Editor’s note: All names of Chinese believers are pseudonyms.
“God uses prayer to remind us the work is not ours; it’s his. We are not handing a plan or a schedule to God to sign his name; we pray to know the list written by God’s hand,” one Chinese pastor’s wife wrote nearly four years ago as she reflected on the importance of prayer in her own life. “Human beings cannot do God’s work unless we depend on his power and mighty hand.”
These are trying times for Chinese Christians. New regulations impose stricter guidelines, replacing the older, more ambiguous laws under which the house church has thrived over recent decades. In this season, one collection of urban Chinese has begun a serious training program focused on building God’s kingdom through prayer. These believers have a vision of a Spirit-filled prayer movement that strengthens existing churches and believers, building God’s heavenly kingdom on earth. They want, through prayer, to make new disciples.
Since the beginning of 2020, prayer has increasingly taken center stage in the lives and ministry of many Chinese Christians. In January of 2020, COVID-19 became first a national emergency and then a global one. In Wuhan, hospitals were engorged with sick. Then the streets turned ghostly silent as a city of millions was cordoned off from the world and strict quarantines were enacted. Almost immediately, daily, online prayer gatherings began popping up among Mainland Chinese believers. Although participants were separated by church network affiliations and physical locations across China, they were united in prayer.
More than a year later, this intentional move toward prayer continues.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
Christianity’s first adherents were characterized, as Luke wrote in the New Testament, by a devotion “to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and…prayers.” This resulted in a daily litany of conversions for the first-century church. Just so, Chinese Christians are praying kingdom prayers: for revival, repenting for hard-heartedness, and kneeling before a ruling God.
Wu Enhui, a prayer movement leader in southern China, has said that now is an exciting time for prayer ministry in China. Wu wants to see prayer groups proliferate across China, expanding Christ’s kingdom through prayer and evangelism. Her desire, she says, is to “multiply committed believers to become prayer leaders and carry out the Great Commission.”
“We all know we are powerless,” said Carrie, a Chinese believer in the States who works to support house churches in Mainland. Yet within God’s paradoxical economy, the weak and despised shake the foundations of the world. These believers are attempting to make disciples, not through strategic plans or well-executed ideas, but through prayer. Carrie continues: “We know what is going on in China with persecution, and that encourages us to pray—because we are powerless, we cannot change anything. But prayer is powerful.”
Scripture commands believers to live without fear or anxiety. Such confidence is, of course, more easily spoken of than enacted in times of challenge. Yet the goal during difficulty is not merely to survive; it is to thrive. The aim is the growth and maturation of God’s earthly kingdom manifest in China. As the Chinese church continues to navigate an uncertain present and future, believers are learning that prayer is God’s gift for fear.
This is not the first time in recent Chinese history where difficulty directly led to prayer. In the 1970s and before, Chinese Christians underwent great persecution. In the midst of their suffering, “they became a people of prayer,” reflects a Kunming pastor. “By faith they prayed for the revival of the churches in China and the spread of the gospel. I believe it is because of their faithful prayer that we have this generation of believers to inherit their work.”
Currently, the ongoing prayer trainings are held online, and focus on both the theology and practice of prayer. During a training last month, one Chinese believer questioned how he could know if God was answering his prayers. “The biggest answer to prayer, the answer we want no matter what we ask for, is that we would receive God,” teachers exhorted. “Whatever I ask God for, his answer is the answer I want, because my Father just spoke to me.” God does not always answer his children by smoothing their path. Instead, prayer is powerful because it is relational communication between Father and child. In the same uncomplicated way that a child senses her parents’ pleasure with her, we also can know that we have God’s favor.
Like most Christians, Chinese believers know that prayer ought to be an important and daily part of Christian life. Yet when it comes to a life of prayer, Carrie said, many lack training. Intentional teaching on prayer is leading believers to open their eyes to how they can pray, for what things they can pray, and where and when they can pray.
The prayer training leads believers to not only pray, but teaches and equips them, through prayer, for all aspects of Christian life. Young believers are trained in the faith by guided prayer through the Old Testament covenants. Every participant in the prayer cells learns to share the gospel through prayer evangelism. Practical love for God and neighbor are taught and prayed through. This routine is not to be confined to a year of prayer class but is meant to be repeated and replicated, hopefully spreading across China and the world. The Chinese church wants to see God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven, in China as in the kingdom of God above.
Prayer, explains Carrie, is a habit: difficult to start, but increasingly automatic once begun. Prayer is building a relationship with God, day by day as we take our thoughts and questions to him. “Of course I know God knows what I am thinking,” she said, “but I think he very much appreciates that we can be the one to do this part.”
Prayer is creating camaraderie and joyful sharing between believers across the nation as they are united together before God. There is much that Chinese Christians cannot control. But as they bring their hopes, fears, and troubles to God, they gain fellowship and power by resting in his control of the uncontrollable.
“Prayer is essentially submission to God. It is a kind of surrender,” said a pastor from northern China of his church’s experience with prayer. “Our vision has come from knowing what God says in the Bible and recognizing our circumstances, and then submitting ourselves to him in obedience through prayer. It is not that we have been given any unmistakable vision or guidance.”
Another pastor shared: “We move forward on our knees, traveling upstream….the vision of the kingdom of the gospel is not something we can accomplish by ourselves. But God has placed this impossible mission into the hands of his redeemed people…We must pray daily and engage in inner training. When we have this inner training, then we can serve outwardly.”
Christians learn to pray by praying. Right now, urban Chinese Christians are prioritizing this vertical communication with their Heavenly Father. In the midst of uncertainty, these believers have great hopes for what God will continue to do as he builds his Kingdom on earth.
“As we pray together with King Jesus,” said Wu Enhui, the prayer leader, “the Lord’s church will be strengthened, and all the disturbances and attacks of evil will be nullified. The gospel will be preached widely, disciples will be built up, and we will become leaders in prayer to carry out the Great Commission.”
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Here are a few ways to pray for Chinese prayer ministry:
-Pray for Chinese Christians to be a people of prayer who “move forward on [their] knees.”
-Pray for God’s will to be done in China “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Our blog exists, not just to share information, but to resource the global church to share the joys and burdens of the Chinese church. Our hope is that everything you read here will lead you to intentional, knowledgeable prayer for the Chinese church.