How Prayer Fuels Disciple Making
Roughly five years ago I had the blessing of sitting in a room with about 20 other lead pastors to listen as Shodankeh Johnson shared about the incredible Kingdom growth in the small West African nation of Sierra Leone. This was, for me, the first time I had heard about Disciple Making Movements (DMM). It was the first time I had been in the presence of one who described with passion scenes that until had been in my experience restricted to the book in the Bible we call the Acts of the Apostles. Walking into that meeting, I had no idea how significantly my view of the Church, and my view of myself as a leader within the Church, was going to be transformed.
Sitting in that classroom in a Nashville-area church, I took notes like a college student desperate to receive a passing grade. I found myself at the feet of a man who clearly knew God. He knew his purpose. He was living his purpose. And he was helping countless others to do the same. I still have the notepad I used that day, and even now I return to it regularly—so much so that I have the first four pages nearly committed to memory. I would like to share with you just a little of what I learned from Shodankeh that day, which has only been reinforced in the time I have spent with him since.
Here it is in one sentence. Seriously. The mission of God is fueled by the prayer of the faithful. That’s it.
“The mission of God is fueled by the prayer of the faithful.”
Now, in an article such as this, I know you are looking for more—don’t worry, we will dig deeper into this—but I want you to see the punchline up front. Why? Because we in the North American Church struggle to believe this. We would rather lean into strategies (yes, strategy is certainly important), systems (systems matter as well), clever tools (who doesn’t appreciate the latest ministry hack?), and dynamic preaching (nobody, and I mean nobody likes boring preaching…I get it).
These are what lie at the heart of the North American church growth strategy—oh yes, I forgot the worship band. But while all of these are important, they are not the fuel for the mission. Prayer is.
And just in case you aren’t convinced that we are on the struggle bus in this area, let me ask you a question. How do you think it would go over if you challenged the leaders of your church to dedicate 50% of your yearly meeting schedule to prayer from this day forward? How do you think they would react if suddenly you had 50% less time to plan, plot, and prepare your next steps?
May I, perhaps, give you a better question to contemplate? What if we experienced a 100%—many of us are starting at the bottom—increase in the time we spent praying about what’s next? God might just show us! This discovery is at the heart of what I have learned from my brother, Shodankeh. I’ll say it again. The mission of God is fueled by the prayer of the faithful.
“How do you think it would go over if you challenged the leaders of your church to dedicate 50% of your yearly meeting schedule to prayer from this day forward?”
So, back to the classroom in Nashville. As Shodankeh shared his thoughts with us, over and again he said things like, “Prayer is everything,” “Prayer is what keeps us connected to the voice of God,” and, “Prayer is where the impossible happens.” These were big statements, but his stories backed up his claims.
He told us about his own daily prayer rhythms. He wakes up every morning at 3:30 a.m. Then he spends three hours in private prayer until his family joins him to pray at 6:30. By 7:30 he’s praying in his home office. By 8:30 he’s praying in his church office. Then at noon he stops from his work to spend twenty minutes in prayer. And finally, he finishes his workday with ten minutes of prayer. He does this every day.
Shodankeh went on to tell us that, every month, the first three days are dedicated to prayer and fasting. Every Wednesday is dedicated to prayer and fasting, and the church community comes together at the end of the day for two hours of prayer. Each last day of the month, the church comes together at midnight to pray over the next month. In January the entire church joins together in a twenty-one day period of focused prayer and fasting. As Shodankeh says, “Prayer is everything!”
“Prayer is everything!”
I can remember raising my hand to ask what I thought to be a simple question… “What do you regularly pray about?” Shondankeh went on to relate sixteen specific areas of prayer focus. I’ll share them with you here:
- Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send workers into His harvest field.
- Pray for open doors to engage the lost.
- Pray that God will reveal persons of peace.
- Pray for the gatekeepers of the community.
- Pray for the protection of the Lord.
- Pray for miracles.
- Pray for movements (DMM) around the world.
- Pray for the movement of God.
- Pray for more partners.
- Pray for more boldness.
- Pray for deliverance.
- Pray for spiritual breakthroughs as it relates to strongholds of the enemy.
- Pray for provision because the commission is greater than my resources.
- Pray against my own personal strongholds.
- Pray for my family.
- Pray for the disciples in my care (church).
As he finished talking, the room was quiet. For myself—but probably for the others in the room as well—I can confidently say that I had never met anyone else who prayed like this. I still haven’t.
But here’s what I can say nearly five years after the meeting in that classroom. I know quite a few of us who are learning to pray like this. Along with some of my closest friends in ministry—both those who are on staff with me and pastors from other churches as well—I’m learning that prayer is everything. I’m learning that prayer is where the impossible happens. I’m learning to hear the voice of God as He directs me.
“I’m learning to hear the voice of God as He directs me.”
And I’m learning that prayer truly does fuel the mission of Jesus. Prayers like the ones above fuel the mission of Jesus because they are centered directly on the mission of Jesus.
Start Small to End Big
Now, if you find yourself a little overwhelmed just reading about the scale of Shodankeh’s devotion to prayer, try to imagine how the twenty of us in that room felt. For this reason, I want to leave you with a brilliant principle he shared with us that day: Start small to end big.
In other words, don’t try to start where Shodankeh is today, because that is not where he began. His first steps into a deepening prayer life, prayer for the sake of the mission specifically, had more humble beginnings. Ours can as well. Getting up at 3:30 a.m. to pray every morning is difficult. But getting up fifteen minutes earlier tomorrow than I got up today is certainly possible.
Fasting for twenty-one days likely seems impossible if you have never fasted before. Fasting for one day is something most of us can do—and if that’s too much, try skipping lunch to pray as a first effort. The point is simple. Start with what you can do. Trust that God will honor that, as you seek to honor Him. Then stretch for more as time goes on.
“Start with what you can do.”
Three Prayers That Are Transforming Me
Before I wrap up, I want to share with you three prayers that are currently transforming me. These are catalytic prayers. They are mission-centered prayers. During the last year alone, I have watched as God has done what previously would have been impossible. I continue to watch as others around me become sensitive to the voice of God and the leading of His Holy Spirit.
And what has me so excited in moments like these is that almost none of what is happening can be credited to clever strategies, better preaching, or any of the other typical North American “go-to’s.” God is on the move, and He gets the credit.
He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Luke 10:2, NIV)
This prayer is almost identical to the one with which Shodankeh begins his day. I pray this prayer daily at 10:02 AM—this, by the way, I picked up from another Disciple Making Movement leader, Curtis Sergeant. Here we learn that God is the Lord of the harvest, and the harvest is plentiful. The problem is with the workers. God is doing His work, and He’s waiting for us to respond faithfully. Many who are a part of the church where I serve have been praying this prayer daily since January. Just imagine what that will do!
“Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
“And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Col. 4:3-6, NIV)
This is essentially Shodankeh’s second morning prayer. Here we ask God to open doors for the message of Christ. We ask as well for the ability to communicate it clearly. Don’t miss this. God is both the one who provides the opportunity to share Jesus with others and also the one who gives us the ability. We are called to make the most of the opportunities He brings our way by seasoning all of our conversations with outsiders with grace. I pray this prayer daily at 4:36 p.m.
“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:29-30, NIV)
Every weekday, my alarm wakes me up to pray these words at roughly 4:30 a.m. This hasn’t been easy, but more and more I’m finding it necessary. We need God’s help to be bold. We need to see signs and wonders in our day and age.
Increasingly, Christians who live out their faith in Jesus are finding themselves under pressure. This pressure often comes from secular and cultural influences—Shodankeh would call these “strongholds.” When faced with pressures like these, we can be tempted to shrink back. But with God’s help, we will press on. As we find ourselves in difficult situations, it will become natural to cry out to the God of signs and wonders. Reveal yourself, God! We want the nations to see your glory.
“As we find ourselves in difficult situations, it will become natural to cry out to the God of signs and wonders.”
Let me encourage you to start small, so you can end big. Commit to developing a rhythm of mission-centered prayer. You will be amazed as you see what God can do! The mission of God is fueled by the prayer of the faithful.
From discipleship.org. Used with permission.