The book of Acts tells us about the first Christians that “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). The early church was a praying church! (It also was serious about studying Scripture and about Christian fellowship.) Note that it doesn’t say “prayer” but “the prayers” (presumably set liturgical early Christian prayers like some of the ones Paul incorporates in his letters). Interesting!
We know the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9–13), and we know the Great Commission (Matt 28:18–20). We also know Jesus’ command to pray for workers for the harvest (Matt 9:35–38). But do we know how it all ties together? Let’s see how these three important passages in Matthew’s Gospel relate to each other. With Matthew 9:35–38 as our core passage on mission prayer, we’ll discover that Matt 6:5–14 provides the framework and Matt 28:18–20 indicates the purpose of our prayers.
The Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9–13): Framework for Mission Prayer
Let’s first look at the Lord’s Prayer. We’ll pick up the context in verse 5.
How to Pray
“Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you pray, don’t babble like the idolaters, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him.” (Matt 6:5-8 ESV)
In the Lord’s Prayer below, notice how the movement is from “Your” to “us” (underlined for emphasis).
What to Pray
“Therefore, you should pray like this:
Our Father in heaven,
Your name be honored as holy.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matt 6:9-13 ESV)
In this passage, Jesus imparted three important lessons about prayer to his disciples:
- Don’t pray ostentatiously – pray privately
- Don’t pray loquaciously – pray simply
- Don’t pray self–centered prayers – pray kingdom–centered prayers
In the next passage, we’ll see what this kingdom-centered type of prayer looks like.
Pray for Laborers (Matt 9:35–38)
Then Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness. When He saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and out, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” (Matt 9:35-38 ESV)
Jesus assumes that the harvest is abundant. But he’s concerned about the scarcity of laborers to bring it in. What happens when there aren’t enough harvesters? The harvest goes unharvested and rots. So he asks the disciples to pray for more workers. But look what happens in the next chapter: the disciples are the first answer to their own prayers! Jesus commissions them and sends them out (Matthew 10). (Be careful what you ask for!)
But Matthew 10 is only an initial training run. The Great Commission comes at the end of the Gospel, after Jesus had been crucified and had risen from the dead.
Go and Make Disciples (Matt 28:18–20)
The 11 disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. When they saw Him, they worshiped, but some doubted. Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20)
Jesus had told his disciples how to pray and what to pray (Matt 6:5–14). He had told them to pray for workers in the harvest and had sent them out on an initial mission (Matt 9:35–38). But now that he had finished his own mission on this earth by dying on the cross for our sins and rising from the dead, like a conquering general and as the Lord of the harvest, he takes his followers up on a mountain and gives them the Great Commission: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations …”
Jesus calls us to go on a mission with God. But before he sends us out, he equips us. He equips us with two indispensable resources: the gospel and prayer. We have the gospel. But do we pray? If we don’t have the gospel, we can’t clearly call people to repentance and faith in Christ. But if we don’t pray, we’ll lack power and try to do in our strength what God wants us to do in the power of the Holy Spirit.
As Jesus told his followers in the book of Acts, “He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7–8).
In Matt 9:35–38, Jesus talks about prayer. But he doesn’t talk about just any kind of prayer. He talks specifically about mission prayer. In our church and in our circles, let’s ask God to raise up laborers for his harvest. But let’s be prepared that he may call us first in answer to our own prayers.
- Why is prayer important? And why do we sometimes struggle with finding the time and motivation to pray?
- How and for what should we pray?
- What role does prayer have in evangelism and how can we make it a priority as we live life on mission?