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Praying with and for Internationals

God’s invitation to prayer – Access & belonging for all nations


Relationships are powerful. They can help us or hurt us. They can bring great joy or deep sorrow. 


In God we see perfect, healthy relationship. At the center of the universe is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who are all God, but delight in each other, honor each other. When Jesus was baptized, the Father spoke His pleasure from heaven and the Spirit descended like a dove. The intimacy of their fellowship can be seen over and over in Scripture.


In John 17:21 Jesus prays for all of us who will receive their message. He asks that we may be one praying, “Father, just as you are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” 


Jesus is praying that WE may be in THEM! Why? So the world might believe in Jesus! There is something so incredibly beautiful and powerful in this invitation. One of my favorite images of God is the vision of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit interacting in perfect, joyful fellowship, and then pausing to look at me and saying, “Come on in!” Saying to you, “Come on in!” Because of the blood of Jesus, we have access and belonging, we can enter into the holy of holies. In awe and reverence, as sons and daughters, we can approach the throne of grace.


God invites us to enter into our ‘closet’ to meet with Him and also to pray without ceasing. He is telling us that there is no limit to how often or how long we can come to Him! 


Prayer closets can sometimes be found in the most surprising places. During one fall season I was carrying a heavy burden. Though we had a thriving partnership with administrators at our local university, I found out that a new vice president had been appointed over international education. He had a reputation for opposing Christians who wanted to serve students. With a heavy heart and a distressed soul, I went to campus one warm August day for some of the fall kickoff activities. During a break between events, the director of the international education department invited me back to the office to find a quiet place to work. As we walked in she said, “The vice president isn’t here today. You can use his office.” I moved toward one of the side chairs and she said, “No, sit at his desk. You’ll be more comfortable.” Walking out, she said, “I’ll close the door so no one will bother you. See you in a couple hours.” And there I sat in complete amazement. I could hear God saying to me, “Don’t be worried and anxious! You just need some time in your prayer closet. Here’s a nice spot for you!” So I put my hands down on the desk and prayed with praise and thanksgiving for the vice president, the staff, for new and returning international students, for the volunteers and all aspects of the fall season. And God in His mercy and faithfulness provided rest for my soul as well as another season of blessing and favor with the university staff, including the vice president!


Prayer is the beautiful opportunity to talk things over with God, to speak and to listen, to find hope and help and healing, to grow in friendship with Him. It is also a vital connection to the source of life and power. With this in mind, do you wonder why it is we often have a prayer-less church? How could we turn away from such an invitation? And yet, it is no wonder that the enemy of our souls tries to keep us from this life-changing intimacy with the Father, with Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.


In the Old Testament, standing is a common posture for prayer. This is also seen in the New Testament. Mark 11:25 begins by saying, “and when you stand to pray.” There is a powerful image in Acts chapter 7, just before Stephen was stoned by an angry crowd for his testimony. Stephen looked intently up into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus STANDING at the right hand of God. We know that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God in a position of authority, but here He is standing at the right hand of God. Jesus is standing in prayer for Stephen! 


It’s an amazing truth to know that both Jesus and the Holy Spirit pray for us. Romans 8:26 says that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how we ought to pray, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words…He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” And a few verses later it says, “Christ Jesus who died, and more than that was raised to life, is at the right hand of God, and He is interceding for us.”


Do you sometimes wonder if anyone is praying for you? It’s good to remember that we are never alone. God, in His kindness, has provided us with a pretty incredible prayer team! And He continues to invite us, not only to join Him in His work but to walk in intimate, conversational fellowship with Him.


I once heard the story of a large church whose leaders recognized the weakness of their congregation in prayer. So they made an intentional effort to change this. They had a sermon series on prayer. They promoted a weekly church prayer meeting and an opportunity to get prayer requests by text message. The response from the congregation was tremendous! But a few months later, the weekly prayer meeting had dwindled and stopped. The prayer requests being sent by text continued for awhile longer, until finally one day the pastor decided to skip a week to see what would happen. Sadly, not one single person contacted him to ask for them.


We are called to prayer, but a heart for prayer is not something that can be forced by human effort. And a prayer movement cannot be orchestrated by us even with the very best of intentions. We are both invited to pray and we are dependent on God to “pour out a spirit of grace and prayer.” (Zech 12:10) 


So what is our part? How do we grow in prayer and help our students?


First, ask God to increase your heart for prayer. And then, take time every day to bring your requests before God with praise and thanksgiving. This is a place to speak and hear truth, to express joy and sorrow, a place of intimacy and awe. In God’s presence we can be completely honest about our struggles, our weaknesses, the sins that entangle our feet. It is a place to look to our High Priest, to find help and cleansing, to gain strength to go in a new direction when needed. And when we invite God to give us wisdom and insight, He will do it. The truth He speaks to us through His Word and through His Spirit will set us free from the lies that our enemy wants to use to deceive us and will release us to serve with greater power.


Second, serve intentionally as a role model. Whenever appropriate, pray with your students. Pray, praise, and give thanks to help them see your dependence on God, your trust in Him. Keep a journal of God’s answers to your prayers and share these testimonies often. One of my student friends struggles with depression so she started ‘a book of gratitudes.’ Each day she writes down all the ways she sees God’s hand of blessing in her life and shares them with me each time we talk. This is a great way to learn to pray! When students are exposed to a culture of prayerful dependence on God and intimacy with Him, they will increasingly value and grow in this vital practice. They will learn to go directly to God themselves and will increase their sensitivity to the promptings of the Spirit.


Third, disciple students through prayer circles. It’s fascinating to see that much of what the Bible teaches on prayer is about corporate prayer. Something different happens when we pray together. In Matthew 18:19 Jesus says, “Truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three have gathered in my name, I am there in their midst.” Of course this doesn’t mean we give orders to God, but it shows the importance of living out faith in community, seeking direction and listening to God together. And when we agree together, through prayer, on how we sense He is leading us, we can go forward to obey in great boldness, confidence and power. 


The prayer strategy Jesus gives us here is also beautifully reproducible! A prayer circle is two or more praying regularly together. If students can learn to be strong prayer warriors walking closely with God in the company of a prayer partner or two while they are away from home, they only need to find one other prayer partner to begin again when they return home. 


The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray and now international students are looking to us for guidance. They have many interesting questions. A student once asked me whether God would be able to understand him if he prayed in Mandarin. Another student wanted to know whether it makes a difference if you pray inside or outside, if you pray at home or in a church, if you pray sitting, standing, or kneeling. She specifically wanted to know how to get the best result from God. Prayer is so much more than the task we sometimes make it out to be. It is the opportunity to grow in understanding of the very character and nature of God.


Fourth, permeate your culture with prayer. Grow your foundation of prayer and give students a vision for this as well. 

  • First, seek to multiply your prayer partners. For example, I have “The Three,” “The 12,” and “The 72+.” “The 3” meet weekly as a prayer circle and a place of accountability. “The 12” are prayer warriors who receive weekly updates and are on call for urgent needs, and “The 72+” follow the ministry and pray as they are able. Continually invite people to partner in prayer with you and encourage students to do this as well…no matter what occupation they may be returning home to do, they will need a prayer circle and a prayer team to battle in the heavenly realm for them and with them.
  • Second, practice Ephesians 6:18 with your students, “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Join with them in praying short prayers and long prayers, early prayers and prayers in the night, musical prayers, silent prayers, and bold prayers, personal prayers and prayers for the nations. Help them to see that prayer is an exciting part of each day’s adventure with God.
  • Third, pray with fasting. The Lausanne Movement’s International Student Ministry network offers a three week Daniel Fast every January. This is a powerful time when ISMers gather by teleconference for an hour of prayer daily. I have experienced incredible breakthroughs and direction from God during these fasts. During one period of fasting I specifically sought God’s wisdom for what ministry assignments to take on during the coming year, for additional teammates to share in the work, for provision of a financial need, and for a new student to disciple. In response God gave me a principle to help determine what was from Him or not that year. He raised up new teammates, He provided a financial breakthrough, and He sent me a student who was exceptionally hungry to be taught the Scriptures and the ways of God. Several times when I saw doors closing, it was times of fasting where I found God’s way forward. The more you practice fasting and see God’s hand powerfully at work, the better you will be able to guide your students in this.


So how shall we pray? What might we ask of God for our friends? Begin by praying Scripture for and with your students.

      • Start with Matthew 6:9-13. Pray the Lord’s Prayer…and encourage students to memorize it as a prayer guide given to us by Jesus. Then continue with other passages.
      • I Chronicles 4:10 – Pray that God would bless them, increase their ministry, anoint them, and protect them.
      • Psalm 119 – Pray they would hunger for God’s Word and continually encounter God through it, that they would walk in the truth.
      • Zech. 12:10 – Pray that God would pour out on them the spirit of grace and prayer.
      • Colossians 1:9-12 – Pray for them to know God’s will, to walk worthy of His holy name, to please Him in all respects, to bear fruit in every good work, to increase in knowledge of God’s character and ways, to be strengthened with power according to His glorious might, to be steadfast, to persevere, being patient and joyously giving thanks to the Father.
      • Galatians 5:22 – Pray for the fruit of the Spirit to grow in their lives.
      • Ephesians 6 – Pray that they might put on the armor of God and stand firm against all attacks.
      • Pray also for practical needs, both now and as they prepare to return home. Pray for God’s guidance in their spiritual growth, their witness among family and friends, and their career opportunities. Pray that they would be raised up to positions of influence for the sake of the gospel.
      • Pray especially for those who may face persecution, that God will give them strength and wisdom, that He will keep them from falling, that they might be given the same boldness God gave to the apostles, that the church may grow through the word of their testimony.


Prayer is entering into the most intimate relationship with God. It is a connection to the Source of life and power. 


I have found that students are surprisingly open and appreciative when you offer to pray for them. Imagine how it might feel to overhear someone talking with the Creator of the universe on your behalf for the very first time! Imagine what you might be thinking as you listen and sense His goodness and accessibility, getting a glimpse of the access and belonging that you might also have with Him. 


Prayer is one of the greatest gifts we have been given by God. In Isaiah 56 God tells us there will be JOY in His house of prayer, that it will be a house of prayer for ALL nations. May we give this gift freely. May we invite international students into the presence of God every single day for the glory of God and for the sake of the nations. 


Lord, teach us to pray. Help us to faithfully teach others to pray. Lord, pour out on your church the spirit of grace and prayer. Amen.

Praying with and for Internationals


Prayer is foundational to ministry. What does a vibrant prayer life look like? Learn from Paula as she shares the value of praying in community, in a personal “prayer closet,” and with your disciples. 

Prayer is foundational to ministry. What does a vibrant prayer life look like? Learn from Paula as she shares the value of praying in community, in a personal “prayer closet,” and with your disciples.