“There are very few things the disciples asked Jesus to teach them. But I think they saw something so unique and different in Jesus’s prayer life, that they said, ‘Jesus teach us how to pray,’” Luke*, prayer facilitator for OM Middle East North Africa (MENA), shared.
OM as an organisation has a history of prayer, Luke said. “In the past we used to do all nights of prayer. Times in the past, [OM workers] would go to a conference. If we didn’t have enough funds to send people out all over the world, they would just stay at the place and keep praying.”
Although Luke observed that OM had lost some of its sense of the importance of prayer championed during its early days, now, “right across the board, we’re starting to see this freshness of people praying. Even with the international leadership, they’re praying more.”
Within the past five to six years, Luke said OMers have also began to take on the role of prayer as a title—facilitating prayer houses, arranging prayer walks and pushing for inter-organisational intercession. “There are people that God has created to spend hours in the prayer room, and I see that as a gift,” he noted.
In talks with workers across the MENA region, the term ‘strategic prayer’ continually pops up. Simply put, strategic prayer is “praying for nations and praying God’s heart for nations,” Luke said. Workers “spend time in God’s presence so they know what God would have them pray over the country, the city, the block. They want to get so close to God that they can literally pray back what’s on His heart for a city, country, nation and region.”
The biggest significance of MENA’s renewed focus on prayer, Luke summarised, “is that it’s pushing us back into the presence of God. We’re seeking Him like we haven’t before, maybe in ways we’ve never seen.”
Suki*, a long-term worker who’s lived in the OM Near East Field for nearly five years, sees prayer as a major part of her ministry. She spends several hours alone in her apartment and many at the city’s prayer house, at least twice a week in prayer meetings open to the wider worker community.
Besides attending – and often facilitating – weekly prayer times, Suki also helps organise country-wide prayer events where she lives and collaborates with regional prayer emphases. Every year, she participates in the field’s week of prayer, where small groups travel to different locations around the country to pray with and for people there.
This year, she also helped plan a string of events across the region, including prayer meetings in the countries of the Near East Field - northern Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. “We prayed for the individual countries and prayed for what God wants to do,” she explained. “We really felt that God wants to release some of the amazing things we’re seeing in the Near East [into] the Arabian Peninsula.”
Speaking about her host country in the Near East Field, Suki said, “Over the last few years, we’ve really been praying for more openness in the south, wanting to see the miracles we hear about happen in the other parts of the country happen in the south as well.” During a spurt of short-term teams doing outreach in that area over the summer, she saw God answer with miraculous healings and incredible openness amongst several people groups.
However, extended prayer times do not always lead to tangible answers, she admitted. “The hard thing about prayer is you pray for things, and… it’s often hard to do a direct trace between what you pray for and what you see happen. Often times you pray for things you’ll never see play out in reality.”
In her experience, spending time in prayer as preparation for God to move has been key. “It [took] a lot of sowing in prayer before things started to change and started to happen. I don’t think we ever should stop praying. Prayer is the foundation.”
“It’s not about praying down a checklist or praying down prayer requests,” she added. “It’s sitting at [God’s] feet and asking what does He want to see change, the good things that He wants us to pray into existence and the bad things He wants us to pray against. He knows what He wants to do and He asks us to pray in His will.”
“God is already moving in mighty and unexplainable ways,” Suki said, “but I think He wants to do more than that, and He’s just waiting for his children to ask Him. If we really want to see the breakthroughs, if we really want to see the fullness of this season, we need to pray.”
In another country in the Near East, Lester* and Penny*, long-termers who have served in the MENA region for 31 years, have also led a prayer team for the past two years.
“Wherever there’s been movements, there’s always been a 24/7 prayer before that. It’s kind of going hand-in-hand, preparing the spiritual atmosphere of a place through prayer. We’ve been trying to organise prayer events, prayer nights, have prayer teams come for two weeks—it’s support but as well as encouragement, hopefully, for the existing teams,” Penny described.
With three decades of experience in the region, Penny said she and Lester have turned to prayer as a “desperation of dependence” on God. “CP (church planting) movements are great, but if it’s not born out of prayer – or even just to prepare spiritual atmospheres and the ground through prayer – then all our wonderful strategies [are] nothing… It is God who’s going to do it, and it won’t happen without prayer.”
The prayer team started, in part, as a result of Lester and Penny’s attempts to establish a prayer house with 24/7 prayer in the city where they live. “We don’t want to build our OM prayer house,” Lester emphasised. “We want to work together with other people.”
However, in two years of networking and connecting with like-minded people, the couple experienced frustration after frustration. “It didn’t seem to come off the ground at all,” Penny described. Finally, they decided to start adding hours of prayer to their team’s weekly routine, even without a physical building.
“We are sharing and we are sharing and putting a lot of effort into knowing people, and not a lot comes back,” Lester shared. “So all the more we believe we need to push on with prayer. We are encouraged with the increase of prayer in [the country]. Local churches are putting more and more effort into prayer, and I believe something will come together, we just need to be patient and persevere.”
Organising prayer events has routinely been difficult, the couple noted. “People all clap, saying this is great, but they don’t show up… It’s an indication of the spiritual atmosphere of the land,” Lester said.
“It’s kind of puzzling, when theoretically you know this is what will bring in the harvest,” Penny added. “We know this, and yet, why is it so difficult to get people together to pray?”
“It’s a legitimate part of your hours of work,” she continued. “It’s just as important as evangelism and Arabic and everything else. It’s not about legalism, it’s just about filling the land with prayer and worship.”
Nicole James is a journalist, ESL teacher, and adventurer. As a writer for OM Middle East North Africa, she’s passionate about publishing the stories of God’s works among the nations, telling people about the wonderful things He is doing in the world.
Published: Wednesday, 18 January 2017
Credit: Nicole James