The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. (James 5:16b-18 [NIV])
Thousands of unreached and unengaged people groups. Sixty-six thousand dying daily without hearing the Good News. Billions without access to the Gospel. When we stop and consider the magnitude of the task that lies ahead of the church, there is no question that we have much work to do. Yet how can we even begin to tackle such a daunting and seemingly impossible assignment? The proclamation of the truth, whether to individuals or to crowds, is clearly part of the biblical pattern. As the apostle Paul wrote:
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Romans 10:14 [NIV])
But what place should prayer occupy in the life of someone laboring among the unreached and unengaged? Is prayer simply a devotional activity that prepares us for the “real work” of evangelism and preaching? Surely every believer (not just pastors and missionaries) should have a strong and vibrant devotional life, but is there another aspect of prayer that we have possibly overlooked in our approach to our missionary endeavors?
In his epistle, James challenges the notion that prayer is solely for devotional purposes, as he explains how Elijah’s prayers did not simply prepare him for a subsequent work, but the prayers were actually what produced the desired outcome. Oswald Chambers once wrote “Prayer does not equip us for greater works – prayer is the greater work.” I do not believe that he was (nor am I) advocating the abandonment of works like preaching and evangelism in favor of prayer. However, let us consider that when we partner with the Lord in the place of prayer, He can answer with miraculous outcomes that our preaching and outreach alone may not have been able to produce. If God would answer Elijah’s prayers in this way, will He not also hear the cries and petitions of those who yearn to see the unreached and unengaged of the earth come to know Him?