Earlier this week, I posted a few pictures from our trip to South Korea, where we launched The Gospel Project in Korean. As I’ve been processing the events during our brief sojourn in this beautiful land, I’ve kept returning to a couple of Korean prayer practices that challenge me.
Here are two areas in which the Korean church has something to teach us in the West.
1. Praying for the persecuted church should be frequent and specific.
The believers in Korea pray fervently and regularly for persecuted Christians. Their focus on persecuted believers may be prompted by their proximity to North Korea; nevertheless, they demonstrated a commitment to praying for believers in other parts of the world as well.
This weekend, we prayed for specific cities and villages in the Middle East. We prayed for Mosul by name. We prayed for Christian refugees fleeing ISIS. We prayed for Christians in certain provinces of China.
Not surprisingly, the most fervent cries were for the brothers and sisters just to their north, in the closed-off darkness of that despotic regime whose shadow falls over the rest of the Korean peninsula. Throughout the week, we had multiple conversations about North Korea, and the challenges of reintegration if/when the regime collapses. With sadness, we discussed the militant atheism, but with hope, we spoke of a day when the church there will be open, free, and on fire for the gospel.
In every Korean prayer time I was part of this week, at least one of the prayers centered on North Korea. This practice challenged me to add specific persecuted churches to my prayer list, rather than occasionally lift up the persecuted church in general.
Just last week, I finished reading a book by Mindy Belz on the plight of Christians in Iraq—believers fleeing the shadow of ISIS. The end of the book sent a wave of helplessness over me, because I realized how little I could do, as just one person, in the face of such a massive movement of violence and hatred. But then I thought: I can pray. Our prayers are not wasted. Joining our spirits to the Spirit’s groaning is never in vain.
The Korean Christians pray regularly and specifically for the persecuted church. So must we.
2. Praying constantly should feel normal, not strange.
What struck me even more than the specific prayers for the persecuted church was the frequency and ordinariness of prayer among Korean believers.
Whenever a group of Koreans is praying, whether as part of a church service or spontaneously in small groups, someone takes the lead, guides the rest of the group in what to pray for, and then says, “Let’s pray.” At once, everyone prays out loud, according to the direction of the leader.
I’ve written before about Romanian prayer practices, including the spontaneous prayer times when someone would pray out loud and everyone else would affirm them with “Amens” and other comments. But in Korea, the spontaneous prayer times involve everyone at once, praying quietly, but out loud.
Prayer takes up a larger portion of the service than in most American congregations. And this emphasis on prayer goes beyond worship. There are hour-long prayer meetings every single morning for the Korean church. Also, I witnessed (and participated in) multiple spontaneous “huddle-ups” where a group would pray for something specific right before an event.
Prayer is also done individually, with a constancy that seems strange to the American eye, but feels absolutely normal in Korea. At one point, as we were waiting for our seminar on The Gospel Project to begin, my wife and I looked over to a lady sitting next to us, who was praying quietly with her eyes open, just as if it was the most normal thing in the world to talk with God, out loud on her own. When she finished, she let us know that she had asked the Lord to not let the rainy weather hinder people who planned on attending the event.
During my time in Korea, I was struck by the naturalness and normalcy of continual, constant prayer. It’s not that I’m always prayerless, but that I am rarely prayerful.
The apostle Paul encouraged us to “pray constantly,” and as I watched the Korean believers in action, I said to myself: Well, we believe King Jesus is present with us, so why NOT just stop and ask Him for something whenever we need it? This shouldn’t feel strange, but normal.
Praying with the Global Church
One of the great blessings of meeting other believers is the opportunity to witness different church practices, receive insight into familiar Bible passages, and grow in our appreciation of Christianity’s transformation of other cultures and societies.
I’m thankful for the challenge I’ve received from my brothers and sisters in Korea, especially when it comes to prayer. I hope you are challenged, too.