How to Really Pray for Missions (And Not Just Say You’re Doing It) by Mike Pettengill
The most frequently told lie in the modern western Church is, “I’ll pray for you.” Prayer has morphed from a powerful, God-honoring and intimate activity to a cliché Christians use when they don’t know what else to say. Certainly there are Christians who really mean it and who really do pray. But, are we praying for our missionaries like we promised them we would or are we giving them lip service?
Christian churches and individual Christian disciples have partnered with brothers and sisters in Christ and promised to pray for them while they are advancing God’s kingdom in other cultures. The Great Commission (Matt. 28-18-20) is a corporate mandate and not an individual calling. Don’t mistake a mandate for the church as permission to personally ignore your prayer for missions. The church sends missionaries, but individual Christians are either goers or senders. If the missionary is holding up their end of the deal, it is incumbent on those who stay behind to dedicate themselves to prayer for missionaries. Frequent, informed, and passionate prayer brings glory to God, gets the person praying more involved in missions and benefits our missionary partners. Stephen Gaukroger said, “Much of the history of mission could be written in terms of God moving in response to persistent prayer.”
Biblical basis for prayer
God calls His disciples to make our requests known to Him in prayer (Phil. 4:60). If we are seeking God’s glory, God will provide us what we need (Ps. 34:17, Matt. 21:22, Mark 11:24, Luke 11:9, John. 15:7, James 4:3). Disciples of Christ are to constantly be in prayer (Eph. 6:18, 1 Thes. 5:17). Even if we don’t know what to pray for God will guide us (Rom. 8:26). We are to ask for help (James 4:3), thank God for His provision (Col. 4:2), and know our prayers bring glory to God (John 14:13).
Prayer for the nations and for missionary workers exists throughout Scripture. Solomon prayed that all nations would dedicate themselves to God (1 Kings 8:43). David prayed the nations would worship God (Ps. 86:9). Isaiah prayed the whole earth would praise God (Isa. 42:10-12). Luke said the church prayed for missionaries in distress (Acts 12:5). Paul asked churches to pray for the boldness (Eph. 6:19) and opportunity (Col. 4:3) in missions, and regularly asked churches to pray for missionary work (Phil. 1:19, 2 Cor. 1:11, Rom. 15:30, Phm. 22).
Making prayer times practical
In your church and in your family, adopt a posture of prayer for missions. Schedule prayer and use frequent reminders to prompt you and others to pray. Don’t be slavish or legalistic, but make your commitment to pray for missionaries as profound as the missionaries’ call to go. Charles Spurgeon said, “I know of no better thermometer to your spiritual temperature than this, the measure of the intensity of your prayer.”
In your home, print out and post missionary prayer letters on the refrigerator. Involve the whole family in regular and frequent prayer for your missionary partners. Remember to pray for your missionary on holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. Sometimes those are the hardest times for a missionary.
Make prayer for missions part of your church’s DNA. Educate your congregation about the needs of the missionaries with whom you partner. From the pulpit, pray for the specific needs of your missionary partners by name. Post their prayer letters in a prominent place at church and email them out to the congregation. Hold regular prayer marathons for your missionaries that correspond with the start time of events on the mission field. Teach and preach frequently on missions and prayer.
If your missionaries don’t send out regular prayer requests, insist on it. Don’t be afraid to ask your missionaries for more detailed, more frequent and more honest prayer requests. Report back to your missionaries that they were prayed for. Missionaries know they are being prayed for, but the sinful hearts of your missionaries love to be reminded they are not alone in their battles. Hudson Taylor said, “Pray for those you send, shield them by prayer.”
Drop to your knees
God called and ordained you to pray for and support missions in the same way He called the missionary to go. You are a team. Act like it. Pray for individual missionaries and missionary teams. Pray for specific people groups and for the mission agencies, which serve missionaries. Pray for more supporters of missions and for future missionaries to be raised up. Pray your missionary partners have boldness, protection, good health, love for God, opportunities, grace, humbleness, mercy, wisdom, a healthy family, opportunities, joy, peace, and resources.
Those who are called to pray provide the fuel on the bonfire that is lit by those who are called to go and make disciples. A lack of prayer for missions shows either wavering belief in the sovereignty of God or lack of understanding of the importance God places on the Great Commission. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “Prayer, in many ways, is the supreme expression of our faith in God.” You may not be called to go, but you are certainly called to pray for or support God’s Great Commission. Every Christian is a participant.
Mike Pettengill is a Mission to the World missionary serving in Equatorial Guinea.