by Steve Ellis
The role of prayer is dramatically expanding in our work in reaching a lost world for Jesus Christ. It is not simply to sustain God’s work in the world, to encourage the hearts of the missionary or even to ask for God’s blessing on their life and work. Rather, it is to enable us to discern God’s priorities and the development of His strategy for carrying out His work among unreached people.
Traditionally, mainstream mission organizations have clearly emphasized the importance of prayer in the support of the established work of missionaries and local Christians. This focus in praying continues to be valid and absolutely indispensable, yet we are increasingly cognizant that it is God’s intention that prayer be the ultimate, strategic, offensive factor in breaking down strongholds of resistance, as well as opening doors and hearts closed to the Gospel. In Colossians 4:2-4, it says, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.”
C.H. Spurgeon said, “Whenever God determines to do a great work, He first sets His people to pray.” You will soon discover that God accomplishes extraordinary things in answer to the earnest and fervent prayers of His people.
Conceptually, prayer as a strategy is not anything new. In Acts 1:14 we find the New Testament pattern: In the first days of the developing church, there were 120 disciples gathering together in an upper room, “They all joined together constantly in prayer . . .” This is between the days of Jesus’ ascension and the Day of Pentecost. Peter preached a short message, and 3,000 people were added to their number. So, from a biblical perspective, we see a direct correlation between the prayers of God’s people and the occurrence of spiritual breakthroughs in the accomplishment of God’s purpose.
History provides glowing examples of the priority that prayer played in the advance of the Gospel. In 1727, German Moravians launched a prayer meeting (movement) that lasted 100 years. Revival swept through their churches, and they began sending out missionaries. They became the outstanding evangelistic force in the world for that time in history.
In the early 1780s, William Carey knelt before a free-hand map of the world that he had drawn and poured out his soul for the lost of the world. Strategic praying from his burdened heart was the beginning point of the modern missionary movement.
In the United States, the foreign missions movement is said to have begun in August 1806 under a haystack. Five young men from Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. were enjoying Christian fellowship outdoors when they were forced to take shelter from a rainstorm under a haystack. While gathered together, they began to pray concerning the need for missionaries around the world. It is important to note that they were praying specifically for the spiritual needs in Asia! Those young men wound up on the mission fields (e.g., Samuel Mills, Adoniram Judson, etc.), pouring out their lives for the sake of the Gospel. Further, this movement resulted in the Student Volunteer Movement from which thousands of college and university students from the United States and Canada went out to the foreign mission fields to hazard their lives for the Gospel.
Throughout our history, we have clearly stressed the absolute necessity of prayer in missions support. Many Southern Baptists have been faithful in praying for missions on a daily basis. However, in the last decade, we have become more and more knowledgeable and increasingly burdened about the many lost people who live in places where doors remain tightly shut to the Gospel, and to more traditional approaches of doing missions. This has compelled us to place greater emphasis on the role of strategic prayer, and expand its coverage to the opening of closed doors (e.g., restricted-access countries; resistant and/or spiritually calloused peoples), combating and resisting the evil one and his demonic forces as there is an ever increasing amount of spiritual warfare evident in these lands where Satan has largely been uncontested in fields and among peoples which have been under his control for thousands of years (II Timothy 2:26). Moreover, strategic prayer plays a pivotal role in the calling out of harvest workers with diverse skills to initiate work in new fields, and prayerfully seek creative access means and innovative strategies to witness and minister to those peoples (which will ultimately result in gospel saturation and reproducing churches). Furthermore, prayer must also be the foremost strategy for advancing the Gospel in legacy mission fields where the doors are open and the witness is unrestricted.
There is a growing interest among Southern Baptist churches today for personalizing missions as they want to know what their Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (LMCO) dollars are supporting. There is an increased interest in knowing missionaries, participating in short-term trips and/or in long-term partnerships with field personnel/teams, or even a focus city or people group. They want to observe first-hand the status and plight of the peoples for which they are faithfully praying and supporting through their tithes and offerings. Many Oklahoma Baptist churches have taken steps to adopt an unengaged, unreached people group (UUPG) or an unengaged city in the past year, and these efforts have led to an increased commitment to prayer, sacrificial giving, sending of short-term teams and personally impacting lostness through the direct ministry involvement of its members.
Here are some basics in understanding the vital role you play as Southern Baptists in praying for missions and missionaries:
1. Pray that we will discover the heart and mind of God.
Prayer as a strategy opens the person of prayer to God’s direction as to how, what and for whom to pray. We seek to attune our hearts to His heart’s desire, and we pray for the fulfillment of His heart’s desire: which is that all the peoples of all the Earth will have opportunity to know and love His Son, Jesus Christ. In I Timothy 2:4, it says, “Who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
2. Pray that God will accomplish the purposes of His heart among the people and cities where we are laboring.
He releases His power as His people pray. This is His strategy! Once again, you recall the story of the 120 disciples in the upper room who were constantly praying (Acts 1:14), and this extended season of prayer ushered in the unleashing of God’s power to accomplish the task of reaching the “very ends of the Earth.” He combines our specific prayers with His power to make a difference in the flow of the Gospel into remote and difficult places of the world, as well as those peoples and places close at hand. He graciously gives us this essential role of partnership with Him.
3. Pray that we will stand strong in the midst of relentless spiritual warfare and for Satan’s power to be broken and the darkness to be pierced.
He is the enemy, seeking to blind, discourage and destroy. He wants to disable and ultimately, to immobilize missionaries from action! Breaking free from his grasp is a supernatural task. The only way to do it is through spiritual warfare, i.e., earnest, persistent and extraordinary prayer. In II Corinthians 10:3-4, it says, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.”
4. Pray that God will change the hearts of the nations of this world and their leaders.
Countries and world leaders have often closed themselves to mission strategies, yet they cannot close themselves to prayer and to the power of the Holy Spirit. Because of governmental restrictions in some lands, prayer may be the only strategy that can be employed to demolish these strongholds of resistance, and open the door for effective ministry and outreach. In Proverbs 21:1, it says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; He directs it like a watercourse wherever He pleases.”
5. Pray that God would send more laborers into the mission field.
In Matthew 9:37-38, it says, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers in to His harvest field.”
In closing, every believer cannot make a financial difference in the spread of the Gospel. Every believer cannot go to distant lands to help people understand and respond to the good news of Jesus Christ. However, through prayer, every believer can have significant impact for Christ among every nation and people of this world. Every believer has the capacity to entreat the Lord’s favor on behalf of a country, its leaders and people in an effort to see the Holy Spirit rain down and bring showers of blessing that will result in a bountiful harvest of souls.
Steve Ellis is affinity group strategy leader for East Asian peoples.