United, Focused Prayer: Changes in the Way We Are Praying for the World, Part 1

This is the first of two installments of how prayer related to evangelization has increased and changed in phenomenal ways since the 1984 International Prayer Assembly for World Evangelization.

Prayer has always been viewed as an essential part of missions. No one would question missionary Samuel Zwemer’s statement that “the history of missions is the history of answered prayer.” Praying for the work of world evangelization has been indispensable to missions. As well-known Scottish pastor and teacher Oswald Chambers wrote, “Prayer is not preparation for the work. Prayer is the work.”

It is important to recognize how well-precedented
most of the modern prayer movements really are.

In recent decades, we have seen rapid escalations and dramatic innovations in prayer related to missions. What follows is not a comprehensive survey; rather, it is a sample of how prayer is playing a greater role than ever in accomplishing world evangelization.

Not Unprecedented
It is important to recognize how well-precedented most of the present-day movements of prayer really are. If we stay within the Protestant tradition, it is hard to forget how the Moravian communities committed themselves to hourly intercession in the summer of 1727. Members of the Moravian Church continued a prayer watch tradition for one hundred years, focusing much of their praying on world evangelization. Ever since then, prayer has been closely linked to missions in the Protestant tradition.

Prayer as a Mission Activity
Famed Protestant missionary William Carey was impressed by the Moravian prayer watch. Sixty-five years after it began, Carey published his influential An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens1, which called for action (using the now archaic term means) in several ways. The “first, and most important,” of the action points called for was “fervent and united prayer…for the success of the gospel.” At a time when denominational fragmentation was great, Carey organized monthly prayer meetings to involve Christians of all denominations. Not long after Carey sailed for Serampore in West Bengal, India, the celebrated Haystack Prayer Meeting of 1806 in Williamstown, Massachusetts, positioned united prayer as the engine of mission mobilization in the United States.

Of course, prayer was seen as much more than a mobilization method and had long been viewed as an indispensable part of how mission work was accomplished on the field. Prayer as a mission activity became even more celebrated by the faith mission movements. Leaders such as evangelist George Mueller and Hudson Taylor were notorious for looking to prayer as a method of mission.

One of the missions which arose during this time, Sudan Interior Mission (SIM), adopted the motto, “By prayer.” This motto is still used today.

A Significant Turning Point
In 1984, nearly three thousand prayer and mission leaders gathered in Seoul, Korea, for the International Prayer Assembly for World Evangelization. The purpose was “to generate a vision for prayer for the completion of the Great Commission among churches throughout the Body of Christ.” There is no question that united prayer for God’s global purposes has been on the rise in phenomenal ways since the 1984 gathering. To recount just some of what has unfolded since then:

  • Concerts of prayer have flourish.
  • Computers have been used to inform and connect those who pray.
  • National prayer networks have been formed.
  • Prayer leadership of the local church has been recognized.
  • Prayer walks have increased. • Prayer evangelism has been pursued.
  • Spiritual warfare has been on the rise.
  • The call for prayer summits for pastors has occurred. • The role of intercessors has been identified.
  • Twenty-four hour/seven-days-a-week prayer rooms have multiplied.
  • Children have been encouraged to pray.
  • Global prayer events with local city-wide gatherings have occurred on the same day (e.g., the March for Jesus and the Global Day of Prayer).

All of these innovations or movements have either been the direct result of the 1984 International Prayer Assembly (IPA) or were strongly influenced by it. Some have historical precedent; others have never before been seen.

Not Just Praying More—Praying Differently
According to a report by David Barrett and Todd Johnson2, there are an estimated 200 million Christians praying regularly for the advance of the gospel and world evangelization. While this number is significant, the ways in which prayer has morphed and movements of prayer have matured are even more noteworthy. There is an increasing sense that the most significant days of prayer are before us.

Evangelicals have not merely prayed more since 1984—we have also come to mobilize prayer for world evangelization differently. The mutations and maturations of prayer can be clustered in three broad categories, the most dramatic of which have come about since 1984.

1. Information Exchange: We Are Praying More Clearly

  • Operation World. Patrick Johnstone released initial versions of Operation World in the 1960s and 1970s. However, the fourth edition, released in 1986, was distributed in a major way. Now in ten languages, with two million copies in print, the book has shaped the way believers pray. Editor Jason Mandryk has said that while Operation World does help believers to “pray responsively ‘at’ or ‘about’ specific situations,” it is designed to help believers pray “directively, ‘towards’ God’s kingdom being manifest long-term.”
  • Spiritual warfare. The sometimes controversial idea of spiritual warfare has provided a framework for exchanging ideas about what factors have restrained the progress of world evangelization. The expression informed intercession was coined by spiritual warfare leaders who then formed the Spiritual Warfare Network in the early 1990s. Closely linked with a spiritual warfare emphasis was the idea of “spiritual mapping” introduced by George Otis, Jr., the CEO, founder, and president of The Sentinel Group. Spiritual mapping provided a way for prayer-worthy information to be gathered and used in prayer directed toward the evangelization of cities or regions.
  • Dated prayer guides. Working with the AD2000 and Beyond Movement, the simple idea of praying for sixty-two countries, two each day through the month of October, spread rapidly across the globe in 1993. The prayer initiative was dubbed “Praying through the Window.” A simple one-page calendar helped focus the prayer. Tens of millions of calendars were photocopied and distributed. The effort was repeated with even greater participation two years later and continued on odd years throughout the lifespan of the AD2000 and Beyond Movement.
  • Internet information exchange. Countless prayer requests and reported answers to prayer have been circulated on hundreds of websites and millions of email lists. Almost every mission structure or church conveys specific prayer information by email or on web pages.

2. Movements of Networked Leaders: We Are Praying Together

  • Concerts of prayer. In 1981, David Bryant began to revive eighteenth-century American pastor Jonathan Edwards’s practice of focused prayer by gathering believers in concerts of prayer. The hallmark of the concerts of prayer was uniting Christians from different denominations and traditions to pray toward the fulfillment of God’s purposes. The movement depended upon local leaders who formed lasting collaborative relationships on a local and city-wide scale.
  • March for Jesus. From its inception in 1987, millions of people took to the streets to openly worship Jesus Christ and to pray for his purposes to be fulfilled in their towns, cities, and countries. Coordination was simple, but profound. On the same day, tens of millions began with the same prayers and sang many of the same songs translated into dozens of languages. At its peak, more than ten million people from 170 countries were involved. But more significantly, pastors and leaders from many traditions formed friendships and partnerships on a local level in hundreds of communities.
  • The Global Day of Prayer. In South Africa, believers from every tradition prayed together through the 1994 crisis of multi-party elections and the tensions that followed. Christians were convinced that God spared the land in response to sustained, united prayer. In 2004, every country on the continent of Africa had gatherings on the same day. The next year, an international coordinating team based in Cape Town invited Christians from all the nations to unite in prayer on Pentecost Sunday (the Sunday fifty days after Easter), calling it the Global Day of Prayer (GDOP). Global Day of Prayer gatherings have since multiplied, taking place in two hundred countries. Coordinators estimate that about 200 million people have taken part in the gatherings each year. Perhaps the most significant outcome of the GDOP has been the formation of long-lasting working relationships among pastors and prayer leaders on local and national levels.
  • The International Prayer Council. In the late 1990s some of the leaders who helped organize the 1984 IPA began to explore the possibility of calling for yet another global prayer assembly on or near the 20-year anniversary of the 1984 event. Exploring this idea brought together more than a dozen leaders from around the world to New York in November 2001. The 11 September 2001 World Trade Center attack added urgency to the possibility of encouraging national networks to mobilize and sustain vibrant movements of prayer in every part of the world. The International Prayer Council (IPC) was formed with this vision:

“Compelled by God to seek Christ’s glory worldwide for the blessing, healing, and transforming of the nations, the International Prayer Council exists as a coalition of prayer networkers and mobilizers working together to motivate, develop, and equip national movements and local churches to fill all nations with prayer for the fulfillment of the Great Commandment and the completion of the Great Commission.”

The following year, nearly three hundred leaders gathered near Cape Town. In keeping with the vision statement, participation was limited to those working at the national or regional levels to network and mobilize prayer focused on world evangelization. As a result, networking and encouragement among leaders are flourishing without being centralized in or dominated by any particular region. Today, the IPC is laying plans for a second IPA perhaps as soon as 2012.

As already stated, the mutations and maturations of prayer can be clustered in three broad categories: information exchange, networking, and a more dynamic engagement with the world. In January 2009, we will look at this third category.


1. 1792. Leicester, England: Ann Ireland.

2. 2007. “Annual Statistical Table on Global Mission: 2007.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 31(1): 8.

Steve Hawthorne is a mission/prayer mobilizer with WayMakers. He and Ralph Winter co-edited the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement book and course. He and Graham Kendrick co-authored Prayerwalking: Praying On-Site with Insight. He has worked with the International Prayer Council since its beginning.