Missionary A. T. Pierson well said, “If missions languish, it is because the whole life of godliness is feeble.” To this powerful and convicting statement we may add, “If the whole life of godliness is feeble, it is because prayer is feeble.”
James Fraser was a pioneer missionary to the Lisu people in Western China. He would labor more than five years before seeing his first convert. It would be an accurate assessment to call him a “prayer missionary.” He understood the essential nature of prayer if the Gospel was to reach and change the world. He understood that anything lasting and eternally significant would be the result of waves of prayers that believed God to do something great for His glory. Fraser wrote, “Solid, lasting missionary work is done on our knees. … The Spirit must be continually maintained in strength by unceasing prayer, especially against the powers of darkness. All I have learned of other aspects of the victory-life is useless without this.”
The work of reaching and changing the world is, indeed, a work done on our knees. And, it is a work that takes on the nature of fierce and intense warfare. After all, one of Satan’s chief weapons is to cut off communication with God, communication that takes place in prayer. John Piper is certainly correct when he writes, “Prayer is meant by God to be a wartime walkie-talkie, not a domestic intercom … not for the enhancement of our comforts but for the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom.”
When Paul was imprisoned, he continued to have a passion for the Word of God to go forth to those who needed to hear the Gospel. He understood, as well, the intimate connection of that passion to prayer. Thus he wrote to the Colossians, “Devote yourself to prayer … Pray for us that God may open a door to us for the message, to speak the mystery of Messiah” (Colossians 4:2-3).
God does not call everyone to leave home and go to the nations. I am convinced He is calling more than are going, but if we are not asking, how can we even receive His answer?! Often I challenge our students at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary to pray a missionary prayer. It is not one most expect. I do not encourage them to pray, “Lord, should I go?” Rather, I challenge them to pray, “Lord, why should I stay?” Our International Mission Board says there are 3.6 billion people who lack an adequate opportunity to hear the Gospel. That means millions upon millions of people will be born, live, die and go to hell without ever hearing the Gospel and the name of Jesus. That is a sobering reality. It is a haunting reality. How should we respond? The Bible provides a clear and unambiguous answer. Pray! This is the counsel given by our compassionate Savior to His disciples as He looked upon the masses in need of a shepherd:
“When [Jesus] saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest'” (Matthew 9:36-38).
God does not call all to be international or North American missionaries. However, He does call all to be fully engaged in the work of missions. He calls all of us to be Great Commission Christians. You see, we can all give. And, we can all pray.
David Livingstone was right, “The best remedy for a sick church is to put it on a missionary diet.” Such a diet, the Scriptures teach us, will always have a healthy portion of prayer.