This article is part of the How to Pray series.
The Praying Church
Prayer meetings can be boring. You come in and there are a smattering of people in the sanctuary of a church that is much fuller on Sunday mornings. The pastor makes a comment about how it looks like some people are traveling or it must be a busy time—you can tell he’s a bit discouraged by the turnout. The prayer requests that are shared sound more like a hospital report than a ministry report. Most of them have been shared before anyway. You tell yourself that you are going to stay focused, but you find it easy over the ensuing hour to zone out and daydream. As you walk out you feel a bit bad, but you tell yourself at least you were committed enough to come to the prayer meeting of the church.
There are lots of things that can be done to enliven a prayer meeting, but one of them is to rediscover the way the New Testament envisions the praying church. What we find in the letters of the apostle Paul is an urgent call to pray for his work and the progress of the gospel:
I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.—Romans 15:30 (NIV)
Notice Paul’s language here. He writes in the language of a coworker, a teammate, or a comrade in arms. He wants the church in Rome to think of his work as their work. As the missionary on the field, he is struggling to achieve his objective. He wants them to join the struggle, to work with him by praying to God on his behalf. We don’t know exactly how Paul’s urgent call would have manifested itself in the Roman church prayer meeting, but we can bet it was anything but boring.
When we pray for the work of missions, we are joining an essential work as co-laborers with the missionary. But what should we pray? Consider these four biblical priorities in praying for missions.
1. Pray that God would bless your own local church.
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.—Psalm 67:1–2
God always blesses his people so that they will be a blessing to others. That is the order of this great missionary psalm. Bless us, so that others may know you and be blessed as well. Notice also that this is a communal prayer. It is not, “May God bless me and make his face shine upon me,” but “bless us and make his face shine upon us.”
The logic here is that as God’s people experience his grace and favor, they are going to know him better and be able to better make him known. If you are not a committed member of a local church, start by joining one. Then, commit yourself to praying for the growth and health of your church so that it would emanate out to the nations. Get to know how your local church is already engaged in missions—pray for those your church already supports. Pray that church leaders would have wisdom as they consider new workers to support. And pray that God would make the members of your church willing to move where God calls for the sake of the gospel. Pray for your local church.
2. Pray that God would open doors of gospel ministry to the unreached.
At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison.—Colossians 4:3
The reality is that many of the places that most need the gospel have significant barriers to gospel ministry. Those barriers could be political or they could be cultural. Governments try to stop the entrance of missionaries to a place or stop the ministry of missionaries in that place, or the people themselves need to have their hearts softened by the Spirit to hear and receive the word. This is why Paul asks for prayer that God may open a door for the word. He knows that God has the power to break down any barrier, and has appointed prayer as the means by which he often intends to do so.
3. Pray for missionaries to present the gospel boldly and clearly.
[Pray] also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.—Ephesians 6:19
That I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.—Colossians 4:4
We often imagine that missionaries have natural boldness, but we imagine wrongly. The great apostle Paul asks prayer for boldness, how much more the missionaries your church supports! And we hope to be clear, crystalizing the message in a way that can be understood by people for the first time in a way that lays the proper foundation for knowing and walking with God.
When we pray for the work of missions, we are joining an essential work as co-laborers.
4. Pray for missionaries to endure hardship as good soldiers of Christ Jesus.
You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.—2 Timothy 2:3 (NKJV)
Modern travel makes getting to the mission field easier than ever. Once there, endurance is the precious commodity. In many places, living cross culturally means enduring frustration and frequent setbacks. Missionaries share the gospel and have to leave the results in God’s hands, but it may mean years without discernible fruit. Even in places where the Spirit is bringing about conversion, it takes incredible patience to see a ministry all the way through to indigenous leadership.
When we pray for missionaries, we should pray for their endurance. We should pray for toughness and resolve which would characterize soldiers on the front lines of ministry.
Praying these biblical priorities will be a great blessing to missionaries. It should also revolutionize our prayer meetings. They will feel more like the Jews being asked to fast and pray for Esther before she risks her life and goes before the king in Esther 4. They will feel more like Daniel asking his three friends to pray for him with a death sentence hanging over them all in Daniel 2. They will feel less like something we can do, and more like something we must do.
You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.—2 Corinthians 1:11
Mark Collins is the author of How Can I Support International Missions?.
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