(Published in The Journal of the International Correspondence Institute, Winter 1990)
Jesus said, “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1). A suggested paraphrase of 1 Thessalonians 5:17 is, “Make prayer the main business of your life.” John Wesley said, “God will do nothing but in answer to prayer.” S.D. Gordon said that “the greatest thing anyone can do for God and for man is to pray. You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed. Prayer is striking the winning blow; service is gathering up the results!”
World missions began in the heart of God before time. Psalm 2:8 records a remarkable challenge to pray: “Ask of Me,” God says to His Son, “and I will give you the heathen for your inheritance.” In Isaiah 53:12, the Scriptures record Christ’s ministry of intercession “for the transgressors.” Fulfillment came at the cross when He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Here in this prayer, the whole earth is included. Some have received its answer while too many have not! Intercession, then, precedes all mission endeavors.
Jesus had the entire world in mind when He prayed. These are those who yet today have not been given the opportunity to hear the gospel presented in their language or in a way understandable in their culture. Of the approximately 24,000 people groups in a world of 5.2 billion people, 12,000 of them are still unevangelized. These groups are distinct in their cultures and/or languages and are part of the “nations” that Jesus commanded us to reach with His gospel. In Matthew 24:14 the word “nations” is ethnos in Greek, which speaks of ethnic groups. Revelation 5:9 and 7:9 find worshippers around the throne “out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.”
What does Christ, the executor of all mission endeavors, and the Apostle Paul, the world’s foremost missionary, teach us about specific prayer requests and world missions?
Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.
Jesus taught us to pray for laborers. Specifically, He commanded us to pray that the Lord of the harvest would “send forth” laborers. The phrase literally means to “thrust out forcibly!” This is a spiritual battle. If we would but earnestly pray, the Holy Spirit would then “thrust out” from the pockets of resistance, fear, negligence, disobedience, doubt, and debt the workers needed for His harvest. Jesus placed the first priority with prayer for laborers. “Recruitment” begins with earnest prayer.
Jesus put the emphasis where it belongs: prayer and laborers. God is still seeking out laborers who are ready and willing, whether at home or abroad, to work in cooperation with Him in the great harvest fields of humanity. Laborers is still the greatest need in missions today.
And [pray] for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel.
Paul asked the Ephesian Christians to pray for “utterance,” that is, boldness to declare “the whole counsel of God.” Even the Apostle Paul recognized that intercessors are desperately needed to win spiritual battles in prayer so the Word can go forth in the power and freedom of the Holy Spirit. With holy boldness, the “whole counsel of God” can be proclaimed without the fear of men.
Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ…
There are no “closed doors” to Christ! He “opens and no man can shut and shuts and no man can open.” Recent events show us again the sovereign Christ making open doors available for His Church. God has used kings such as Artaxerxes in Nehemiah’s day and Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel’s day. He called a Cyrus and a Darius. He is doing the same today. Christ is still the Lord of His universe.
Freedom & Christ-centeredness
[P]ray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified…
—2 Thess. 3:1
Oh, that the Word of God would go with prayerful speed! The word picture is that of a wheel rolling along swiftly. Who can deny that this Word is also needed in “closed” countries? There are no barriers to the Spirit and the Word of God. Christ’s command to “make disciples of all nations” is unconditional, and it begins with prayer. Even now we can see God pouring out the prayers of the saints upon “closed countries” that are now opening to the gospel of Christ! We rejoice! The Church must send its laborers through every open door with the Word of God.
The content of preaching and teaching also demands intercession. Will the message and theme be Christ in His simplicity? And will this be proclaimed from a pure motive? Human reasoning, fleshly opinions, the big “I” in all-too-numerous “self” illustrations, and a host of other intrusions can dilute the Word as revealed in Christ. People are “born again” by the living, powerful, God-sent Word from heaven! Prayer can keep the preacher who has an honest heart from going off on tangents. The Word of the Lord should receive the attention, not the vessel who delivers the message (2 Cor. 3:17-4:7).
[S]trive together with me in your prayers to God for me; That I may be delivered…
—Rom. 15:30-31; cf. 2 Thess. 3:2
The need for physical and spiritual protection in our strife-ridden world increases day by day. The “enemy of our souls” is using many different tactics to thwart the work of God and the mission of the Church.
One biblical example is Peter, who had been imprisoned by Herod. He was “sprung” from jail by an angel through the combined, persistent, and faithful prayers of the Church (Acts 12:5-11). Without the faithful intercession of the saints of God, the Church might have lost one of its choicest servants and apostles. We know some will die for the cause of Christ, but let it not be due to our lack of intercession on their behalf. God is still able to deliver!
[S]trive together with me in your prayers to God for me … that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints…
The most spiritual service rendered in the name of Christ has little effect if the people of God do not receive it. Paul implored the Christians to pray that his ministry would be received.
To Paul, the reception of his ministry of the Word and Spirit was not merely a matter of correctness of doctrine or of lifestyle. It was a spiritual, not intellectual, matter for which Paul requested prayer. Jesus, in the Parable of the Sower, said that the seed of the Word which fell on the wayside was devoured by the devil (Luke 8:5,12). Pray that the ministry of the Word and the ministry of the Spirit will be accepted.
Ye also helping together by prayer … thanks may be given by many…
—2 Cor. 1:11
The kingdom of God is advanced through prayer. By praying fervently for the lost and their subsequent salvation, God receives the ultimate glory through their thanksgiving. Simply put, more people join in giving thanks when they have joined in prayer for the work of the kingdom. Even angels rejoice when one soul enters into the kingdom of God (Luke 15:7,10).
Will we tarry in prayer for God’s servants in the harvest field? Will we give ourselves in fasting and prayer to accomplish the highest and most critical challenge of the Church today, that of intercession? Will the Church of God become the “house of prayer for all nations” (Isa. 56:7) God intended it to be? Let us begin where Christ began, in prayer!
Let us ask God to reveal the life and ministry of prayer and intercession to us, and let our answer to Christ and the Spirit’s call to prayer be yes! God will give us the strength and create in us the desire for intercessory prayer. His grace will work in us mightily—not overnight, but assuredly! Fast. Pray. Heaven demands it! The cross deserves it! The world needs it! God desires it!
A staggering truth revealed in Ezekiel 22:30 records God’s search for an intercessor. Because there was none, He executed His judgment upon the land and the people. May that not be true for any of us today (see 2 Chron. 7:14).
Let the Church of God rise up to the challenge! Let us “give Him no rest” until His praise shall be known in all the earth. Let us see what great things God will do through the earnest, faith-inspired, Word-believing, fasting and praying of God’s holy people (see Isa. 62:1-7, 64:1-5; Matt. 6:16-18).