last week during our daily prayer time at Community Bible Study where I work (www.communitybiblestudy.org), someone caught my attention with her prayer. She asked God to bless other ministries similar to ours, whose purpose is to disciple people in the Word of God. She listed several ministries by name, including ones that might even be considered “competitors” if we were to think in those terms. (Nobody wants to think in those terms—but be honest! Don’t we sometimes?)
Well, God had my attention now. Here was a colleague who was actually doing what Willard had suggested. Instead of praying only for our ministry’s needs, she was praying for God to bless and prosper other ministries that do the same Kingdom work. I was touched. And humbled. And challenged. Maybe I need to pay more attention to this idea.
And so this week, Passion Week, I have been meditating on the lengthy prayer Jesus prayed the night before He died. You’re probably familiar with it; it’s found in John 17. Several themes run throughout the prayer, the most prominent one being about unity. Jesus prayed in a variety of different ways, “that [believers] may be one as we are one” (v. 11). The night before He died there are many things Jesus could have petitioned His Father about—but foremost in His mind, it seems, was that His followers would get along and work and live together harmoniously.
So maybe Willard isn’t being too extreme when he enjoins us so strongly to pray for other ministries. At any rate, I know that when I’ve started trying it, my heart becomes more humble and hopeful. I become less distracted by things that seem to me to be weaknesses and faults in other ministries because I am putting them in the Lord’s hands and He can mature them according to His will. And I can genuinely rejoice (and not be envious) when God blesses another church or Christian organization.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with this type of praying. Have you ever prayed for the megachurch in your community that seems to be “stealing sheep”? How about denominations that you disagree with? Or the church that wounded you? Or maybe you pray for all the churches in your small town. Anyone want to experiment with it for a month and then share what happened with us on this blog?