“No man can do a great and enduring work for God who is not a man of prayer, and no man can be a man of prayer who does not give much time to praying.” (E.M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer).
As we begin 2016, let us “devote” ourselves to prayer, “keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2 NASB). Maintaining alertness and focus in prayer is difficult, especially in a digital culture. It helps to prepare our minds for prayer.
Here are a few things (of many more) to keep in mind as we pray.
FOR THE GLOBAL CHURCH
In 2016 the global Church will have extraordinary opportunities to magnify the glory of God in Jesus Christ. The gospel is “bearing fruit and increasing” in the “whole world” (Col. 1:6). For example, David Garrison reports that more Muslims have come to Christ in the last two decades than in the first 13 centuries of Islam. But the Church faces challenges, ranging from the rapid growth of the prosperity Gospel in sub-saharan Africa to theological revisionism of Biblical teaching on human sexuality.
Followers of Christ are systematically persecuted around the world. We have most likely never heard of most of the prisons in which our spiritual brothers and sisters suffer. Some will have their heads cut off, some will be forced out of their homes, some will have their possessions stolen, and some will endure daily social pressure to recant. Let us pray that, by the power of Christ in them, they will joyfully and faithfully endure these trials knowing that they “have a better possession and an abiding one” (Heb. 10:34-36).
FOR THE POOR AND THE OPPRESSED
We must “remember the poor” (Gal. 2:10) in our words, deeds, and prayers. We have no lack of stories and statistics to guide us in prayer. As one example, consider the dark result of the “biggest voluntary migration ever”: 270 million Chinese laborers who have left their villages, and their families, looking for work. When they go, they often leave their children behind. There are a staggering 70 million of these “left behind” children. That 70 million is “almost the number of all the children in the United States” (The Economist). These 70 million children grow up without parents, emotional and social stability, and the social services come with locally present parents who properly register with the government. They are plagued with malnutrition, depression, abuse, suicide, and tend toward crime.
2016 will likely see an increase in the global refugee crisis. The European crisis alone threatens the lives of tens of thousands, as well as some of the founding principles of the European Union. While keeping in mind that God sovereignly moves peoples for his redemptive purposes, we should pray his mercy to ease the crisis. We also must pray – and work – that God’s Church would provide compassionate and strategic leadership in providing solutions to the global refugee crisis, in a way that would magnify the glory of Christ to the world.
FOR THOSE IN POLITICAL POWER
Millions of people will vote in important elections in 2016, such as in the US general election. During election seasons, we remember that it is God who sovereignly appoints human authorities. These elections will provide forums for contesting norms, for providing solutions, and for listening to each other (one can only hope).
In 2016, Western society will continue to debate fundamental questions about how humans should relate to each other and what innate rights they have in doing so. Might a strong dictator be better overall than a “free” democracy, for example, in some Arab countries? Do rich nations have a moral obligation to help the poor? How far does the right of privacy extend in liberal democracies, for example, in mobile communications? What are the modern implications of the US Bill of Rights Second Amendment for gun control regulation?
Western society has equated selfish ambition with political promise (think: the 2016 Presidential Election). As such, “disorder and every vile practice” (Jas. 3:16) are commonplace in Washington and in the halls of power throughout America. Pray for the “kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Tim. 2:1-2) to repent of their sins and follow the Lord Jesus.
There can be “peace on earth,” but only in a redeemed relationship with the “Prince of Peace.” In the meantime, “all hell has,” indeed, “broken loose.” The mass death, displacement, and social damage of the Syrian civil war ranks as the biggest humanitarian disaster since WWII. Every day the civil wars in Yemen, Libya, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Iraq, Afghanistan, as well as the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine, devastate mothers, fathers, children, and societies.
Many question whether recent conflicts have actually moved society forward (consider the fruitlessness of the Arab Spring). Let’s remember that geopolitical conflicts are the mass combination of very real, local stories. Someone once said, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” The point, well taken, is also true in the reverse: a global statistic is a million personal tragedies. We must remember that each story, and every person, matters to God.
FOR THE END OF ABORTION
According to the World Health Organization, every year there are an estimated 40-50 million induced abortions. That’s about one baby murdered every two seconds. Since 1980, an estimated 1.3 billion babies have been murdered. That is a heartbreaking statistic. We should tremble in fear and repentance when we read that. Is there a greater human injustice ever in history? An estimated 6 million Jews died at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust. In those terms, since 1980 alone there have been 216 Holocausts of innocent babies. There is simply no greater humanitarian cause than fighting abortion. Let’s pray for the end of abortion worldwide. Then let’s argue and act.
FOR THE MUSLIM WORLD
Every religious bloc needs focused prayer. But the Muslim world is in profound turmoil. This turmoil will continue in 2016.
Most victims of Islamic terrorism are Muslims. This is tragic, ironic, as well as illuminating of the profound struggles within the Muslim world to combine Islam and modernity. This is not a new struggle in Islam, but what is new is the effective mobilization of ordinary Muslims around the world to kill civilians in the name of Islam. The Muslim world does not lack modern, yet conservative Muslims who speak out against terrorism. But a thousand moderate voices can be quieted by the bullets of a few radicalized Muslims.
The solutions of Western governments to Islamic jihadism are woefully inadequate. The so-called Islamic State thrives on a certain way of interpreting Islam. So if/when we “degrade and destroy ISIS”, we will accomplish arguably little against the deeper problem of Islamic jihadism. Missiles will not end Islamic jihadism. The Muslim world needs another renaissance of theological and social reform. Ultimately, the only path towards peace and flourishing is the path of the Lord Jesus.
With the Muslim world in mind, therefore, we need to especially pray for at least two things. First, that the Muslim world would provide leadership and solutions to the problem of radicalization. Second, that God would make 2016 a most fruitful year of Muslims giving their lives to Jesus Christ.
FOR YOUR LOCAL CHURCH
If you want the world to be a better place in 2016, then pray for your local church. Your local church – no matter how big or small – has the potential to change the course of history. In fact, one day in eternity, the redeemed will probably hear the stories of God’s faithfulness in your local church. Pray for holiness, for the filling of the Holy Spirit, for every member to use their spiritual gifts, for maturity in theology, for spiritual breakthrough against evil, and for mobilization to mission. Your investment in your local church is a strategic investment in the world in which she exists. God loves his Bride. And God will use his Bride to call the nations to repentance.