As you think about prayer what comes to mind? Even more revealing might be to ask, in what way is your prayer life expressed? In other words, I think most people when asked what prayer is, would respond that it’s primarily communicating with God. Good start! But as they describe their practice of prayer it would probably consist mostly of making requests not only for God’s grace and mercy during the day but for specific things in their life.
Jack Miller suggested in his book Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, there is a difference between “maintenance prayer” and “frontline prayer”. When Miller speaks of maintenance prayer he’s thinking of those prayers that are,
“…designed more to preserve the status quo of the inward-looking church than to break down its rigidities.” 1
I think what Miller had in mind were those quick general prayers that don’t reflect a sense of desperation and God’s weightiness but rather for God to bless us. While I think there’s something about praying for our church and people that’s appropriate and important, that should not be relegated to a five minute prayer at the end or some sort of quick generic request for God’s blessing.
Frontline prayer, by contrast, is focused on God’s heart, His presence and His Kingdom. It is Jesus’ prayer, “Let your will be reflected here on earth, in our lives, as it is where you rule and reign fully.” It’s the kind of prayer that brings you to the end of yourself because that’s the place where God really does incredible work. That’s why frontline prayer is often called “Kingdom Prayer” or “Kingdom-Centered Prayer.
Why is this kind of prayer necessary? For one, I think it unifies God’s people by giving them something big to cry out to God together. While we certainly should pray for our individual needs (and by extension, make them known to others to pray for us), if that dominates our prayer life we can miss out on the opportunity to knit our hearts with God’s heart, His will with our will 3. With Kingdom Prayers, there’s no sense in which we can do this on our own and God must act.
Second, when we pray these bold prayers, it’s hard to earnestly pray for big things without sensing that your heart’s affections lean in that direction. For instance, if you start praying that Christians, real followers of Christ, in your city care deeply for the poor, my guess is it’s a matter of time before you not only start seeing poverty around you but you start caring for the poor! Kingdom Prayer seems to take big things and bring them home to rest in your own heart.
Third, I think it helps us take our eyes off ourselves. If you’re anything like me, you have your own version of the old spiritual, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” that you sing to yourself constantly. What Kingdom Prayer does is lift your eyes up to God to remind you that there is something much bigger that should occupy your thought life rather than getting stuck on your own stuff. Here are a few suggestions for Kingdom Prayers:
- Pray Luke 10:2. Pray that the Lord would raise up workers to enter His harvest! This is one of the few places where Jesus explicitly tells us to pray for something really big. Two hints. That word “beseech” means something closer to “plead”. Second hint… Jesus was not just talking about praying for missionaries to go overseas. He was talking about ordinary people who would rise up and labor in God’s harvest field in the here and now.
- Pray Paul’s prayers for believers for people your church. These include but are not limited to Eph. 1:15-23; Phil. 1:9-11; Col. 1:3-14; 1 Thes. 1:2-3; 2 Thes. 1:11-12. You could even take 1 Corinthians 13 and Galatians 5 and plead with God that followers of Christ you know would exemplify these virtues more deeply and more pervasively in their relationships.
- Pray for your city – for your city officials, for churches, for the least (the poor and marginalized) and those who are lost. Pray for the world. Find an issue in the world that moves your heart like children who are often forgotten and abused and then start to pray for organizations like IJAM or Kid’s Alive. Or start praying through Operation World’s list of countries in the world.2
Finally, remember that God’s Kingdom is a reversal of the world’s values. Duke University theologian, Richard Hayes once commented on the book of Mark as follows: “God’s invasion of the world has brought about an inversion: God has reversed the positions of insiders and outsiders. Those who are in positions of authority and privilege reject Jesus and his message. Outsiders, however – people of low or despised position in the social world of first century Jewish culture – receive the gospel gladly, for their need is great.”4 In God’s Kingdom who is really rich? The one who recognizes her poverty. In God’s Kingdom who is really powerful? The one who embraces her own weakness. Who really is moving up in life? The one who goes down by humbling herself. When we pray Kingdom Prayers we are asking that the very fabric of the world as God created it, be revealed and come to bear on the world while settling deeply into our hearts in order to transform us.
1 Jack Miller, Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, p. 98.
3 I’m reminded of Sören Kierkegaard’s prayer, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.”
4 Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, p. 89.