A Prayer for the Church
Words by Lainee Oliver
Do you pray for your local church? Do you pray for the Christian Church around the world— fellow brothers and sisters in Christ suffering persecution, struggling to stay faithful to Scripture during major culture shifts, or walking through the nightmare of war? Recently, the Lord brought to mind a hymn that has given me specific ways to pray for the local church I’m a part of and for the Church abroad, especially when it can feel like the only light left of the Christian Church is a flickering flame in a world of paralyzing darkness.
Thomas Benson Pollock wrote the hymn “Jesus, With Thy Church Abide” in 1871, and it stands as a powerful prayer prompt for believers. There are 18 original verses of Pollock's hymn, but each hymnal contains only a selection of those verses. He ends each verse with, “we beseech thee, hear us,” fervently asking the Lord to fulfill these requests. These selected verses can provide a foundation for prayer as we earnestly ask the Lord to continue building his Church and plead alongside other believers that the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18).
“Jesus, with thy church abide; be her Savior, Lord, and Guide, while on earth her faith is tried: we beseech thee, hear us.”
Pollock begins with supplication for God to be near his Church and to lead her through this dark and trying world. Unfortunately, many churches don’t keep the Lord as their guide—we often let distractions in this world (including ourselves) be our comforts and guides. Pray for the Church to remember that we are not alone in our battle against sin and death; Jesus leads and abides with his people, and his Spirit dwells in us.
“Keep her life and doctrine pure; grant her patience to endure, trusting in thy promise sure: we beseech thee, hear us. / May she one in doctrine be, one in truth and charity, winning all to faith in thee: we beseech thee, hear us.”
Here Pollock includes prayer to preserve the Church’s doctrine, purity, and unity. There’s a reason Pollock spends two verses focused on the doctrine of the Church. Doctrine is not something believers can choose to ignore—what we believe matters, and it matters why we believe it. In order to trust the Lord’s promises, we need to know what those promises are. Pray that the Church would continue to seek the Lord as he has revealed himself in his holy Word.
“May she guide the poor and blind, seek the lost until she find, and the broken-hearted bind: we beseech thee, hear us.”
This is a simple but profound prayer that the Church would tangibly love and help others. The Church should be a place of respite and hospitality to those who are hurting and lost. Pray that the Church would be a place for people to find physical, emotional, and spiritual refuge.
“Judge her not for work undone, judge her not for fields unwon, bless her work in thee begun: we beseech thee, hear us.”
This is a prayer that I know resonates with many who work in ministry. It reminds me of God’s promise in Isaiah 55:10-11: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Pray for pastors, missionaries, and anyone involved in ministry (parents, neighbors—all of us!) to be strengthened in the knowledge that we are working in the Lord’s fields, and the harvest is not reliant on our feeble human capacities.
“Save her love from growing cold, make her watchmen strong and bold, fence her round, thy peaceful fold: we beseech thee, hear us.”
In this verse, Pollock asks the Lord for perseverance in love, bolstered strength, and continued protection for the Church. We shouldn’t be apathetic in our love, letting it dwindle. Pray that the Good Shepherd’s flock would be protected and that he would raise up godly men to protect the Church from the bitter cold of the world.
“May her lamp of truth be bright, bid her bear aloft its light through the realms of heathen night: we beseech thee, hear us. / Arm her soldiers with the cross, brave to suffer toil or loss, counting earthly gain but dross: we beseech thee, hear us. / May she holy triumphs win, overthrow the hosts of sin, gather all the nations in: we beseech thee, hear us.”
In these last missions-oriented verses, Pollock makes supplication for the Church to be a bright light in the darkness. One day all the hosts of sin will be overthrown and the nations will be won to Christ. Pray for believers to always keep before us the notion that to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21). Pray that we would all be willing to take up our crosses daily for the sake of Christ (Luke 9:23). Pray for the gospel to go forth and shine God’s unassailable light into the darkness.
Notice the anchor of each of these urgent requests: to whom they are being made. Only Jesus can answer these prayers for his Church. We cannot keep the soft glow of the Christian Church aflame relying on our own efforts; the Church is the Lord’s. It is the Lord who built it, and he will sustain this Church that he deeply loves.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, be in prayer for the Church. Pray that she would be protected, love the scriptures, grow in charity, withstand the evils of the world, and that the gospel would prevail over the powers of hell. Take heart in remembering this promise from the prophet Isaiah: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.” (Is. 42:3).
We beseech thee, hear us, Lord.