“How to Engage and Win Your City Through Prayer” by John Smed
In order to engage the lost with the saving grace and gospel of Jesus, we must engage with evangelism. But what must this look like if we hope to be effective in our cities and communities? What do we need to know before we begin?
First, evangelism is a matter of chemistry between the workings of the Holy Spirit and prayer. It is a natural and impassioned response when Christ’s promise to be with us (Matthew 28:16-20) is united with the prayers of his saints. Prayer ignites the good news of Christ’s victory over death, and through it, we experience the full ascension reality of Christ in our hearts. “You have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority” (Colossians 1:10).
I would like to encourage you in the calling to reach our cities and provide a framework of practical ways to help you pray for the community where you live.
WHO WE REACH
“Every creature under heaven”
While Paul went to the leading cities of the Roman Empire, preaching in private homes, on the streets, and in the public square, his ultimate goal was to preach the gospel to the entirety of an unsaved world—to “every creature under heaven” (Colossians 1:23). The coming of the kingdom through Christ had been hidden from the world for ages and needed to be revealed, not just to some, but to everyone.
The implication for us today is that evangelism is never a private matter. Announcing the good news is public. Cosmic, even. Whether we share the gospel at a coffee shop, proclaim Christ at a wedding or funeral, or head out to the highways and byways to share the good news, we play an essential role in fulfilling Christ’s grand plan for all to hear the story and glory of his conquering sin, death, and the devil.
“The whole city”
We see from Paul the importance of reaching cities with the gospel in the way he describes the response of the people there. Bold, public evangelism brought many to the Lord in powerful and emotional ways:
Samaria: “When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said…So there was great joy in that city.” (Acts 8:6, 8)
Pisidian Antioch: “On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.” (Acts 13:44)
Iconium: “At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed.” (Acts 14:1-2)
Lystra and Iconium: “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.” (Acts 16:5)
Ephesus: “[Paul] took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.” (Acts 19:9-10)
In many other examples, the response of the religious and city officials is not as positive but is usually just as passionate. One thing is clear, because of the great impact we see in these chapters and through the example of the saints before us, we need to have a city-wide strategy for evangelism.
HOW WE REACH THEM
Prayer as Global Mission
Knowing and engaging our cities is primarily and continually a matter of intercessory prayer. When we pray, we do not just prepare for mission; prayer is mission.
When you pray for your city, you have already begun to reach it. Furthermore, prayer is not “individual” in the way we might think. Every true prayer (prayer offered by faith, in the name and mediation of Christ, in the intercession of the Holy Spirit, in concert and compliance with the will of the Father and for his glory) allows us to participate in the work of Christ and bless the entire body of believers. We see this clearly in the recorded prayers in Acts. Throughout the narrative, the whole church unites in prayer, each contributing to the defense of the church and the advance of the gospel.
Prayer as Intercession
We may wonder why there is so much corruption, violence, and desolation in our cities today, but we need look no further than here: the church is failing to guard and keep watch over the city through intercessory prayer. The enemy has steadily crept in, and now occupies the seats of power and propaganda. Every believer today is called and privileged to intercede for the city they live in. In every period of history, God has appointed prayer warriors to guard the city. They man the ramparts. They walk the walls. They are ever-vigilant and intent on a single purpose: to pray without ceasing for God to guard the city from enemies without and enemies within.
EVERY BELIEVER TODAY IS CALLED AND PRIVILEGED TO INTERCEDE FOR THE CITY THEY LIVE IN.
Even during their heartbreaking time of exile in Babylon, God gave Israel a prayer directive. He called his people to pray for the city of their captors: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).
We too are exiles in the world (1 Peter 1:1). Apart from prayer, we may even grow weary or fearful of the surrounding culture, spending our prayers and energies on self-preservation. The words of Jeremiah, however, direct us to a higher calling to bless our fellow citizens and seek their well being, not only because God requires it, but also because serving and praying for a healthy city serves the good of God’s people and the advancement of the gospel.
PRACTICAL WAYS TO PRAY FOR YOUR CITY
Below are various practical and strategic ways to pray for your city—to get to know its character and personality, as well to discern what God is doing there.
One way to “embody prayer” is by prayer walking. Walk the streets of your neighborhood or city; learn its personality and character. Stop to pray before the law courts, universities and colleges, boards of education, halls of government, centers of art and culture, places of worship and gathering, media outlets, public market places, pedestrian and traffic intersections. Learn the needs and opportunities of the community. This allows you to see, hear, smell, and feel your city—you may even begin to see her and her inhabitants from Jesus’ perspective. Time and again, I have heard individuals who have gotten to know their city in this way say, “I never saw my city, or really cared for it, until I began to walk the streets in prayer.”
After prayer walking various locations in your city, draw a map of the neighbourhood or area of the city where you live (or where your church is located). Notice the ethnic makeup, economic divisions, unemployment sectors, school districts, and available amenities of the area—this will help you identify the socioeconomic heartbeat of where you live and identify specific prayer needs. Even a small section of a larger city can contain a microcosmic version of the larger whole.
Praying for Your City as a Person
If you find it difficult to know how to pray for the city, practice praying in the same way you would pray for a person. Ask yourself what you love about your community. What pervasive sins and idols do you lament as captors and influences in your city? Maybe it would be helpful to even write down these loves and laments to pray over them specifically. This can be done individually or as a group and can be applied to a neighborhood, a city, a people group, or a nation.
Remember as You Pray
Every believer and every church has the opportunity to be a part of making Christ’s name known across the globe. In the meantime, remember that God’s promises cannot fail. The cross of Christ has conquered, Jesus has ascended to the place of absolute authority and incontestable power, and heaven is still pouring out the power and presence of the Spirit of Christ for boldness and success.
1 Note, the populations of these cities were much smaller than today. While Rome may have had up to a million people, Antioch perhaps 500,000, and Ephesus around 250,000, the other cities were perhaps 10,000-25,000. This helps explain, for example, how a whole city could gather to hear the gospel (Acts 13:44).