May bewe are the terminal generation. May be we have entered the last decade of this age. If so, we are the ones who will write the last chapter of Church history. Acts 29 will be about us!
There is a renewed awareness and widespread interest in missions. Undoubtedly this is an era of missionary evangelism. The Church is waking up to fulfill her missionary responsibility. Missionary movements are accelerating their progress. New strategies are worked out. Challenging programmes are launched out. We hear the "sound of going on the mulberry trees" more loudly and clearly than ever.
But in the midst of hectic missionary activity it is possible to forget or slight the most important work called PRAYER. Jesus commanded His disciples to "pray therefore" before commissioning them to "go therefore" (Mt 9:38; 28:19).
Everyone knows and accepts that Missions are born in prayer. But if they are not run by prayer we will only end in flesh whatís begun in the Spirit.
What is missionary praying?
Itís praying for the five groups of people acting in the missionary story. Apostle Paul lists them in Romans 10:14,15óSenders, Goers, Hearers, Believers and Worshippers.
Strictly speaking it is the "Lord of the Harvest" who sends forth labourers. But of the first batch of missionaries we read they were sent by the Holy Spirit and the Church (Acts 13:3,4). The laying on of hands by the leaders on Paul and Barnabas was not just formal or a ritual. They "fasted and prayed" before laying hands. It shows their dead earnestness. They realised that their missionaries were soldiers in the battlefront. Fasting prayer is an open acknowledgement that the battle cannot be won by might or power but by the Spirit.
Pray that the sending churches or groups may always carry the missionaries in their heart. They should not forget the problems of the missionaries as they get caught up in their own local and personal problems. Pray for the local leaders of the missionary prayer groups to maintain a high level vision and passion so they can motivate the members for passionate prayer.
The initial enthusiasm in praying and giving may soon die out. Very few will go on with the same fervour. On one occasion no church shared with Paul concerning giving and receiving except the Philippians (Phil 4:15). Every year the Government and Companies increase the salary of their employees. Pray that the missionary senders may understand this simple principle and increase their giving substantially every year.
The senders include the executive leaders of Missions. Pray they remain sensitive to the Spirit. May the Lord give them a genuine concern for each worker in the field. Let them not use the missionaries and the field news just as tools and material for promotional work. Pray that the leaders may always realize that they are servants to the missionaries. The Spirit should guide them in all placement and transfer of missionaries. Casualness on the part of the leaders may ruin the future of the workers.
Individual Christians supporting the missionary work must constantly be constrained by the love of God. Pray that each of them be an intercessor. Tears shed at home means showers poured out in the field.
Apostle Paul was a man of unusual spiritual stamina and boldness. But hear his plea: "Pray always with all prayer... that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel" (Eph 6:18,19).
Missionaries are not angels or supermen. They are men and women of like passions and problems. The only difference is that they chose to go and we to stay. Even amidst all friends, fellowship and feeding we struggle with our problems. By and large the missionary is a lone man in the field. His spiritual problems are numerous. His coworker is but a fellow-struggler! How much they need our prayer! Letís watch and pray that they may not fall into temptation.
Pray for the missionariesí physical problems. Health problems due to extreme climatic conditions, poor sanitation and water supply and inadequate medical facilities are all too common. Pray for the workersí safety in travel and protection from wild animals, poisonous insects and accidents. A young missionary of an Indian Mission was recently killed in a rail accident in Rajasthan leaving his wife whom he had married only a month ago.
Then there are psychological problems. Separation from children and kith and kin, hostility of the native people, misunderstanding among the coworkers, lack of fruit in the field and the like are the causes. Pray that God may grant a fresh and free spirit to the missionaries and fill them with His joy and peace unspeakable. Pray that the missionaries may not be alarmed by people like "Alexander the coppersmith" (2 Tim 4:14). Our prayers will keep them bold in all situations (Acts 4:24-31).
Missionaries have adapted a simple lifestyle, yet they have financial problems. Making both ends meet with the allowances paid by the Mission is not always easy. There is no provision for several unforeseen expenses. Money is not everything but money matters! Not a few leave the ministry being unable to cope with the financial stress.
We must pray for the ministerial problems the missionary faces. They are simply too many. Suddenly Demas leaves the team (2 Tim 4:10). And Barnabas separates because of a dispute over a simple matter (Acts 15:36-40). Trophimus falls sick and so the teamís strength decreases (2 Tim 4:20). Letís imagine such probable problems of the workers while we pray.
Pray that the missionary may remain sensitive to the voice of the Spirit. When the Spirit wants him to speak to an individual seeker in the desert he should not get caught up by the successful crusade in the town (Acts 8). A definition of the missionary is Godís man doing Godís work in Godís way at Godís time. Claim Psalm 32:8 on his behalf. Pray for a daily anointing on him for power and purity. He must keep knowing God as he goes making Him known. Pray and protect the missionary from all discouragement, depressions and dullness.
It is not so easy to gather a crowd to hear the gospel in villages and remote places. But people cannot believe unless they hear. Faith comes by hearing (Rom 10:17). Pray that the Lord may remove all hesitation from people to come out and hear an outsider, the missionary. The Spirit of the Lord should create an enthusiasm and interest among the people.
The god of this age has blinded people lest the light of the gospel should shine on them. Pray the Lord may open their eyes. Because of dejection the downtrodden people sometimes do not want to hear a visitor. In some villages for no reason people are prejudiced and they are indifferent to any kind of invitation to hear the gospel. The Lord should overrule such situations.
Christ has promised open doors which no man can shut. But any promise of God has to be claimed. Generally open doors and opposition go together (1 Cor 16:9).
Also there will be all kinds of distractions in the rural setting while folks listen to preaching. Suddenly some animals enter the fields and spoil the crop. A couple of village folk picks up a quarrel at the street corner. A child starts crying and the mother shouts at the child or beats him which gets everybodyís attention. And so on. To hold the attention of a group of villagers for ten minutes is sometimes a big task. Pray that the attempts of the devil may be defeated.
Every man and woman must get a fair chance to hear the gospel clearly explained. The missionary walks several kilometers to reach a village but he is disappointed when the people are not in a mood to hear him due to a festival or a funeral. Seasonal occupation like harvesting or hunting make people too busy. Sometimes the people are very welcoming but other times ununderstandably indifferent. Pray that the missionary may make best out of any situation.
Difficulty in understanding the gospel message is a very common problem of the rural hearers. Where polygamy, drunkenness, etc., are common practices, it is not easy to preach about sin. Polytheists and animists have real difficulty to accept and understand monotheism. Academic qualification is not a must to understand the gospel but the language and style of expression of the city-bred and college-trained missionary are difficult for the people. Only a few workers are talented to quickly adapt the language style and catch the thought philosophy and culture of the hearers. Pray.
Miracles attracted large crowds in the ministry of Jesus and the apostles. It is still the same today. Pray God may work miracles and perform healings through the missionaries to get audience. Pray for an unusual manifestation of power against demon-possession, witchcraft and the like.
Not all soils produce the same fruit. The response to the gospel is not the same everywhere. A positive response does not necessarily mean the preacher was good and the method effective. "It is not of him who wishes, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy" (Rom 9:16). Reporting what happened in the house of Cornelius, Peter said that "God" had granted to the Gentiles repentance to life (Acts 11:18). At the end of their first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas reported to the Church that "God" had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles (Acts 14:27). About Lydia the first European convert it is said that the "Lord" opened her heart (Acts 16:14). We must pray that God saves maximum number of people. He desires "all men" to be saved but we must ask (1 Tim 2:1-4).
Even when there is a stirring in the hearts of hearers, they sometimes hesitate to respond publicly due to strong community systems so prevalent in tribal areas. Decision for Christ becomes costly. The family and the community may throw them out. Even their life may be in danger. Some Missions do not baptize the respondents immediately but wait for a sizeable number to come. There are practical reasons. Missionaries primarily aim at the village leader or tribal headman. If he is converted the situation becomes easy (Mt 10:11). Pray for a sweeping work of the Spirit.
As per the constitution of our secular government anyone has freedom to practise and propagate his religion. But the anticonversion bill is in force in certain States, where a non-Christian convert cannot be baptized unless he files an affidavit before the district Collector. The rural people known for their fear and backwardness will certainly hesitate to go before a civil authority for such formalities. Also there are disturbances and dissuasion from anti-Christian forces. We have Elymases everywhere (Acts 13:8). Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, "Pray for us that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men" (2 Thess 3:1,2).
Pray for mass conversions. We read of many such in the Book of Acts. Three thousand souls were saved on the Day of Pentecost (2:41). The number too soon swelled up to five thousand (4:4). There was a mass movement in the city of Samaria (8:6,12). Many believed on the Lord throughout Joppa (9:42). A great number turned to the Lord in Antioch (11:19-21). In the Pisidian Antioch almost the whole city got interested in the Gospel (13:14,44). At Thessalonica a great multitude of Greeks joined the Lord (17:1,4). And so on. Pray that our missionaries may witness a daily addition (2:47). If the early apostles had their thousands we must have our millions. Think of the population explosion! Should not conversions be proportional?
The ultimate of missionary work is to raise a worshipping community in every village and among each people group. This is the Fatherís great desire (Jn 4:23). There must be a Church for every locality. Pray that all missionaries be endowed with the "gift" of church planting along with their gift of evangelism.
Pray that the believers get rooted and grounded in their new-found faith. The Lord should give them wisdom and knowledge to understand their high calling and inheritance in Christ (Eph 1:15-21). Nurturing the babes in Christ is both a privilege and a responsibility. The missionaries are now the shepherds. They must have all discernment and compassion to feed the sheep according to each sheepís need.
The material needs of the converts also should be taken care of. Relief and rehabilitation projects must be launched. In remote areas skilled labour is quite rare and so the missionaries come under a greater stress. Pray for World Vision, EFICOR and such relief organisations who work with Missions to uplift the people. Pray for sufficient funds.
Entering the Kingdom of God is always through tribulations (Acts 14:22). Pray that the faith of the believers may not be shaken up due to deaths or losses. Persecution should not discourage but strengthen them. Believers of the sending churches should consider the problems of the members of the new churches as that of their own. Are they not our own brothers and sisters? Our prayers should keep them from backsliding. Paul had a deep and daily concern for all the Churches (2 Cor 11:28).
Pray for native leadership to be raised (Tit 1:5). Otherwise the missionaries will not be able to pioneer into new areas. They will get stuck up in one place. The new church must become reproductive. The gifts of the Spirit must be in free operation. Believers must be trained in personal soulwinning. The new church in the mission field should soon become a sending church. They should learn giving. Pray that these new churches stay alive and aflame, giving no room for nominalism or formalism.
On knees to fields!
All may not be able to personally travel to distant places and pioneering situations for missionary evangelism, but every Christian can go there on his knees! What a possibility!