Is More Prayer the Answer?

Raise your hand if you understand how prayer works. Now look at your hands. If one of them is raised, I’d very much like to meet you, because I have a few questions for you. I just don’t get it. I know it does work; I have some ideas about why God has asked us to pray; but I haven’t the foggiest how it actually works.

How is it possible that I can pray day after day for something—something God has commanded us to pray for in scripture, and something that I know He wants even more than I do—and yet, after years of praying, my very godly request still hasn’t been fulfilled? And yet sometimes, I can pray for something once…just breathing out a prayer…and it happens! The arithmetic just doesn’t add up. The system doesn’t work. It makes no logical sense.

I’ve been reading lately about some of our Christian brothers and sisters in a part of the world where becoming a Christian is dangerous, and where leading others to Christ is, if not always a death-wish, at least a prison-wish, an ostracism-wish, a disowned-by-your-family-and-everyone-you-know wish. Yet, even with all the very real threat hanging over their heads, they’re seeing spectacular things happen. Hundreds, thousands of people are turning to Jesus. Entire communities are leaving their old religious system and becoming Christians. And then those very new Christians are turning around and venturing into new places, hostile places and reproducing what they’ve experienced at home.

And how do they do it? You guessed it: prayer.

They pray and fast weekly for their friends and neighbours who don’t know Jesus. They gather monthly (if not several times a month) to pray ALL NIGHT, interceding for people in their communities. They gather every day at midday to pray as churches or ministry teams. They pray on their own for hours each morning. They regularly have family devotionals and prayer time.

Why? Firstly, because Jesus asked us to. But perhaps more practically, because it’s working! They’ve seen what happens when they pray. They know that God is at work when they pray. So they pray more. And God works more. It’s all very dramatic and obvious what’s happening in those dangerous places, and perhaps the results are more obvious because the risk is greater and the pray-ers are more willing to take that risk because, when you weigh it all together, the payoff is astonishing.

I don’t know how prayer works, but it is clearly part of God’s equation. Which makes me wonder…should we be taking a leaf out of their book? We want God to do amazing things like that here in the UK as well as around the world. We want him to push back our very Western brand of darkness—the apathy, skepticism, materialism and self-satisfaction that blind people to the light that Christ has to offer. Is what we might consider an extreme commitment to prayer the key to seeing God move in larger-than-life ways?

I’m going to stick my neck out and say no. It’s not following a particular pattern of prayer that enables miraculous things to happen. Our brothers and sisters in dangerous places don’t wake up in the morning and start ticking “morning devotion with family”, “midday prayer meeting” and “fast for two meals” off their daily to-do lists. They wake up in the morning hungry for God and desperate to see his love poured out on their friends who don’t yet know him. That passion drives them to prayer, to fasting, to bold evangelism, to selfless devotion to discipleship and mentoring. The supernatural element of prayer is undeniable—we’ve all seen prayer work in ways we can’t fully explain or understand. But following a prescribed pattern of prayer that “works there so it must work here too” won’t necessarily produce the same results in every situation.

What we need is a hunger for God and a desperation to see his love poured out on those who don’t know him. That passion will drive some of us to wildly committed prayer and fasting. It will drive others of us to give generously, even sacrificially, out of our abundance. It will drive still others to teach and encourage and spur God’s people on toward greater and deeper commitment to Christ. And still others it will drive to leave what is familiar and go to the next village or the next hemisphere to boldly share Christ’s love.

Our brothers and sisters in dangerous places don’t sit around praying all day. With the rest of their day they risk life and limb to share Christ with religious leaders, to bring the gospel to villages and towns where Jesus isn’t known, to encourage believers in far-flung and isolated places, to smuggle Bibles across hostile borders. Their passion for God fuels their prayers, and their prayers provide the shield and the power for their bold movements in spiritually hostile places.

So whether or not we ever find out how prayer works, let’s do it, and do it boldly and passionately. God uses it in ways we don’t understand to do amazing and miraculous things. But let’s also cultivate the kind of hunger for him that can only be satisfied by an all-night prayer meeting or a three-hour devotional. Let’s care so much about those who don’t know him that bold evangelism is the only appropriate course of action. That’s when our prayers grow hands and feet, and that’s when things start changing.


Photo by Lesly Derksen on Unsplash.






God According to the Aloe

Confession time: I love my aloe plant. It was given to me by a friend when it was only about three inches high. I’ve watered it and repotted it, and every morning I make sure my bedroom curtains are open so it gets lots of sunlight. I have watched it grow from a wee spikey thing to a, well, slightly bigger spikey thing and have been amazed that something that started so small has grown so much, just sitting there day after day on my chest of drawers.

A few months ago, I started noticing other wee spikey things pushing through the soil. There were four of them in a wide circle around my aloe plant. “What is this?” I thought. “Aloe babies? I didn’t know my aloe was having babies!” And yet, there they were. Aloe babies, right there in the pot, encircling their mother like a tiny hedge.

I left the babies alone for a while, but over time they started to crowd their mum, so I decided to take a risk and uproot them, planting each in its own tiny pot. Now, instead of one aloe plant, I have five.

God has a way of speaking to me about himself through his creation, and my aloe plant is no exception. I was minding my own business, thinking I had one aloe plant. I looked after it as best as I knew how, but all the while, under the surface, things were happening that I couldn’t have imagined. For months, deep below my carefully mixed, succulent-friendly soil, my aloe was putting out roots. When conditions were right, the roots sprouted, sent up shoots, and in time four new aloe plants burst into the world. It was a total shock.

How often does God do things under the surface? Things that we have no clue about? Things we wouldn’t believe were possible, even if He told us? Pretty much all the time, in my experience!

If I think about it in terms of mission, I see God’s character revealed in my aloe plant even more. I imagine just about every missionary you know could tell you a story involving months or even years of praying for and ministering to and loving a group of people who seemed completely impervious to the gospel, only to have God surprise them with what He’d been doing all along under the surface. A hardened tribal leader surrenders to Christ. A household of unbelievers “suddenly” believes. A whole community is radically transformed practically overnight.

It has happened. And it will keep happening. Because God loves a surprise. He loves to see the delight on our faces, and feel the worship rising from our grateful hearts when he moves in ways we didn’t see coming.

I started with one aloe plant, and now I have five. If the aloe babies have babies, that makes twenty. Imagine what the world would be like if God were to multiply by five each prayer we pray for a lost loved one, each person who ventures onto the mission field, each pound we give in support of His work in the world? And what if those were multiplied by five, and so on and so on? It could happen, you know. He’s always working under the surface. And he’s done a lot more than that with much less.

Our job is to keep believing he’s going to move, even if we can’t see what’s going on under the surface. Our job is to water the soil, provide sunlight, and make sure conditions are favourable so that when He does show us what he’s been up to, we’re ready to act.


Photo by Clivid. CC license.

The Gospel According to WhatsApp


Increasingly technology affects and changes every part of our world in ways which are both positive and negative. It also presents great opportunities for the gospel.

I recently attended a Christian technology conference, where the keynote speaker told how he was one of the first missionaries to arrive by aeroplane, and his wife one of the last to arrive by boat. Cheap air travel has transformed our ability to send and support both short and long-term workers, and was one of the driving forces for church planting in the 20th century.

Radio and television increased the reach of the gospel, giving access into closed countries and allowing people to hear the message in their own language. In recent years, however, the response rates to radio broadcasting have been declining in favour of newer technologies.

Companies who were once working in radio are still providing recorded content, but distributing it in a wider variety of ways. Solar-powered MP3 players can be bought cheaply in large quantities, loaded with appropriate language resources – including whole recorded Bibles – and are being distributed widely. In the midst of the growing refugee crisis they are being received warmly along with practical aid, and listened to avidly by people traditionally closed to the gospel.

Recordings can also be loaded onto micro SD cards, and these have been handed out in large quantities, loaded onto phones and passed on from person to person.

Video can be distributed in this way too. The Jesus Film, originally shown around the world by teams of people carrying film projection equipment, is now the most translated film in the world and available to download and share.

As well as helping on the front lines, technology has massively increased the pace of Bible translation, enabling experts to collaborate around the world. Projects such as Unfolding Word are seeking to speed up the process by crowd-sourcing translation and enable the production of royalty-free Bible translations, which can be used without copyright concerns.

It is the rise of the internet and more recently the increasing availability of mobile phones which is proving the biggest opportunities at the moment. Globally nearly three out of four people owns a mobile phone. Perhaps more surprisingly, two out of those three phone users will already have a smartphone.

Non-smartphones can be used to share the gospel via SMS or USSD codes (similar to SMS but widely used in Africa to provide more interactive two-way services). Many can also be used to play MP3 audio files.

Where the mobile phone really comes into its own, however, is in allowing access to the internet. Increasingly discipleship resources can be shared on social media, and follow up carried out in voice or messaging apps such as Skype and Viber. We often hear of families who come to faith in the west sharing with their relatives back at home in phone calls, or sending recordings via WhatsApp.

My own contribution to the online discipleship arena began as a mobile-friendly website. We resisted requests to turn this into an app until we were approached by an underground church who explained that they needed to use it in places with no reliable power or phone signal. These brothers provided us with the initial locally-voiced recordings, which enable listeners to feel an immediate connection to the app. Their vision was to reach their neighbours, their country and the surrounding area by sending people with the app to run studies in houses and to pass it on to those who believed, encouraging them to do the same.

The app has since been downloaded in over 120 countries and translated into Arabic, Somali, Dari and Uyghur with Pashto and Indonesian in the pipeline.

The app is being used directly in discipleship groups amongst the unsaved, and we have received numerous stories of God at work through it. It is also being used to train local leaders with access to countries which would be difficult for us to enter. It can be shared from phone to phone via Bluetooth, and is simple enough for anyone to use.

Given the pace of change in recent years, it seems certain that mobile internet access will continue to grow worldwide, providing increasing access to unreached people, and new opportunities are bound to emerge as a result.


Photo by Thomas Kvistholt.